Food can be the way to a child's heart - and mind.
Lindy Sharpe offers simple recipes and tempting teaching ideas Given that cooking in-volves making a sticky mess and then eating the results, it's not surprising that children love it. It feels like fun, not work - which makes it an invaluable activity for reinforcing children's understanding of many of the principles that underlie the curriculum.
Above all, it teaches children that literacy, numeracy, technology and science are not just "school" subjects but skills used in the adult world to do worthwhile things. It is also a chance to grasp the idea that the food we eat is basically stored solar energy, transformed either directly by plants or indirectly by animals that have eaten the plant. They practise manipulation skills, learn how to use kitchen equipment accurately and safely, and learn how to behave in what is potentially a dangerous environment.
The national curriculum has not knocked cooking on the head, either. While the links between Design and Techno-logy and making a pizza are rather tenuous, every piece of food preparation, from measuring the ingredients to washing up the pots and pans, is applied mathematics and science. Reading a recipe, discussing developments, collaborating continued from page 10 and following instructions all contribute to children's growing facility with language. For these reasons, cookery has survived where some other practical activities have not.
According to Geoffrey Thompson, from the National Association of Teachers of Home Economics, the sooner this learning starts, the better: "Food techno-logy at key stage 1 is the perfect way to learn about food safety, nutrition and the fun of it all."
NATHE, along with the British Dietetic Association, the Heart Forum and Sustain (an umbrella organisation promoting food awareness) have all been campaigning to keep food skills in the curriculum at all stages.
In practice, it's best to work in small groups, if possible. One way to achieve this is to have a primary helper (or parent volunteer) take a different group of four or five children for a half-hour cooking session once a week.
If you have a kitchen with a table in it, perfect: the children can sit round the table for the lesson. Some teachers may find it more convenient to do the preparation in the classroom, then carry the food to the kitchen to be cooked. Even if the school has no cooking facilities, the children can still prepare food: designing a fruit salad or a triple-decker sandwich is a useful techno-logy project.
Some children may have allergies to certain foods, or there may be dietary reasons why they can not handle or taste them. You will probably already be aware of these, but you could send out a letter to parents and ask them to tell you about any restrictions. You can ask for volunteer helpers at the same time, or you may be able to persuade families from different cultural backgrounds to share traditional recipes.
The recipes here are common ones, adapted for groups of young children. They take less than half an hour to prepare, though the cooking time may be longer, so a portable timer is useful. They involve a range of activities, broken down into separate tasks to keep the children busy.
All the cutting can be done with table knives or round-ended scissors.
The science involved is engaging. First, there are the ingredients that can be mixed, rubbed or creamed. Simply combining ingredients changes them. Heating them changes them in irreversible ways and results in completely new products. Toast is different from bread; and you can't get the bread back again.
That's not true of adding materials to water. You can get salt back again from brine, and taste the sugar in fizzy drinks.
There is science in simple meals like Welsh rarebit. Toasting the bread drives off the moisture and turns some of the surface tocarbon - too much if yoburn it. Buttering the hot toast melts the butter and also clarifies it - water is lost and the butter is permanently changed. Cheese is changed by heating, too. Compare a hot cheese toastie with the raw ingredients.
Cooking vegetables changes them. It softens them, breaking down the structure. Starch bursts out of many vegetables. Coloured materials come out of others such as from cabbage or beetroot, colouring the water. Baking is slow but boiling is not - water conducts heat to vegetables more quickly than air. Frying is fast because the oil is so hot.
Following the recipe should result in the same product every time; but even disasters can be educational. The results may not be up to Delia Smith's standards - but then she's aiming for the perfect meal, not the perfect science lesson.
NATHE produces a booklet, called "Working with Food in Primary Scools", about how to plan food technology activities. Send pound;1 in stamps to NATHE, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BJ. "Chemistry and Cookery" explores science through food work at KS1 and 2.From Northamptonshire Inspection amp; Advisory Service, Sales, SpencerCentre, Lewis Road, Northampton NN5 7BJ, pound;13.20. Sustain produces "Get Cooking", a fact pact and newsletter: contact 020 7837 1228.
* CHEESE SCONE SHAPES
225g self-raising flour
50g soft butter
milk to mix
1. Weigh flour and butter, put them into a bowl and rub together with fingertips until mixture is crumbly.
2. Grate cheese. Stir most of it into mixture.
3. Mix to a soft, not sticky, consistency with a little milk. Gather mixture into a ball and knead it gently.
4. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
5. Roll dough out on a floured work surface till 2cm thick. Cut into triangles or squares with a knife or circles with a cutter.
6. Put scones on baking sheet and sprinkle remaining cheese on top.
7. Bake for 12 minutes at 240C475FGas 8.
* COCONUT HAYSTACKS
1 small tin condensed milk
400g desiccated coconut
Food colouring (optional)
1. Empty the condensed milk into a bowl.
2. Mix in enough coconut to give a stiff consistency. If you like, stir in a few drops of food colouring.
3. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
4. Shape into haystacks with hands.
5. Place on a baking sheet.
6. Top each haystack with a cherry.
7. Either leave to set at room temperature for a couple of hours, or bake for 20 minutes at 150C300FGas 3.
* FUNNY FACED PIZZAS
1 pack pizza base mix or ready-made pizza bases
1 jar pizza topping
Plus, for faces, small quantities of cherry tomatoes, green or yellow peppers, black olives and spring onions.
1. If using pizza mix, prepare the base according to the pack instructions: tip the powder into a bowl, measure hot water and stir it in, knead the dough for a few minutes with floury hands on a floured work surface, then roll it out with a rolling pin into one large or several small circles.
2. Spread each base with a thin layer of tomato topping.
3. Grate cheese and sprinkle some on to each pizza.
4. Slice and chop the vegetables. Using the pieces for features, give each pizza a face.
5. Bake according to manufacturer's instructions - usually for about 15 minutes at 220C425FGas 6
* JAM TARTS
Children are good at making pastry, because they have nearly all practised rolling and cutting with modelling clay.
It can be used in lots of recipes - not just jam tarts but savoury flans, fruit pies, or mince pies at Christmas.
225g plain or self-raising flour
100g soft butter
Pinch of salt
2 - 3 tablespoons cold water
1. Weigh flour, tip it into a bowl and stir in salt.
2. Weigh butter and rub it i