Back to (After) School: Programming with Food in an After-School Club

As many library staff members have noticed, the library is a great place for teens to go after school. Whether it be for studying, working on projects, or a safe place to wait for a parent, teens are visible in the library after school.  At my branch, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library at University City, we have a group of teens that come after taking early college classes at our local university down the road. Library staff have noticed that the teens come into the branch around two o’clock, and stay until their parents get off work; often, this is not until around five o’clock. That aspect got teen library staff thinking. What can we do to provide teens snacks, but in a fun, educational way? And thus, Cuisine Corner was born.

Cuisine Corner is a club that teen library staff developed to help high school students learn to cook simple things during after school hours. This program provides them with a fun snack, but also teaches them ways to cook for themselves. This is a great skill for high school students to take with them to college. Not only are library staff teaching teens a life skill, but, often, the teens are teaching each other things to cook. The club also coincides with The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action. The shared idea, for the envisioned future, is that teens are “learning a skill of personal, work, or academic interest.”

Teaching teens life skills is very important because it prepares them for the future and makes them more independent. Libraries can do a lot to help prepare teens beyond an academics and career based knowledge. A Call To Action also mentions that success in today’s environment “requires an expanded set of skills that goes beyond traditional academic skills and includes learning and innovation skills…” Some teens will be going to college, or into a career, after high school without basic life skills such as cooking, doing laundry, and automobile maintenance. It is important for teens to have a safe learning environment if they are not learning these skills at home or school, and the library is a safe, educational place.

The teen departmentOreo Popst at my branch have made many snacks, but there are definitely some favorites. For our first club meeting, we had teens made gourmet grilled cheese. It was fairly inexpensive, easy, and fun. Staff provided bread, kinds of cheeses, and all the cooking supplies needed. Many of the teens knew how to make grilled cheese, but they got to try new cheeses and use a hot plate.

At our next meeting, we made Oreo pops. It was a bit messy, but a lot of fun. I recommend bringing in a cooler to allow the chocolate covered Oreos to dry and harden. We had a lot of hungry teens that did not want to wait for the chocolate to harden. Again, this recipe was fairly inexpensive and had multiple teens doing multiple tasks. One teen would stir the chocolate as it heated up, while others dunked the Oreos in the chocolate. Oreo pops are also a fun program to do during the holidays because you can use colored icing to give the pops a theme. 

The most success we have had when we had our quesadilla meeting. I had already prepared the meat, due to timQuesadillase, and teens made guacamole and cooked their own quesadillas using a hot plate that we own. It was fun to see the different toppings teens used for their quesadillas, and we even had one teen share a bit of Spanish with other teens.

For fun ideas, Pinterest is a perfect place to look. As the teen department, we have a board full of easy, fun food ideas. Asking teens what they would enjoy learning is another way to get them more involved with the programming aspect of the club. We have had many suggestions. Of course, some of them we cannot do, due to budget, mess, and equipment needed, but we still have had a lot of success.

Some things to keep in mind are how many ingredients you will need, what tools you will need, and how expensive buying the food will be. I know many library staff like to prepare for programs in advance, and keeping in mind how long food will keep is also important. Allergies are also something staff need to be aware of with participating teens. I always make sure that no teen has an allergy, and note what may be in the recipe that could be harmful; I have not had an issue yet. Lastly, we advertise what snack we will be making so a teen does not get their hopes up if it is not something they enjoy or can eat.

Has your library shared a cooking program for teens? Please share some of your fun ideas!

About Maeve Dodds

Maeve is a Teen Lead Librarian for Charlotte Mecklenburg County, University City Branch, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has worked in adult and children services, and was previously an elementary school media specialist. She likes reading in her hammock and trying new foods.
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