The news came through Thursday morning about the sad demise of Children’s Food Trust; an incredibly important charity that started out as a government quango supporting schools to teach cookery, then in 2010 turned into charity status and started to get all children eating well. A cut in funding means the charity is no more.
I’ve worked in the food education sector for nearly 9 years. The majority of that time teaching cookery in schools in the form of one-off workshops and after-school clubs. Unfortunately, it was these cuts, so prevalent in many sectors, that saw me lose my funding a couple of years ago meaning my work in the public sector was no longer viable. This meant I was not surprised when I read the sad news. I used Children’s Food Trust funding to offer cookery classes free to kids from disadvantaged/vulnerable backgrounds.
You could argue that we shouldn’t need charities to teach kids to cook, but we do. There is a huge concern about kids and their ever-expanding waistlines. Parents told me they couldn’t cook and didn’t know how or want to teach it. I also remember when I started my after-school classes some parents complained and couldn’t understand why I was teaching their child to make bread when you could buy a loaf for 50p. A surprising amount of my pupils had never even eaten rice before or recognised what I believed to be common fruit or veg. This is why we need to make sure that no child misses out on decent food education.
Kids cookery is more than baking
When I taught cookery to kids I always made sure we did a broad range of recipes making sure I introduced new flavours, ingredients, methods, cuisines and not relying on often not-so-healthy baking like so many kids cookery classes do. Yes, baking is nearly always a winner with kids (& adults) but offer them a rainbow of choice and they may surprise you. I remember one of my pupils leaving at the end of Y6 telling me her favourite recipe that she’d made in all the years I taught her was a Thai noodle salad and that she still made it at home. Before that lesson, she’d never eaten Thai food.
During London 2012 we tried dishes from each continent of the world and even made Olympic flame cakes. My favourite term as when we did Roald Dahl inspired recipes. wormy spaghetti, peach milkshake.
Cooking isn’t just learning about how to cook it teaches so many things: Nutrition, geography, cultural awareness, motor skills, literacy, maths, science, creativity, cause & effect… the list goes on. What a child eats in the early years sets a huge president to future health. Think of it as investing in the future.
In all the years of teaching my best pupils were often boys, branded trouble makers with poor academic levels and often from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some had been on the cusp of being excluded yet put them in front of a bowl of raw ingredients and their destructive energy is now transformed into making the perfect bread dough or expertly sliced tomatoes.
Good food can be cheap, but when you’re time-pressed and don’t have the skills or inclination to cook not-so-good food is even cheaper. This is why I strongly believe that if children are introduced to different foods and cookery from an early age it can have a profound impact later on.
Kids in the kitchen
LB has always been there with me in the kitchen. Partially so I can keep my eye on her while I sort dinner. Kids are like sponges and you’ll be shocked as to what they pick up just by watching. It doesn’t have to be them helping with every single stage, but exploring ingredients so they understand them but also using basic knife skills to help chop easy foods like mushrooms.
This isn’t a political piece, just me mourning the loss of such an important charity that leaves a huge hole in food education that impacts on every child’s future.