Food TechnologySport - Can't cook, won't cook

Develop children's kitchen confidence by going back to basics

James Martin

Whether it is called food technology, home economics or just plain, old-fashioned home cooking, learning about food and how to prepare it is slipping down the school agenda. But we all have to eat and cooking properly is a fundamental life skill. How do we help children to do it properly and develop their confidence in the kitchen?

Starting at the beginning may sound obvious, yet you would be amazed by how many people I meet who can follow a recipe but do not understand the principles behind it.

At a recently launched campaign to get children cooking - 5by25 - I was shocked to learn that 90 per cent of young people cannot cook a simple meal. A couple of lessons on honing knife skills, learning about techniques like roasting or sauteing and showing how ingredients like flour and baking soda work can have a huge impact on students' capabilities, giving them a grasp of the basics and some tools to explore more innovative aspects of food preparation.

Cooking bread and pasta from scratch is a great way to put theory into practice and show how similar ingredients can be used to create different results.

Every year, I meet budding young cooks at schools and colleges across the country, and it is always those who understand basic cooking techniques and have been given some independence in the classroom who really shine. Make your programmes of study as flexible as possible. This gives pupils a sense of control and allows them to see the correlation between what they eat and its impact on the body.

Providing information about new trends is a great way to engage children and makes what you are doing in the classroom feel more topical. For example, cupcakes were really popular last year, but tapas-style dishes and sharing plates are going to be big in 2012.

Finally, I think a bit of healthy competition is essential, be it subjecting their dishes to a taste test at the end of a lesson or entering them in contests. This is a great way to encourage pupils to improve their skills. Every year I judge a cooking competition and I am always amazed at what the entrants, aged 11-16, come up with. They put some adults to shame.

James Martin presents Saturday Kitchen on BBC One and is head judge for the Red Tractor Make it with Mince Challenge. For details on how to enter this year's competition, visit

What else?

For more recipe ideas visit or Or try James Martin's website:

Prepare pupils for the kitchen with foodafactoflife's basic skills pack.

Give your class a licence to cook with an activity pack from JSharp72.

Heat up revision with processes and techniques cards from aoifekilbane.

In the forums

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James Martin

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