Enough chewing it over, let's cook

8th December 2006 at 00:00
Last week, Tony Blair finally acknowledged that the ability to cook a meal is an essential life skill. The country's dietary crisis looms ever larger: 24 per cent of adults are already overweight or obese, and it is predicted that, by 2010, one in every ten children will be obese.

In recent years, the government has tried to tackle the problem with healthy eating campaigns and ineffective exhortations to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day. But it has taken far too long for the penny to drop that the bombardment of children with healthy eating messages is destined to fail if children cannot put them into practice because they can't cook. Future generations will never wrest back control over their diets from the food industry unless they know how to plan, buy, prepare, and enjoy along with others, simple, fresh, good quality food.

Cooking, domestic science, home economics - whatever you like to call it - has always been a Cinderella subject, one to fill up the timetables of less academic pupils. In food technology, hands-on cooking has been sidelined to make way for an industry-led, processed food approach, which too often leaves children with an unhealthy fear of food in its raw, unprocessed form.

Straightforward cooking lessons urgently need to be made a core compulsory subject in schools, with at least as much status as physical education.

Pupils need to learn the hardware basics first: how to use a hob and oven, how to select the right sort of pot or bowl for the task, how to hold a knife and chop an onion. This much understood, the next step is simple sauteing of vegetables and meat, followed by the addition of a liquid element - the progenitor of many simple soups, stews and casseroles, and staples such as Bolognese-style ragu and chilli con carne.

This much mastered and confidence boosted, then it should be back to the fundamental baking techniques of the Marguerite Patten generation. Children should learn "rubbing in" and "creaming", so that they can understand the difference in taste between a home-baked cake or pastry and the food industry's hydrogenated fat and additive-laden equivalents. A pertinent lesson on the properties of eggs makes an infinite number of dishes doable, everything from mayonnaise to omelette, souffle and mousse.

Our children are ready for this more than ever before. Food has become glamorous, and these days even boys want to impress their girlfriends with one of Jamie or Gordon's recipes. We just need to stop talking about teaching kids to cook, and actually get on with doing it.

Joanna Blythman is a journalist and the author of 'Bad Food Britain'

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