UACES Facebook Competition heats up in Arkansas 4-H Food Challenge
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Aug. 10, 2021

Competition heats up in Arkansas 4-H Food Challenge

By Tracy Courage
U of A System Division of Agriculture 

Fast facts

  • 4-H Food Challenge teaches youth to prepare nutritious meals with limited resources
  • Teams from eight counties participated
  • Howard County senior team to head to nationals in September

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LITTLE ROCK — For people who live on a tight budget and in areas with limited access to food, eating nutritionally balanced meals can be a challenge. Through Arkansas 4-H, youth are learning this important life skill, and on Aug. 6, 50 members showed just how creative they could be in preparing an inexpensive but nutritional meal.

BEST BURGERS OF THE BUNCH — The Howard County Seniors with Spatulas team won first place in the Arkansas 4-H Fod Challenge and will compete next in the nationals in September in Texas. From left: Alex Trombley, Adelene Westfall and Sarah Lamb. (Division of Agriculture photo.)

Members from eight counties competed in the competition, which was modeled after the Food Network’s popular show “Chopped.” The competition was held at the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College’s Culinary and Hospitality Management Institute where teams had 40 minutes to prepare and present a dish.

The competition twist: The young chefs had to create meals using ingredients available at dollar stores, such as Family Dollar, Dollar General and Dollar Tree. Using canned beans, corn, chicken broth, canned chicken, cheese, mushrooms and tortilla chips, the young chefs whipped up an array of dishes from tortilla dip and taco bowls to chicken nachos and soups.

A panel of Cooperative Extension Service family and consumer science agents and specialists scored the teams on preparation and presentation. Fifteen teams participated from eight counties: Benton, Drew, Franklin, Grant, Howard, Madison, Saline and Yell counties.

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

The winners were:

Senior Division

First place: Howard County Seniors with Spatulas – Alex Trombley, Adelene Westfall and Sarah Lamb

Second place: Grant County Crafty Cooks – Acacia Lawler, Dylan Rogers, Egan Gunter and Audrianna Ruiz

Third place: Madison County Big Boys – Trevor Edwards, Colton Edwards and Brett White

Junior Division

First place: Madison County Chopettes — McKenna Cousins, Jade Emitt and Lillian Samuels

Second place: Howard County Food Choppers — Anna Kate McKinnon, Abi Webb and Christian Trombley

Third place: Drew County — Lily Copico, Macy Tolin and Mallory Burgeis

As the first-place senior team, Howard County’s Adelene Westfall, Sarah Lamb and Alex Trombley will advance to the 4-H National Food Challenge in September at the Texas State Fair. The trio – who called themselves “Seniors with Spatulas” — impressed judges with burgers seasoned with basil and oregano topped with sauteed mushrooms and melted cheese on toasted buns. The team competed in the protein category and was given ground beef, salt, pepper, oil and bread, and balsamic vinegar.

“The balsamic vinegar threw us off,” Westfall said. “We were trying to figure out what to cook.”

Instead of using the vinegar, the young cooks used part of their budget to buy cheese, mushrooms and extra spices to dress up the burgers while keeping costs low. 

Howard County 4-H leader Samantha Horn said the team members have been cooking for several years.

“They’ve been competing in our food commodity contests, and most of them have food and nutrition as part of their 4-H projects,” Horn said.

The challenge of creating meals with limited availability is a familiar one in Howard County, which has just two supermarkets – a Walmart and a Cash Saver. Some residents drive 45 minutes to get to a grocery store, said Jean Ince, staff chair for the Howard County Extension office.

“There is a farmer’s market, and we have dollar stores, but they are limited on freezer items,” Ince said.

In the junior division, the Madison County Chopettes took top honors after impressing judges with their chicken tortilla soup — and their matching black chef coats with their names in glitter.

Madison County had another winning team. Brett White, Trevor Edwards and Colton Edwards, who dubbed themselves “The Big Boys,” placed third in the senior division with their beef rice bowl.

“I cook to eat,” team member Brett White said. “Working with a team, though, really sharpens your skills.”

Madison County 4-H agent Caramie Edwards has worked with both teams for about four months.

“We did mock contests to help them practice time management in the kitchen,” she said. “They learned to budget, how to get and shop for healthy foods, and they learned food preparation skills they can use their entire life.” 

More than a meal

As part of the Food Challenge, 4-H youth have learned how to safely prepare food to prevent contamination, how to read food labels and how to create nutritionally balanced meals. As part of their presentation, each team had to explain the nutritional value of the ingredients, provide a cost analysis and offer recommendations to improve the meal’s nutritional value through food substitutions.

“The Arkansas 4-H Food Challenge is an ideal event to showcase the Healthy Living 4-H Project because it incorporates food and nutrition, decision making, utilizing available resources, teamwork and time management skills,” said Angie Freel, associate 4-H department head. “Teams must work together to succeed in this hands-on event, and that's how 4-H instills life skills in its members. Practicing life skills through 4-H experiences prepares them for using those same skills in different scenarios throughout their lives.”

Using resources wisely

Good stewardship of resources is one of 4-H’s core values, and learning how to stretch financial resources was just part of the project. UA-Pulaski Tech’s culinary school is a zero-waste facility, and the young chefs had to explain how they recycled and reduced waste.

At the end of the Food Challenge, the unopened cans of food purchased for the competition were donated to The Shack, a Little Rock homeless shelter, said 4-H program manager Amanda Welch, who coordinated the Food Challenge.

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.


About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Media contact:
Tracy Courage
Director, Communications Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126