Cooking Lessons to Teach Kids the Basics

Discussion
Sep 22, 2008

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Partner, Fine Food Network

More than a decade after switching emphasis from cooking to food technology, British schoolchildren are going to be given compulsory cooking lessons. A free recipe book for every 11 year old is being distributed and £150 million ($275m) allocated for fitting out kitchens, according to reports in The Times and The Guardian, amongst others.

Ed Balls, schools minister, said, “Too many people just accept they cannot cook or simply do not have time for it…We’ve lost touch with making basic dishes from scratch, even though there has never been a wider range of food in our shops.”

The booklet contains 32 recipes compiled from suggestions made by the general public and include stews, casseroles, sauces, meat and vegetarian dishes and desserts. They come from a range of cuisines such as British, Indian, Italian, Chinese and Spanish. All are made with fresh ingredients and are designed to include specific skills such as peeling and chopping an onion.

New government thinking is that obesity can be reduced if children (especially boys) learn more about food and cooking. Parents are being encouraged to let them spend more time in the kitchen, putting into practice what they will be learning at school. Mr. Balls emphasized, “Schools are only part of the solution. It will be great if young people have the chance to make healthy dishes from basic ingredients at home, not simply in the classroom.”

Cooking lessons will become compulsory for pupils aged 11 to 14 from 2011 with an emphasis on healthy, well-balanced meals.

Although generally recognized as a positive step, there were reminders that it has taken a long time for officials to reverse their policy of closing school kitchens and replacing hands on cooking lessons with less practical skills such as designing packages for ready meals or toppings for pizzas.

The need to teach children about food and healthy eating has gained recognition recently in research comparing packed lunches with school meals. According to the British Dietetic Association, school meals were much lower in sugar and salt than packed lunches, and also included lower amounts of some important minerals, including iron. Pupils eating school meals were much more likely to eat vegetables, but pupils eating packed lunches ate more fruit. Intakes of calories, protein and starchy carbohydrate were very similar in both.

Discussion questions: What do you think of compulsory cooking lessons for kids in the U.S.? What do you think of the program’s chances in reducing obesity and encouraging better eating habits? How can retailers help parents and teachers encourage kids to learn about food preparation and eating a balanced diet?

[Author’s commentary]
As a mother who spent a lot of time in school helping to teach kids to cook as well as my own kids and my friends and their kids, seeing the government wake up to the mistakes it has made in removing cooking from the curriculum ought to please me. But I’m spitting mad at the fact that the wheel is having to be re-invented because food technology (designing packages for convenience foods) was substituted until some bright politician realized that we’re into a second generation of people who not only can’t cook but eat badly and have no idea how to choose ingredients in the supermarket.

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15 Comments on "Cooking Lessons to Teach Kids the Basics"


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Jonathan Marek
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

What happened to parents? I love to cook with my children, and I do see tremendous value in teaching them about food…and math and chemistry and patience and everything else you learn from cooking. I see this as my responsibility and my role, not the role of the school. After all, it’s not like schools today are all that successful at their primary academic role. Must schools take on every social issue du jour as well?

Julie Parrish
Guest
Julie Parrish
13 years 7 months ago
I can see room for a grocery retailer to use this as a marketing tool ala Home Depot’s kids’ clinics where HD lets kids come in and work through a project for free. So instead of building a bird house, kids could go to Safeway or Albertsons and learn how to make a kid-friendly meal that they could replicate at home if mom and dad bought the ingredients. It could also be sponsored in part by manufacturers who say “here’s the recipe, the coupon, and the know how” to use our products and cook a meal at home with your children. I’ve taught children nutrition as part of a previous life of being a school food service director. Sadly, there isn’t much room in the schools as the home ec lab has been overrun by the computer lab and the thoughts of the superintendent (in my district anyway) is that we’re not raising “food service workers” when pitched ideas about bringing food curriculum back into the classroom. Little do these schools realize that one in… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
13 years 7 months ago
In high school a few of my teammates and I signed up for Home Economics cooking classes to be near girls. We learned plenty about girls, but even more about cooking. What a seminal experience. My father helped me expand that experience to a true love of cooking, and I still use some of his kitchen equipment. My son and daughter inherited that love of cooking by hanging around my wife and me in the kitchen, and now both are considered excellent cooks by their peers. It certainly was and remains a binding agent for our family. While Bernice was being spitting mad I expected her to spit as well at the influence of microwave ovens on childhood obesity and inability to cook. We can’t teach children to ignore microwaves, but it’s not too late to educate them about the alternatives. We did it with the concept of “Eight Great Things.” We taught the kids the basics of cooking and then encouraged each of them to develop eight great things they could cook well enough… Read more »
Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
13 years 7 months ago
I am reading as a sub-text a challenge to the nature of ‘convenience foods’. Whether it be a snack or quick meal that kids and adults grab as a quick solution, sometimes nutritious, sometimes just empty calories, because we neither want to think about, or have time for better choices. I know that around our house there were too many convenience foods available and subsequently chosen without thinking to fill an immediate hunger, and we’ve put on lots of extra pounds in the process. My new life here in Hong Kong is changing that. While lots of convenience foods abound, ingredients appear fresher, and in many cases, I need to think about what I’m preparing rather than grabbing and running. I’ll need more time to think this through but somehow I am losing pounds, approaching a weight I haven’t seen in years. Also doing a lot of walking, which I haven’t since I lived in New York. Anyway, bravo for the school system that is making one of human-kind’s most important activity more thoughtful.
Warren Thayer
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

If we are to assume that the purpose of “education” is to prepare our young for “life,” then, yes, this is a good idea. Throw in some nutrition, too. The fact that nobody can cook anymore is usually treated as a joke, but it’s not. Nothing wrong with giving people the tools to be more self-sufficient, and likely improving their enjoyment of food and their health at the same time.

