Youngsters shop, chop, stir and eat

SOUTH GLENDALE— Seven-year-old Andy Garcia sank his teeth into a soft taco, saying the tomatoes he diced were only OK.

He said the meat and cheese prepared by his colleagues in Glendale Unified's summer camp Wednesday were much better.

"It tastes good," he said.

About 30 children from Glendale Unified sliced vegetables, stirred ground beef and added taco sauce and spices in another culinary day of the early education and extended learning program.

"Kids are experiencing some fun things to do that they can do on their own," said Illona Gergi, head instructor for culinary week and a Mann Elementary School teacher. "And we're teaching healthy eating habits, too."

Many children present were no strangers to the kitchen, having either shopped, chopped or prepared meals with their parents.

"Sometimes I help my mom to slice cheese with a grater," said 8-year-old Jade Camacho. "I like cooking because it's fun to cook and I can do more stuff when I'm bigger."

Jade quickly turned a brick of cheddar cheese into grated pieces in a silver bowl. At home, her mother usually puts her in charge of the salad, she said.

Substitute instructor Laurie Andrus showed students how to handle a knife, and held students' hands as they went through the motions.

But not 9-year-old Adrian Barrera, who said he was already a pro.

"Can I do it? Can I do it?" he said. "I do it all the time by myself."

He began cutting precise slices while several students and Andrus looked on.

"Don't get crazy on me," she said.

On Tuesday, the children made quesadillas and used their leftovers for the tacos. They also played computer games to discover various ingredients that work in omelets, Gergi said.

"A lot of them didn't know what an omelet was," she said.

While some children cooked, students like 7-year-old Diego Martinez were taking pictures with a digital camera, recording their summer camp for a year-end keepsake.

The students were divided into stations by task. Gergi said it can get hectic with so many youngsters.

But that could be the norm this year as kindergarten through third-grade classes expand to an average 30 students, a cost-saving measure approved by the Board of Education last spring.

Thirty students was tough to manage with four assistants Wednesday, but next year, a teacher will be lucky to have one assistant for one hour, Gergi said.

"It will be difficult," she said.

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