Local students learn healthy recipes in cook-off

40 middle school students compete for panel of judges

By Kirstin O’Connor - Reporter/Anchor

COLLEGE PARK, Fla. - Forty middle school students competed in a cook-off to learn a valuable lesson in nutrition.

For the past five weeks, students from Howard and College Park Middle Schools have been slicing, dicing and seasoning heart-healthy meals alongside professional chefs.

The students are participants in the After School All-Stars program, which supports under-served middle school students in Orlando.

"Teaching kids to cook, especially at a young age, helps to build confidence in the kitchen, which I think leads to healthier eating habits," said Lauren Popeck, a registered dietitian with Orlando Health.

The American Heart Association and Orlando Health Heart Institute’s “Kids Cook With Heart” program groups students into teams to compete in a final cook-off with celebrity judges.

"I believe they're very excited about this, actually day one they said, 'Is this going to be a cook-off?' So there's that competitiveness in all of us," said professional chef Lorrie Ann Buckley.

Some of the young chefs told News 6 about their favorite dishes, and why it was cool to learn skills in the kitchen.

"Me and my family, I'm just going to try to make them eat better and, like, get healthier," student Julian Brown said.

"I learned the Julienne knife cut where it's like, it looks like little matches," said student Shekina Perez.

One in four middle and high school students in Central Florida are overweight, according to the American Heart Association.

The organizers of the "Kids Cook With Heart” program said they hope to expand in the future.