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Summer School That Tastes Great

Young Warrior Learning Institute participants Getting ready to decorate cupcakes at Dallas' Viking Cooking School.
Young Warrior Learning Institute participants Getting ready to decorate cupcakes at Dallas' Viking Cooking School.

By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX – The back to school countdown has begun. Four weeks to go. But for some low-income Dallas students, summer break starts Friday. That's because they've spent the past 2 months in the non-profit Young Warriors Learning Institute. Cooking, eating and nutrition were part of the lesson plan on the day KERA's Bill Zeeble visited.

About 150 youngsters pack Dallas' Milestone Culinary center on McKinney Avenue. It's a cooking school, where today's students range from 5 to 16 years old.

Kid voices: I cook anything. I just throw something on the grill or the oven I cook steak. I like cooking me some ribs too, going to be good, steak.

Part of today's lesson is to build on whatever these children know from home. The teacher is world-class Chef Sharon Van Meter, who works here. She says most kids, for example, love pizza, but they or their parents don't always know about healthier versions.

Sharon Van Meter: The whole wheat crust pizza? That's a remarkable change believe it or not, just in a pizza itself. The low-fat cheese? Yes, put some fresh vegetables on it. you know? I mean it's amazing how many children just don't know what fresh produce looks like.

Van Meter's one of 90 chefs who recently visited Michelle Obama at the White House. It was part of the First Lady's plans to tackle a childhood obesity epidemic by improving school nutrition.

Van Meter: And it was quite the site to see all these chef coats in Washington DC - and we heard the launch of Chef Move to the Schools,' Where we'll try to get a chef into every school. That's a big bite, but we're going to try to guide them through nutritional things. Whether we plan a garden with them, whether we go in and do some demonstrations. Every school is different.

Many north Texas school districts have been improving lunch offerings recently. Dallas for example is cutting back on fried and fatty foods like nachos, while adding more fresh foods and whole grains, such as brown rice. These nutrition lessons are reinforced at this Young Warriors field trip. The Foundation's founder is Gail Warrior. She runs the largest women/minority construction service business in the nation. She tells these children healthful eating matters.

Gail Warrior, addressing children: Do you sometimes think that when you eat healthy it doesn't taste very good? Today's cooking is going to taste really good. So we've got some pizza for you that you guys will prepare. Have fun today.

Warrior created this 8-week summer program 2 years ago, It serves children in the Willie B. Johnson and Juanita J. Craft Recreation Centers, and the St. Philips School Community Center. Today is a fun field trip day, says Warrior, Most days, she says the kids concentrate on math, science, and reading.

Warrior: During the summertime, those 8 to 10 weeks kids sometimes lose a lot of what they learned the previous year. A lot of time we're bridging the gap where that doesn't happen. If we don't do our part to make sure our children succeed, it'll have a huge economic impact on the world as we see it tomorrow.

Warrior's Summer Learning Institute ends Friday. School starts in less than a month.

Email Bill Zeeble