With representatives from McDonald's and Cadbury hauled up in front of a Parliamentary select committee, childhood obesity is firmly on the political agenda. Ignorance about nutrition and healthy eating, coupled with lack of exercise is being blamed for the growing ranks of overweight children. So it is with perfect timing that the Foods Standards Agency Cooking Bus has just hit the road. The mobile kitchen comes equipped with five ovens, two microwaves, four hobs, and two fridges, more than 2,500 pieces of equipment, two teachers and enough room for 16 pupils or teachers to cook up a banquet.
Martin Tune, headteacher of Bonner Primary School in Bethnal Green, London, who took his class for one of the first sessions on the new bus said: "It's like the Tardis. When it arrives, it looks like a an ordinary lorry and then it suddenly unpeels to reveal this huge kitchen."
The new bus is a joint venture with the Royal Society of Art's Focus on Food campaign which supports healthy eating and practical cooking in schools. The bus provides cooking facilities to meet the needs of primary, secondary and special needs children. But equally important is the training available to teachers, says Anita Cormac the director of Focus on Food. "We can train 16 teachers at a time so that it is not just a one-off event and a legacy is left in the school."
As well as providing practical skills, the home economists on the bus impart information that ranges from food safety and nutrition to complementary tastes, textures and farming techniques. At the end of the sessions, the pupils not only take home their creations, they are given menus to encourage them to try the recipes in their own kitchens.
Focus on Food runs another cooking bus sponsored by the RSA and Waitrose and since its launch three years ago it has travelled more than 10,000 miles a year and played host to 18,000 children and 2,400 teachers. The new bus has been introduced to help cope with the huge demand from schools.
Martin Tune has no doubts about why this meals on wheels service has been so popular. "It is absolutely brilliant. We cannot provide this type of facility and it really opens up the opportunities for the children," he says. "It excites and inspires them to try out all sort of cooking and it also helps them to discuss and learn more about science and nutrition."
Bonner pupil Mairi Tejani, 10, sums it up best when she says: "It's about the joy of cooking."
To book a session on the busTel: 01422 383 191www.food.gov.ukbushttp:focusonfood.waitrose.com