In courses, Park City students whip up food for pets | ParkRecord.com

In courses, Park City students whip up food for pets

It is among several cooking classes for students this summer

Summer in Park City never tasted so good.

Dozens of elementary school-aged students are spending their time away from class learning how to whip up tasty dishes as part of the Park City School District's community education summer program. Michelle Connell, a teacher and special education instructor at Ecker Hill Middle School, is teaching eight cooking courses over the summer focused on several kinds of food, ranging from international cuisine to vegetarian meals.

She said leading the weeklong courses, and watching both the students' skills and their enthusiasm for cooking grow, is one of the highlights of her summer.

"It's so amazing," she said. "One of the best things is when they come back the next day and say, 'I made what we learned for dinner last night, and my parents loved it!' And the parents are happy that now their kids can cook. Because not only do we cook, I teach them how to read recipes, how to measure things out, how to split a recipe. It's really exciting to be able to teach these kids these skills."

Last week, one of Connell's courses taught students how to make healthy meals and snacks for their pets. Throughout the week, they made peanut butter dog treats; dog food with turkey, spinach and carrots; dog cupcakes; and horse treats made with molasses, carrots, apples and sweet potatoes. She said the food has drawn rave reviews — at least judging from tail wags — the from the students' pets at home.

For their part, the students also seemingly enjoyed the course.

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"I like cooking and I like dogs," said Sonja Calhoun. "I've liked doing everything. I liked learning about what to feed dogs and what you can't, like dogs cannot have chocolate."

But just because the students — or their pets — get to sample tasty treats at the end of each day doesn't mean they're not learning at the same time. Connell said her cooking lessons involve many of the skills students need to be successful in the classroom.

"It's a creative process," she said. "So instead of doing math, like, 'One-half times one-half is this,' I'm asking, 'A half of a tablespoon and a half of a tablespoon is what?' We're making it fun and we're getting their creative juices flowing, but it keeps their brains active. Even though they don't think they're learning, they really are."

Connell, who has no formal culinary education, became interested in cooking by watching her mother in the kitchen when she was growing up. Her passion for it only increased from there, and she recalled being one of the few students at her college who made her own food instead of ordering pizza every other night.

She's hopeful this summer's courses will spark a similar craving for cooking in the students. Connell has heard from many parents who say their children have begun planning dinner menus at home and have cooked entire meals for their families.

"If they fall in love with it now, I think a lot of them will go on to be sous chefs, chefs, wanting to own their own restaurants," she said. "A lot of kids that I've taught are talking about owning their own businesses and making their own things. A couple of them have talked about wanting to make stuff for the Park Silly (Sunday) Market."

She added: "It's really fun to watch the process of them going from barely doing anything and just watching mom and dad cook to actually getting in there and doing all of the work."