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Watch and learn - teaching kids to cook

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

"If I had one wish, I’d wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food. To inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."

Jamie Oliver

I've been meaning to write something about teaching kids to cook of late.

Many arguments with David over how people get fat is one of the reasons. We are indeed in the middle of an obesity epidemic. Having been slightly overweight myself for a period and having undertaken to lose that weight through the 5/2 diet, I completely understand how difficult it is to lose weight. It took me about 18 months I think to lose my targeted 15 kilograms, and I still have minor difficulty maintaining that weight. I still have to fast at least one day a week to stay at my target. If I wanted to lose yet more weight I think it would be enormously difficult as the rate of loss slowed right down after a time. I can imagine therefore that if you had to lose lots and lots of kilos it would be well nigh impossible. Yes I exercise a bit as well - I walk - and obviously I could do more of that, but I still think it would be truly difficult. No - in a way it's too late if you are obese. You have to begin at the beginning of your life. My generation was lucky in a way. Food was scarce after the war so we didn't have the opportunity to overeat.

It's a bit of a problem though isn't it? Because even if you do do the right thing and teach children to cook, and, perhaps even more importantly what they should be eating, they may in fact come from a home where they are not getting the right food, either because their parents just don't know what they should be feeding their kids, or they can't afford it, or have the time or interest to provide it. Even if the child knows what they should be eating, a child is relatively powerless when it comes to what they actually eat. So maybe it's the parents we should be teaching. Maybe we've got it all wrong and we should be having parent/child classes somewhere. Impossible. How would you get the people who really should be doing that to come?

I remembered that Jamie Oliver, way back, had a series and a book called The Ministry of Food, in which he did indeed try to do that. I think he set up community places where you could go to learn how and what to cook. So I looked it up. It is now called The Good Foundation, and there are some branches in Australia - but only about three - in small town Queensland, although the courses are now available online. Now I don't doubt that they are good, but they cost money - from $50-$150 or $49.50 online. Which might not be a lot for me but is for the people who really need to learn these things. Certainly not what you would choose to spend a spare dollar or two on. I'm tempted to say it's a money-making venture, because there are heaps of videos online which are free and which cover just about everything you could want to know about food related stuff. I mean even Jamie's programs are available. Wouldn't it be better to set something up in housing commission flats - for free - or something very minimal anyway and just promote it as a social thing rather than an educational thing. It needs to be a fun thing for adults to be interested.

The children are easier - you have a captive audience in schools. Of course learning about food should happen at home, but alas most parents either don't have the time or the interest. I wasn't that great at it myself. I was too impatient, not to dive in when their processes were so slow and too nervous to let my precious little boys wield knives. So like most people I stuck to cookies and cakes and suchlike. And therein lies much of the problem.

When parents do involve children in cooking, or decide that cooking will be today's pastime, all too often they turn to making cookies and cakes. Because it's relatively quick and easy and doesn't usually involve knives. But these are precisely the things we shouldn't be eating. We forget that there are lots of other food that can be cooked without knives, and if knives are involved then we have to teach them to use them, or just do that bit ourselves.

I know there are programs in schools. Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation is the most well-known of these. It started in Collingwood and now has hundreds of different primary schools doing their courses. The primary school down the road is one of them. Indeed they are now moving into high schools rather than the primary schools that have been the focus up to now. They have also recently secured the patronage of Coles, who feature them in their magazine - with a recipe from Stephanie herself each month. The aim is to have the kids grow stuff in a kitchen garden and then cook what they have grown.

Other primary schools have their own occasional cooking classes and some high schools have cooking too - but it's generally an optional extra, which of course means that only those that are already interested in cooking take part. It ought to be as compulsory a part of school education, as budgeting, and handyman stuff. For everyone. Boys and girls. Much more valuable to my mind than teaching maths beyond the basics to those who are not very good at it and not interested either. Practical maths is a different thing. I remember the exceptionally talented lady who taught me how to teach in primary schools giving the example of a child who was uninterested in 'normal' arithmetic, but could work out complicated betting odds because his father was a bookie. But I digress. Learning how to feed yourself and all that that entails is prime and should be compulsory. Maybe make them choose something from the Coles Magazine and cook it for dinner once a week for homework.

Whilst I was thinking all of this over I had one of my very brief and random bits of food TV. Here it is below because it's an absolutely beautiful example of how to teach people to cook. The dish being demonstrated by Nigella is Steak Béarnaise - one of my son's favourites and something you might think is really haute cuisine. Not only do you learn this particular dish - and it's extremely simple and fast, you learn how to separate eggs, how to make a Hollandaise sauce which is the basis of many other sauces, how to cook a steak, and what to do when things go wrong. Not to mention, a really sensible and personal story about how to teach children to cook - even if it is delivered with the trademark irritating simpering and innuendo. Ignore the mannerisms, concentrate on what she is actually saying. It's actually very old - she was obviously quite young when it was made.

Then get your children to cook it for dinner. You might have to teach them how to make a salad dressing but that won't take long. And do as Nigella suggests and serve a Coles rustic baguette to go with it.

Then you can also go to Cooking buddies - which is a series of videos by Jamie's young son Buddy cooking standard things like spaghetti bolognaise, pancakes, burgers and crumbed chicken. For all I know there are whole lot of other videos out there aimed at children.

And children do love to cook and are so proud when they have finished - see below:

Yes they're sweet things, but they do cook savoury stuff too. I know that in one of the two families each child cooks dinner once a week, and I think the other family sometimes do as well.


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