Too many cooks spoil the broth, according to the saying. But at the School Food Trust’s Let’s Get Cooking programme, we think there can never be too many. In fact, we want to create many, many more – because we believe every child should have the cooking skills they need to grow into healthy adults.
We’re often asked about the best ways to do this. With the review of the national curriculum currently underway, it’s a good time to think about how you can use practical cooking in your school community, and where to start if you want to do more.
Led by the School Food Trust, the Let’s Get Cooking programme provides training, resources and support to help people set up healthy cooking programmes. We’ve worked with students at university, staff at work, residents in care homes, families through children’s centres and charities, as well as with other organisations and campaigns such as the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Organising Committee, Change4Life, the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation and the Best Practice Network.
But Let’s Get Cooking is best known for establishing England’s biggest network of healthy, school-based cooking clubs for children and families with support from a £20m grant from the BIG Lottery - reaching more than 1.5 million people.
More than 4,500 schools across the country now have a Let’s Get Cooking club, and the network covers every local authority area.
So far, independent evaluation shows that 90% of people taking part in Let’s Get Cooking have used their new cooking skills again at home. 58% tell us that they eat more healthily as a result of learning to cook. And cook they do –in a recent poll of our clubs, home-made muffins and curries topped the chart of favourite healthy recipes to make with children.
Recipes for both sweet and savoury muffins, many with fruit or vegetable bases, won almost a quarter of the votes, whilst spicy dishes including Thai green and seven vegetable curry received a further 12 per cent of nominations. In case you’re wondering, Let’s Get Cooking’s healthier muffin recipes include chocolate versions made with fresh beetroot and ‘autumn’ muffins made with apples, carrots and oats. Other recipe choices from participants in the poll included soups, scones, vegetable dishes, chilli, smoothies and cous cous as well as bread and home-made pizzas.
We submitted evidence of Let’s Get Cooking’s impact to the review of the national curriculum earlier this year. We believe cooking and food skills should be a compulsory subject in all schools because:
it enables children to learn the skills to make healthy and informed choices about the food they buy and eat; when children know how to eat better, they will do better;
it offers a practical way to learn many different subjects right across the curriculum;
it underpins the long-term health of children and adults; and
it secures the future success of a significant part of the UK food industry.
With nearly a quarter of children either overweight or obese as they start school, and that figure rising to one in three by Year 6, the health and life chances of too many children – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – are being undermined by obesity and diet related diseases and conditions.
Learning to cook healthy food from basic ingredients gives them the knowledge and skills to make healthy food choices, both now and in the future. Just as PHSE helps them to make safe and informed choices, so cooking and food skills prepare them to become discerning and healthy consumers. Both subjects provide a core of essential knowledge to help all children realise their potential and live independently as adults.
It has often been assumed that children will learn cooking skills at home, but increasingly this is not the case. There is a social divide, with children from poorer homes less likely to have opportunities to learn about cooking from scratch and developing food skills. As cooking and eating together are frequently the occasions for families to reinforce social and communication skills, these children are also more likely to have low self esteem, which in turn impacts on learning.
Being able to feed yourself well is an essential life skill as much as numeracy, literacy, and science. And teaching food skills can be combined with these lessons. Recently, a Cumbrian school used a huge cooking event for children to teach about food during World War II. The school got the whole community involved to cook a pie that was recommended by the wartime food minister, Lord Woolton, to encourage healthy eating during rationing. For the children, cooking offered a route in to learn not just history, but also numeracy and literacy, design and technology and PHSE.
Science teacher and PHSE coordinator Nick Pritchard, from Oldershaw School on the Wirral, used cooking to help some of his students build their self-confidence. He created a ‘Let’s Get Cooking - pass it on curry club’ to encourage boys to give cooking a try. It was so successful that they’ve been showing pupils from a nearby primary school how to cook their spicy recipes, helping quieter students to come out of their shells. Nick told Let’s Get Cooking: “It is great to see kids who can be a handful in the classroom really show off the meal they have produced, and the interaction between them is great.”
For some children, covering the basics will be enough to start them on a healthy and informed future. Others will want to take their cooking further, with ambitions to make a career in food. Whatever their involvement, cooking and food education are too valuable – both in terms of the educational experience as well as the educational outcome – to be an optional extra or a ‘nice to have’. They form part of the essential knowledge that all children should take with them into adulthood.
That’s why we’re now offering training on using cooking more creatively in school. This low-cost, one-day course explores ways in which you can integrate food and cooking activities into regular lessons. The activities you’ll cover will help you involve children in learning on different levels and through a variety of mediums, making the experience all the more memorable and meaningful.
Basic food safety and hygiene requirements relating to food activities in schools
Safe food preparation skills suitable for use with children at primary school
Teaching ideas, activities and techniques which will energise different curriculum areas and make learning fun
Get in touch if you’d like to book a session.
Learning about cooking gets results for people of all ages. That’s why Let’s Get Cooking is growing: recently, it was chosen as one of the first projects in the country to receive Health Lottery funding from the People’s Health Trust to improve health in local communities.
Caroline Fanshawe is a former head teacher and now a senior manager for Let’s Get Cooking.
Science Minister Chris Skidmore spoke at the BETT Show, reiterating the government's commitment to education technology and working with industry to create solutions that address some of the challenges in education.