Let’s get cooking on the curriculum

The Children’s Food Trust has welcomed the revised National Curriculum for Cookery – which comes into force this September. It will see more children learn how to cook at school, with compulsory practical lessons for the first time for children up to year nine.

Teaching cooking skills to every child at school is something the Children’s Food Trust has called for ever since it began its work in 2007. It’s why the Trust created and runs Let’s Get Cooking, the nation’s biggest network of healthy, school-based cooking clubs.
Let’s Get Cooking has proved hugely successful, reaching nearly three million people; more than 90 per cent of those taking part have reported using their new cooking skills again at home and more than half have said they eat more healthily after learning to cook through this programme. With the forthcoming changes to the curriculum, these benefits are set to reach even more children and their families.
Maggie Sims, Head of Let’s Get Cooking at the Children’s Food Trust, said: “We think being able to look after your health is just as important as learning to read and write – which is why practical cooking must be part of children’s compulsory education, and we are thrilled that it will be soon.    
“Every parent knows how difficult it can be to get children to try new foods, particularly fruit and veg. What we see every day in our work is that learning to cook has a real impact on people’s understanding of which foods are healthy and on their willingness to give them a try.    
“Our study of children aged between four and eight years who took part in our Let’s Get Cooking clubs showed that learning to cook may improve children’s recognition of healthier foods, particularly things like bananas, tomatoes and peas.    
“Our evaluation reports give serious food for thought for public health commissioning. For less than the price of a few family take-aways, you can give children cooking skills that can change their diet and their health, for life.”

A daunting prospect
The new guidance for schools which follow the curriculum starts children off with preparing dishes at key stage 1. They will prepare and cook ‘a variety of predominantly savoury dishes using a range of cooking techniques’ at key stage 2 and cook ‘a repertoire of predominantly savoury dishes’ and become ‘competent in a range of cooking techniques’ at key stage 3.    
But some schools, particularly those without food technology rooms or much experience of cooking with children and young people, will understandably be feeling daunted at the prospect.

The Trust will be delivering tailor-made training sessions to schools this summer to help them prepare for the changes.
Maggie said: “ We offer teachers practical solutions to help them to run practical cooking sessions in the classroom – the commitment and enthusiasm to make it happen is half the battle.
“It’s really important that teachers feel confident delivering lessons with just a bit of basic kit and simple recipes because for some of them, that is all they’ll have available.
“Our training enables schools to set up classrooms of all shapes and sizes using portable equipment so they can run practical cooking sessions with pupils anywhere and at any time.

“We help teachers feel prepared by developing their skills in food hygiene and safety, by helping them explore a range of cookery and preparation techniques, and by helping them understand the components of a healthy, varied diet.”

Grasping the fundamentals
The Let’s Get Cooking regional teams have trained school staff all over the country to run cookery sessions with limited budget and resources.
Eileen Wallace, who runs training and works with clubs in the North West, said: “Many people think that you have to have fancy equipment and a shelf full of cook books with complicated recipes to be a competent cook. Our work is about demystifying cookery and showing people how easy and cheap it can be to make a nutritious, tasty meal.
“It’s much better to grasp the fundamentals and have no boundaries at all, than learn a fixed range of recipes by rote. In fact, with cooking being a hugely powerful teaching tool for all sorts of subjects, not just a skill in its own right, the possibilities are endless.”
Let’s Get Cooking uses a train‑the‑trainer model that shows volunteers, sometimes with limited or no experience, how to teach a range of recipes to help people get to grips with key skills.
Eileen said: “For example, our basic scone recipe is great to teach weighing, measuring and mixing skills. It can be made into so many things so once you’ve done it, you open the door to a range of different meals. With just this one recipe, you’ve got the base for savoury scones – with parmesan and herb, or sundried tomatoes – a simple pizza base, a cobbler, or even a crumble.
“Cooking our Chicken Tikka Masala is a great way to introduce children to the concept of calories and how take-aways can be high in fat, salt and sugar. It shows how to make healthier and cheaper versions at home.

We know that the average chicken tikka masala in a take-away contains almost 1,400 calories per portion whereas  ours  contains just 319 calories. We teach children how to make their own curry paste from scratch. It’s an excellent opportunity for them to learn about lots of different herbs and spices, which most of them won’t have seen before. It’s also the chance to teach proper techniques for handling and cooking meat, and about foods from different cultures.
“Our rainbow couscous is a non-cook recipe which is great for schools with limited ovens and facilities. You can make this with orange juice rather than boiling water so it’s suitable even for very young children, and works well even for schools struggling for kitchen space and equipment.
Simple dishes like these are  wonderful ways to teach children about safe chopping and peeling, and for delivering the 5-a-day message.”

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