If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times as a teen librarian: feed them and they will come.
To be completely honest, I haven’t found that to be entirely true (to wit: pizza party with two attendees. And lo! There was much rejoicing in the staff break room that day!), but when the program challenges them with food, oh baby. Let the Hungry Games begin!
I’ve actually only done a few teen-focused food programs, but my colleague Lisa has run a lot of Iron Chef-themed programs, so I’ll touch on both.
My first summer as a n00b teen librarian, I thought it would be a lot of fun to have a Chocolate Party. Actually, it was really fun, except for the daycare that showed up with little kids insisting that the kids eat the chocolate, and turned them loose in the program. I was wide-eyed with horror. Lesson learned: if the attendees are completely out of the age range for a program–particularly one that could get very messy, like a food program, enforce that age range like a boss.
Aside from the rampaging, sugar-fueled little ones, the teens at the party had a lot of fun. We made chocolate dipped fruit and pretzels, voted on our favorite chocolate bars, and did a blind taste test. I purchased some non-standard chocolate flavors–chili, pomegranate, and orange–and had them guess the flavors. The majority of them voted for orange as the best-tasting but chili as the most interesting.
My colleague Karen and I do a Pop a Peep program in the spring (traditional Peeps) and the fall (Hallo-Peeps). The teens construct peep piles or towers with toothpicks and then microwave them. Inevitably, the once-boiling, now-congealed mass of corn syrup duckies is inhaled by the teens. They seriously do not care if the Peeps are burnt, lava-hot, or stale: they will eat them. It’s kind of amazing.
My awesome colleague Lisa, who has a fabulously outgoing personality, has done several Iron Chef-style programs for teens. For these, it’s really important to have some sort of sign up. We usually ask local stores for donations of cupcakes, frosting, or fruit, and we don’t want to waste their generosity or run out of food! So far, we’ve done Battle Salsa, Battle Salads, Battle Cupcakes, and Battle Gingerbread. At first, we had adults taste-testing the results, but some … shall we say … interesting flavor combinations in our salad session led to a discontinuation of that! One of the teens had a dad who was a professional chef, so she was extremely serious about her work and even wore his work smock and toque to the program!
These food-centric programs are awesome for team-building, too. Normally reserved teens will end up giggling and cracking jokes about exploding marshmallows and cupcake creations. They’re well worth the time, energy, money, and cleaning-up!
To recap: a list of things to do before a food program:
Let your maintenance staff know! Ground-in frosting is slightly more palatable when it’s not a surprise!
Ask your local grocery stores for donations. Ours have been very generous!
Check with your administration to make sure that this program is approved.
Make sure that flyers let people know that allergens will be present.
For battle-type programs, have a way for teens to sign-up.
Purchase lots of tablecloths (or those bulk rolls of tablecloths–a life-saver!!!)
TSU Agent Pamela Penza is a Librarian with New Hanover County. All views expressed here are her own and not that of her employers. Pam loves Star Wars, cooking, finding new ways to look awkward at the gym, and reading YA fiction. You can find her on Twitter @Pamelibrariland or on her blog at http://pamelibrarian.blogspot.com.