Hop on for the young cooks' tour

12th December 2008 at 00:00
Jackie Cosh joins excited children learning to make samosas and couscous aboard the Healthier Scotland Cooking Bus

The exterior of the Healthier Scotland Cooking Bus, like Dr Who's tardis, gives no hint of how much activity occurs within.

Amid an array of ovens and sinks, child-height workbenches, worktops and cupboards, up to 16 children are practising basic cooking skills, learning the importance of food safety and hygiene and increasing their general knowledge of food and healthy eating.

At St Anne's Primary in Glasgow, Liam Hendry is making vegetable samosas. "I have been really looking forward to the bus coming," he says. "I help my mum at home but I want to learn to cook so that she doesn't have to."

Launched by the Scottish Government in June, the bus aims to raise the profile of food education in schools and get across the message of healthy eating and food safety in a fun and engaging way.

With a remit to visit all local authorities in Scotland, it spends four days at each school it visits. Children aged four and upwards attend the one-and-a-half hour sessions, where they are given simple demonstrations and then put into practice what they have learnt.

Helen Orr, one of two advisory teachers on the bus, says: "We teach hands-on practical cooking, focusing on healthy eating. Most children know about healthy eating and about the five-a-day guide, but they don't know what to do with that knowledge."

Cooking can be surprisingly cross-curricular. "Maths, science, geography, art - all areas of the curriculum can be brought into the sessions, and we run sessions for the teachers showing them how this can be done," says Ms Orr.

Rather like a Ready, Steady, Cook presenter, the advisory teacher talks as she demonstrates the correct way to hold and use a knife (think Bob the Builder). The conversation centres on all aspects of food and eating. Where do grapes grow? Why do we need five fruit and vegetables a day? What is milk good for? Think of words to describe the taste. They are all questions that the children answer enthusiastically.

Samosas, couscous, fruit kebabs - all can be prepared fairly quickly, and taken home to eat later. The talk easily turns to discussing where each fruit comes from and why certain foods are good for us.

Margaret Mackay, a principal teacher at St Anne's, explains how she discovered the food bus: "I have a friend who is a farmer. She saw it at the Highland Show and called to tell me about it. We are a very health-conscious school and thought this would be great to have as part of our health week."

Getting parents involved and interested in cooking is one of the aims. Each child goes home with a folder of information, including recipes. "My dad ate the couscous when I took it home," says Sinead Hughes. "He said it was tasty and asked me to make it again. I showed him the recipe."

Louise Jarvie, headteacher at the school, says: "Everyone has been really excited about the food bus coming and the children have been watching for its arrival. There has been a real buzz and it has exceeded all our expectations."

With all the children from P3-6 getting a turn, many are talking of cooking at home. "They have really opened up," says Ms Jarvie. "Those who cook with their parents at home have talked about what they do, while others have said they will ask their mum if they can cook."

The bus may be at the school for only a few days, but the impact is intended to be long-lasting. All schools are given a box with Pounds 800 worth of cooking equipment so that they can continue the cooking lessons. The staff are shown how rooms can be adapted for simple cookery classes using tabletop hobs.

"All the teachers attended a session and received training to allow us to incorporate it into school," says Ms Jarvie. "There are lots of opportunities to link cooking with the curriculum and we are hoping to make it part of the children's golden time."

Ms Jarvie is keen to fix another visit from the food bus. "We have had people walking past the school asking if they could come in.

"Ideally I would like to see the bus back to provide sessions for parents and the wider community. It is really something that people in the local area could benefit from."

The Food Bus is available to come to schools throughout Scotland free of charge. To book, visit the website: www.focusonfood.org.

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