From a purely selfish point of view, it would get some spending away from fast feeders and back into supermarkets. It’s absurd that “meal solutions” are necessary. As my good friend, the brilliant and insightful consultant Dan Raftery, recently mentioned to me, “meal solutions” implies that there is a “problem.” Meals should not be a problem.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
13 years 7 months ago

Providing education to our children for cooking–what a great opportunity to learn about healthier choices and follow up with something good to eat. I believe we can make inroads here with the right programs–simple and good to eat. Tie this into local retailers’ community based programs and the possibilities continue. Knowing what to choose and how to prepare food would be a tremendous starting point for a healthier generation.

Ben Ball
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

I thought we already had compulsory cooking classes here in the U.S. They consist of 1) camping trips of more than two nights duration, 2) four years of college on a $100 a week living expense budget, and 3) graduate school on your own hook!

OK, so we don’t all grow up that way. And teaching kids to do ANYTHING that gives them the satisfaction of creating something useful and that makes them more self-sufficient has to be a good thing. Some other basic life skills that might make good additions to our high school curriculum would be budget management, relationship management and civics.

Just imagine, a society of well-adjusted, fiscally responsible and knowledgeable voters–who can make a good home cooked meal! Now there’s an aspirational vision for America.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
13 years 7 months ago

If you get kids excited about preparing their own meals, there might be less of a desire to hit the fast food joint. Taking time to make the family dinner or preparing lunch for the next day is something that is missing from our everyday tasks.

Educating children from an early age is how we will break our addiction to fast food. When I was a kid, it used to be a once a month treat to go to McD’s. Now it seems like we are there more often with the kids.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
13 years 7 months ago

This is a great idea and you can make it such fun for kids. It’s also a great way to get manufacturers and retailers involved, although you have to be careful about not going down that slippery slope and turn the lessons into nothing more than advertising.

I’ve said it before and it’s truer than ever–retailers can no longer simply be repositories of ingredients. Give someone a fish and they eat for a day. Teach them to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

Good intentions aside, this seems like one of those ideas that someone wants to try because nothing else works. I don’t see much coming of it, save for the usual charge that this-or-that company is “targeting young people,” but with the twist that the school system will be seen as an accomplice.

Frank Beurskens
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

Retailers can assist parents in educating their children about food by acknowledging that a need exists and devoting a small portion of their marketing focus on kids and cooking.

“Kids Recipes” is consistently the most popular feature across ShoptoCook’s entire recipe kiosk network. The “Kids Recipes” category button outranks other popular categories such as “Desserts” and “Meals in Minutes.”

When kids accompany a parent to the supermarket, shopping baskets are frequently larger. Children become part of the shopping and cooking experience when they select their own recipes for dinners to be prepared at home. When kids have fun, retailers please both the parent and the child while increasing sales. For many families, kids play a large roll in determining what ultimately ends up in the shopping cart.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
13 years 7 months ago

Reading this article makes me realize that I need to learn how to cook. I also wish that it had been included in my school days. Food, nutrition and convenience foods have changed so much and not necessarily for the better. Cookbooks used to be highly desirable but now no one wants them except the seniors that have always used them. If you like cookbooks, you’re labeled as a “dinosaur” to many of the younger generation but they still marvel at the taste of the delicious meals that are prepared at home from scratch with them.

Convenience foods have been very successful and have been driven in large part by time-starved working moms and younger families where no one has taken the time to really learn to cook. The negatives are that this convenience really drives up the costs of these foods and also in many cases lowers the nutritional quality.

Well, I would write more but I have to get out the cookbooks for beginners and get started. I’m getting hungry.

Richard Wakeham
Guest
Richard Wakeham
13 years 7 months ago

The only downside here…while the children are trying to cook, their parents will be getting in the way preparing their own frozen dinners in the microwave.

Ron Margulis
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

We had nutrition classes as part of Phys. Ed. and had cooking as part of Home Ec. when I was in middle and high schools, and they went a long way to getting me interested in cooking (that and the fact that my mom tended to burn things in the kitchen). I recently raised the question of teaching how to shop and cook with a member of our local school board and she looked at me blankly and asked if that isn’t the parents job. It is the parent’s job, but reinforcement in the schools will certainly help.

Dan Desmarais
Guest
Dan Desmarais
13 years 7 months ago

Jamie Oliver has done an amazing job of leading a new generation of British school children to a healthier lifestyle. We should all watch more of his work so we understand the garbage that many of us feed to our kids.

I think that teaching our children to cook in schools is just the start. We then need to take them to the store and teach them to shop on a budget and gather the items that they’ll then cook.

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