COLUMBIA — Barely controlled chaos: That was the scene in Douglass High School's cafeteria Wednesday as roughly 70 kids were given free rein to test their cooking skills.
Gathered in groups of four or five, boys and girls ages 5 to 14 threw together smoothies, french toast and taco salad with gusto. The cooking extravaganza was the culminating event of Kids in the Kitchen, a program run by Fun City Youth Academy. The program aims to teach kids healthy eating habits and increase their physical activity.
Each group had its own dilemma. One group's "Cosmic Cucumber Wraps" were too runny. Another group's blender was overflowing with "Cran-licious Smoothies." The "Green Green Salad" somehow ended up splattered onto a wall.
Through the kids' own determination and with the encouragement of Fun City teachers and help from Kids in the Kitchen coordinator Amy Hoffman, the ingredients began to resemble not just food, but good food. And the children had fun in the process.
"My favorite part was when we got to put the vanilla wafers in a bag and smash them up," 8-year-old Nakiya Steward said.
Once all the groups nearly had prepared their food, Hoffman announced they could start sampling other groups' creations. She warned the young chefs to only take one of each so everyone could taste each recipe.
"I liked the french toast best," 9-year-old Bryant Brown Jr. said with a mischievous grin. "I had four of them."
Behind this frenzied process was a healthy message.
"We tell them that they are responsible for their bodies, so they've really got a lot of power," Hoffman said. "When you're a kid you don't have a lot of power, so we stress that this is one thing they alone can determine."
After bellies were filled, leftovers bagged up and tables wiped clean, Hoffman began to hand out prizes. Measuring cups, can openers and cookbooks were among those items that were awarded.
"I hope that just giving them that ownership — that they actually own their own utensils — might encourage them to cook their own food," Hoffman said.
Barbara Walker, executive director of Fun City Youth Academy, stressed the need for parents to be involved in healthy eating. Although parents were invited to the event, none were present Wednesday afternoon.
"We hope they take the knowledge home to give it to their parents and that it becomes a family effort," Walker said.
Although Friday will mark the end of the third Kids in the Kitchen summer program, its school year counterpart will begin Sept. 19 and meet every Saturday.