Kids and snacks.
They go together like peanut butter and pepitas.
Pepitas? That’s right, those little shelled pumpkin seeds can make peanut butter taste better.
“They have a good flavor and add a pop of color,” said Kate Haney, 13, an eighth-grader from DeSoto, who was inspired to toss roasted pepitas into batter for oatmeal granola bars.
Kate was one of 15 Johnson County middle-school students attending a food science camp at Kansas State University’s Olathe campus this summer. The students spent a week learning about the chemistry, concepts and practical application of food preparation in the classroom and in the kitchen.
The “Fun with Food Science” camp encourages students to consider how food products are developed, packaged, marketed and placed on shelves in grocery stores.
“What they’re learning aligns with middle-school math and science concepts,” said Martha Nowak, K-12 coordinator at K-State Olathe. “But you have to make it fun.”
Some students had so much fun at last year’s camp that they came back for a second year.
Ethan Futrell, 13, an eighth-grader from Olathe, and Brian Briones Tadlock, 11, a seventh-grader from DeSoto, returned to the Olathe campus this summer.
Both students said they enjoyed being able to use what they learned at camp last year, such as blending a watermelon drink and fixing eggs, in their kitchens at home.
“The students are much better focused in the kitchen when they’re using their hands,” said Laura Loyacono, director of community and education engagement at K-State Olathe.
The process of gelling, for example, can be explained as controlling water through a chemical reaction called spherification.
But it’s easier for students to understand when chef Bryan Severns shows them how to make chocolate milk ravioli - sphere-shaped gel bubbles containing chocolate milk that look like brown egg yolks.
“The students eat them with their hands,” Severns, manager of food programs and services, said.
Chocolate milk ravioli could be used to decorate baked goods, he explained. Although students found the science interesting, “slimy” was the word most often used to describe the texture they experienced when eating the gel bubbles.
Toward the final days of camp, Severns turned the students loose with recipes and stood back: “I guide them in the general direction and then let them figure it out for themselves.”
The food-science campers were organized into teams of five to make three kinds of snacks: ice cream sandwiches, healthy granola bars and a chocolate-peanut candy bar.
Students improvised on the ingredients, such as adding the pepitas, and on the techniques to accomplish the end result.
“Melting the caramel didn’t work,” explained Brian Briones Tadlock as he used a rolling pin to “smash and cut” the caramel pieces for the candy bar.
The lesson learned?
“A gas burner generally works best on medium when you’re melting caramel in a pan,” Severns said. “You rarely use the flame at full blast.”
After fixing snacks in the kitchen, the students returned to the classroom to analyze how best to sell what they’ve created.
The oatmeal granola bars, for example, are for all ages and situations: “You can eat it on the go, you can eat it standing up, you can eat it in your car,” Kate said.
Because the bars contain berries, almonds, peanut butter and chocolate chips, Malachi Woods, 12, a seventh-grader from Overland Park, visualized a commercial using young consumers who exclaim: “Nutastic! Choctastic! Fruitastic!”
Whether preparing or peddling food products, students can find food science careers in a wide variety of settings.
“Food is everywhere,” Severns said. “There are careers for people who make food, who package food, who regulate food.”
And as Malachi discovered, there’s a need for those who market the food. Consumers need to be told just how good the product is, Malachi said. “It’s fantastic!”