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4-H students compete in the Denton County Food Challenge on Feb. 28 at the North Texas Fairgrounds. Twenty youths participated across six teams during the countywide contest.

Denton County 4-H members recently competed in a local food challenge contest that helps students learn multiple life skills while participating. The Denton County Food Challenge was held at the North Texas Fairgrounds on Feb. 28. A total of 20 participants competed on six teams as part of the county contest. One junior-aged team and four intermediate-aged teams advanced to the District 4-H contest in March.

The contest had previously been held at the Lake Dallas Middle School, but due to COVID-19 restrictions it was moved. Originally, the contest was scheduled for November, but was moved to spring time in hopes of COVID-19 restrictions easing. We postponed this contest a few times due to COVID-19 guidelines. Our staff along with the participants were glad we could finally pull it off. We modified a few of the rules we had in place to allow for a more safety-oriented contest. All participants wore personal protective equipment and turned in a completed COVID-19 screening form.

Food Challenge is a food and nutrition project-related contest that allows members to form teams of three to four participants. Teams were creative with their team names and matching attire prior to the contest. Participants follow food safety guidelines. They wear aprons and hairnets, and they sanitize their workspace. Each team brings a supply box with cooking tools and utensils. The supply boxes must follow a list of equipment eligible for the contest.

During the contest, each team was given a category for their dish. The four category options were the appetizer, main dish, side dish and healthy dessert. Participants were then given the key ingredient and eligible pantry items but not a recipe. It was up to the team to cook the ingredients and make their dish using the 40 minutes allotted to each group.

After the preparation and cooking time, the team gave a five-minute presentation to volunteer judges. The team’s presentations focused on knowledge of MyPlate dietary guidelines, food safety, general nutrition, how they prepared their dish and what the focus of their team was during the process. Each member of the team was required to be involved in the presentation.

The creative and competitive environment of food challenge allows youth to learn life skills including time management, communication, teamwork, budgeting and healthy meal planning. It is an event where youth are active and engaged in the learning process, not sitting in a lecture. The Food Challenge is one of 4-H’s most popular contests.

ZACH DAVIS is the agriculture and natural resources extension agent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. He can be reached at 940-349-2889 or via email at zadavis@ag.tamu.edu.

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