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Tot Chef in fifth year, but may be shortened due to coronavirus

March 18, 2020
J.T. Whitehouse , The Town Crier

The Tot Chefs program in Boardman is entering its fifth year and is being funded by the Food Service Department this year. It had entered a third session this school year as the coronavirus struck the area, putting that session on hold.

According to Boardman Food Service Supervisor Natalie Winkle, who also serves as President of Local Chapter 78 of the School Nutrition Association, the Tot Chefs after school program was originally funded by a grant in the first year. After that, the Food Service Department decided to continue funding it for the kids.

"The program has grown," Winkle said. "I have students on a waiting list to get into the program each year."

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Boardman Schools Food Service Supervisor Natalie Winkle is pleased with the Tot Chef’s program, but may not get to finish the year’s third session because of the cancellation of schools.

Winkle is convinced that showing kids how to eat healthy starts with teaching them how to prepare their own healthy snacks. She believes "It helps build that foundation for a healthy life."

This year, 90 Center Intermediate students learned to make pumped up grilled cheese, healthy pizza, baked nachos, sweet and savory kabobs, breakfast parfaits, and veggie stuffed baked potatoes. A big part of the class includes the cleanup too.

"Every good cook must do dishes," said Winkle.

The program was scheduled for a big fun event with Tot Chefs taking on staff from the Boardman Fire Department. It was rumored the Firehouse cooks were going to challenge the Tot Chefs to a cooking battle. That was set for March 12, but has since been canceled due to the coronavirus.

"The virus has had an impact on nearly everything we do," Winkle said. "I had 3 sessions of the class this year and just started the third one. I am not sure if there will be enough time to pick up where we left off when school returns. (Because of the virus, the kids will be utilizing alternative methods for school for the next three weeks). This is sad for me because I really enjoy the classes and teaching the kids to be healthy."

She is hoping a new date for the Firehouse challenge can be set in a few weeks, depending on future closures.

While there is hope of getting the third session in this school year, Winkle said she will always have the comments from past participants to keep her going.

"I hear from former Tot Chefs a lot, when I walk the halls of the schools," she said. "I hear things like, 'hey I cooked with you.' The kids tell me they are still creating recipes for their families. The class has had a lasting effect on the kids. I am very happy for that. I also have little siblings of kids that have taken the class in the past who tell me their big brothers and sisters really loved the class and that is why they signed up for it."



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