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Playing with food at the Tualatin Library

Teens compete in inventive challenges over spring break.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Carlos Villegas, 14, attempts (and fails) to drop an Oreo cookie from his forehead into his mouth without using his hands during an 'Ultimate Food Challenge' at the Tualatin Library.What's a teen to do with a week off from school?

In Tualatin, there's an easy answer: go to the library.

More than a dozen local teens, both in middle and high school, spent their Thursday afternoon last week at the Tualatin Public Library, competing for gift cards with a series of “food challenges” loosely inspired by the game show “Minute to Win It.” In pairs, they took on such timed tasks as constructing and decorating a graham cracker building in just 15 minutes, slurping Jell-O through a straw, and memorizing and reciting the ingredients and measurements of a recipe.

The activity was the brainchild of Tualatin High School junior Stephanie Najera, who sits on the library's teen committee.

“I was searching up different challenges, like in books and online,” she said. “In middle school during lunches, we would play these types of games. And I sort of wanted to just revisit that. My brother helped me — he's still in middle school, and he enjoys those — (and) I'm like, 'OK, let's do these challenges!'”

Some of the challenges looked like more fun than others. In one challenge, contestants had to eat several saltine crackers, one by one, without drinking any water, and then try to whistle — not easy to do with a dry mouth.

“That is some fine Tualatin water right there,” teased teen services librarian Aimee Meuchel, who hosted the challenges in the library community room, as the teams scarfed down their saltines and she savored a swig out of her water bottle. “You feeling dry? A little parched? You got this? It's the whistle that gets you every time.”

In another challenge, the teens had to eat a jar of unlabeled baby food as quickly as they could and then correctly identify what flavor it was.

“Holy smokes, that was gross,” sophomore Katie Richardson exclaimed afterward. “I feel so bad for babies. That's why they spit up all the time.”

Amazingly enough, in a quick survey of the teens after the 10 challenges to determine their favorites, the baby food challenge got a vote.

The runaway winner, however, with half of the teens naming it as their favorite, was the donut challenge. Without using their hands or letting any large pieces fall, teens had to eat a glazed donut that was suspended in front of them on a string as quickly as possible. Some even managed to complete the task in under two minutes.

All in all, the teens spent 2 1/2 hours Thursday running through the challenges.

Meuchel, who was honored last year by the Oregon Library Association as Teen Librarian of the Year, said last week that she tries to make the library “about fun and not just reading and books” for teens.

Richardson seemed to enjoy herself, despite the “gross” baby food.

“It's just fun to hang out with other people and do fun stuff,” she said, explaining why she likes to spend time at the library.

Richardson and many of the other teens even stayed afterward to help clean up the community room.

“These guys are so awesome,” Meuchel said. “You can't ask for a more awesome group.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Brandon Huffman, 19, left, and Cassidy Jones, 19, make a graham cracker house during an 'Ultimate Food Challenge' at the Tualatin Library.

By Mark Miller
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