Kids Put Their Nutritional Knowledge to Work in the Houston Rodeo Food Challenge

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Kids from 48 FFA and 4-H chapters all across Texas will put their food knowledge to the test in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Food Challenge.

This "Iron Chef-style" competition is designed to promote the importance of agriculture. Allyson Tjoelker, executive director of Agricultural Exhibits, says, "It's based not as much on the kids' cooking skills as it is on how much they know about nutrition. They'll also be judged on visual appeal and cost analysis."

More than 60 teams are competing, each with three to five students. It's one of the largest competitions of its kind in Texas.

The kids are grouped in two divisions. The Junior Division is for kids ages eight to 13, while the Senior Division is for young people from 14 to 18.

Each team brings a box of kitchen supplies to work with items such as cutting boards, hot pads and utensils. During each round, a category -- such as main dishes, fruits, vegetables, or breads and cereals -- is assigned. Competitors then get to run up to stacks of ingredients -- carrots, lettuces, apples and breads, for example -- and choose what they want to work with. The kids are responsible for selecting what quantities of each ingredient they want to use as well. Tjoelker says the quantity of ingredients picked is "an important consideration because that affects the cost analysis of their meals." Each team is allocated 40 minutes to create its dishes.

Presentation skills are important, too, since each team has five minutes to present its submissions to the judges. Prizes are awarded to the first- through third-place winners in each division. This year, winners will receive engraved butcher's block cutting boards as mementos of their success.

The first heat of the competition begins at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 10, in the NRG East Arena. There will be at least two heats with staggered start times.

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