Children are missing out on glorious food

As a well-known chef I am interviewed regularly, but I am first and foremost a cook who wants to share food knowledge and cooking skills with everyone.

My real ambition is to make sure all young people learn to cook at school. This is why I am part of the Royal Society of Arts' Focus on Food campaign, which is working hard to raise the profile of practical food education in schools.

Cooking at home led to my love of making food and a successful career as a chef, based on the pursuit of perfection. Because I attended an all-boys'

school, cooking was not part of my education; I was self-taught.

Now, although food technology and home economics provide an opportunity for both boys and girls to work with food in around 85 per cent of secondary schools, in addition to primary schools, the depressing fact is that it does not happen.

Many schools are not teaching children to cook on a regular basis at all. This is not good news and there are enormous issues surrounding food teaching that need to be addressed.

I believe passionately that young people should be taught to make, and cook, dishes from scratch with quality food. Making food helps children learn about nutrition and healthy eating, as well as linking learning in many other areas of the curriculum. Teaching children about food and where it comes from allows primary teachers to link food education with geography and history, for example.

Measuring and weighing ingredients incorporates maths concepts, and looking at the changes that take place during cooking includes aspects of science.

If we want children to benefit from learning about food and cooking then schools need help, not least through better funding and provision of basic facilities to make cooking possible.

In March, we presented a petition to 10 Downing Street, signed by 15,000 teachers, parents, children and chefs. We urged ministers to support these aims and to seek to persuade them to address some of the fundamental issues associated with teaching food preparation and food-handling skills in our schools.

We have seven demands, including the recruitment of more and better-trained food teachers, compulsory food technology at key stage 3 and a whole-school approach to food education within two years.

I am adamant that these points should be taken seriously by the Government because I believe that for too long a practical approach to food education has been at the bottom of the agenda in schools. As a result, increasing numbers of youngsters are unable to cook even the simplest of meals and many show incredible ignorance about basic foods.

Developing culinary experience at an early age is important, but so is sitting down together and enjoying the social elements of a meal. When I recently made bruschetta with Year 1 children on the Focus on Food Cooking Bus in a primary school, we looked at, tasted, sniffed and talked about all the ingredients.

Later, when the children had made their own bruschetta, we sat down to eat and discussed the results. We talked about the crunchy bread, the soft tomato and the basil flavour, the tangy-tasting olives and the soft, creamy-tasting melted cheese.

Not only does food education like this help children to discover more about ingredients, it helps them appreciate the cultural aspects surrounding it.

Hopefully, having made a delicious dish at school, children will recreate the dish at home. As their confidence grows, so does their imagination and their choice of dishes. When I started to cook at home I became more adventurous and soon I began to prepare Sunday lunches. It led me to discover a host of other dishes I could make and boosted my confidence and self-esteem.

When I was at school I kept my cooking secret from my classmates. Now it is more than OK to cook at school and at home. Cooking is the key experience in good food education and we should all strive to promote and preserve quality cooking for all young people.

Schools can join Focus on Food free of charge. They will receive teaching and learning materials and can apply for a visit from The Cooking Bus. Contact Focus on Food on 01422 383191, email:helen@design-dimension.co.uk

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