Illinois Success Stories

Illinois Junior Chefs

This article was written by Univeristy of Illinois Extension, a SNAP-Ed Agency.


Across the state of Illinois, kids aged 8-13 are learning confidence in the kitchen through a hands-on culinary and nutrition education program, Illinois Junior Chefs.


Success stories have been rolling in for this very popular program. One student shared,
“After Illinois Junior Chefs, I help my mom go shopping for groceries. One night each week, I cook dinner for my family using recipes that I learned in class. I also remind them about food safety with using knives and washing fruits and vegetables!”

girl cutting up strawberries

Illinois Junior Chefs was developed by researchers and educators from University of Illinois Extension’s SNAP-Education program. The program is implemented statewide by nutrition education staff and supported in some areas by 4-H teen teachers.


Each lesson focuses on a particular food group and includes recipes that feature new cooking skills. The entire program includes 10 hours of instruction time, with 2 hours per lesson. At the end of every lesson, participants get to taste the foods they have prepared. For example, during lesson three, “I’ll Eat These Veggies,” students learn about the importance of vegetables, how to use a grater and peeler, and make recipes like colorful coleslaw and veggie quesadillas.


Lesson Titles

    1. Choose Whole Grains
    2. Choose Dairy
    3. I’ll Eat These Veggies
    4. Fantastic Fruits
    5. Go Lean with Protein

girl preparing food on a baking sheet

As a result of participating in Illinois Junior Chefs, Illinois children are showing improvement in their fruit and vegetable preferences and attitudes towards cooking. They feel more confident cooking in the kitchen and with choosing and eating healthier food choices. Youth receive a cookbook with handouts and recipes from the program to take home and share with their families. At the end of the program, they also receive a graduation certificate and cooking utensils as SNAP-Education incentives.


In July 2017, Illinois Junior Chefs was honored with receiving the Nutrition Education Program Impact Award at the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. The Nutrition Education Program Impact Award is given to a nutrition education program, practice or intervention that has resulted in documented changes in behavior.


Illinois Junior Chefs has been implemented yearly from 2015-present. Approximately 2000 youth participate in Illinois Junior Chefs every summer, with additional programming occurring after-school during the school year.

a colorful fruit salad

Program Evaluation
Illinois Junior Chefs is evaluated through pre- and post-program surveys, hands-on cooking skills assessments, and lesson observations. The Illinois Junior Chefs survey asks about changes in children’s cooking self-efficacy, cooking attitudes, fruit and vegetable preferences, self-efficacy for eating healthy foods, and healthy eating and cooking behaviors.
Survey results show that after participating in the program,

    • 81% of children improved their cooking self-efficacy
    • 83% improved cooking attitudes
    • 72% improved fruit and vegetable preferences
    • 75% improved self-efficacy for eating healthy foods
    • 71% improved their healthy eating and cooking behaviors

Hands-on cooking assessments showed that 88% of children improved their cooking skills after participating in the program.


For more information about the Illinois Junior Chefs Program, please contact Jessica Jarick Metcalfe.