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What's cooking in kid's ministries?

Posted: September 10 2018 at 12:00 AM
Author: Anne Marie Gerhardt


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Elise Vock learns to grate carrots and make homemade, healthy meals at the first Kids Culinary Camp at First UMC in Freeport, IL.

Kids strapped on aprons and put their chef's hats on for a weeklong camp to learn how to cook inside the kitchen at First United Methodist Church in Freeport this summer. This was the first of its kind Kids Culinary Camp at the church which was all hands-on.

“I’ve learned how to cut and peel carrots, how to measure, and grating,” said 11-year-old camper Elise Vock. 

The church was looking for a way to invite the community and children to the church and a local couple who owns a meal prep and catering business was looking for a kitchen. It was a perfect mix.

“I think it’s great for our church because we are opening our doors to our community and neighborhood and getting kids inside the church who can see that churches are welcoming and you can do fun things at church,” said First UMC’s pastor Rev. Cal Haines.

Husband and wife Kevin and Dina Kleckner started making and delivering meals last September for the elderly and others coping with an illness who are unable to make healthy meals for themselves. Dina, who's been cooking since the age of four with her grandmothers, says the demand was so high they could no longer keep up their ministry and business, called “What’s for Dinner?” in their own kitchen. That’s when she decided to phone area churches for a place to cook and First UMC was the first call she made.

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Dina Kleckner show the campers how to measure out the ingredients.

“When I called they were very welcoming,” said Dina. “We are grateful to the church and they’ve taken excellent care of this kitchen. You wouldn’t know that it’s 20 years old.” 

When the church asked the Kleckner’s if they would consider teaching a children's cooking camp, Kevin and Dina jumped at the opportunity. 

“This is like a dream come true,” said Dina. “I love teaching kids how to cook and teaching them about nutrition.”

The Kleckner’s use all local farm to table ingredients and healthy recipes like vegetable chili and grilled chicken and the kids eat it up. The menu board on day three read “welcome sprouts” and listed lettuce wraps, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, corn, chicken and Korean beef.

“Eating it is the best part!” said 9-year-old camper Cooper Kopp. “It’s just really fun because we are making stuff and trying new stuff.”

The children bring samples home each day and on the last day of camp they take home a whole meal for their families. 

“The feedback from the families is overwhelming,” said Dina. “I feel like the kids are being challenged and the fact that they are taking home what they’re learning is very exciting to me.”

The Kleckner’s know the challenge parents face of providing summer activities that are engaging and educational as well as fun for their kids. They’ve raised 11 children including eight with special needs who Dina fostered as a neonatal intensive care nurse and then adopted. 

“I think anytime you can keep them busy doing something positive where they’re learning and having fun, it’s a good thing,” said Kevin, “Being in a church they get to learn about God, food, and cooking while having fun. If you make that a combination they’ll have a great time.”

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Children at Chana UMC get ready to dig into their casserole creation.

Chana United Methodist church experimented with a cooking class this summer, too. Senior Pastor Rev. Chan Choi says it was part of their F.U.N (Faithful United Neighbors) program which offers family-focused activities every first Thursday of the month. 

“Our goal was to give our kids an experience of preparing dinner for their family,” said Choi. “Even though we prepared all the recipes and ingredients, they fully experienced a joy of cooking and serving with a loving and caring heart.”

Chana church plans to organize another cooking class after receiving positive feedback from parents. "Thank you so much! Dinner was great and the kids were very excited to show us what they made!” said one parent. "The children did a great job and we really enjoyed the casserole! Thanks again for everything. They look forward to the next FUN night!” added another.

The Rev. Melissa Meyers started a weekly cooking and art class at Genoa Faith after it was a hit during Vacation Bible School in 2015. Meyers said many schools are eliminating these classes from their curriculum. By offering these classes at the church, children still have the opportunity to learn these important life-skills she said.

Pastor Haines incorporated a devotion during their Kids Culinary Camp and hopes the children not only took home a good, homemade meal but also a positive message.

“We tied in food and the Bible with stories of Jesus being the bread of life,” said Haines. “We wanted to share lessons of eating healthy and our faith.”

Cooking ministries seem to be the perfect recipe for showing children God’s love and making something good to eat!

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