The start of a new year sees the promise of resolutions, with the most common one being to eat healthier. Family life can be hectic and often the easiest meals are ones that are ready made, but what can we do to get children and their families to want to cook more and develop their cooking and nutrition knowledge?
Following the introduction of cooking and nutrition into the design and technology primary curriculum in 2014, the School Food team from School Improvement Liverpool (SIL) have worked with over thirty local primary schools, delivering high-quality, hands on and progressive cooking sessions for children and their families.
Unfortunately obesity statistics in Liverpool are worrying, with one in four of reception children being overweight or obese, which increases to four in ten by Year 6. Unhealthy weight is a risk factor for a range of diseases including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Obesity can also reduce life expectancy by up to a decade, as well as causing many years of ill health and loss of independence. Learning to cook balanced and nutritious meals from scratch is a life skill that is missing in many children as well as adults across the city.
As a way to support Public Health campaigns around maintaining a healthy weight, the team has recently developed a series of family and parent focused workshops. Parent sessions cover a wide range of topics such as food budgeting, understanding food labels, learning about hidden sugars as well as cooking quick, easy and nutritious meals to feed the whole family. By teaching basic skills, providing parents with accessible recipes and by making the experience enjoyable and relaxed, it is hoped that parents go away feeling motivated to make small changes which will have a big impact on their family.
SIL has also developed its ‘Big Chef, Little Chef’ family sessions which brings parents and children together through cooking. These sessions are a brilliant way of showcasing what ‘little chefs’ are capable of and parents get to witness first-hand the magic of their children preparing meals and tasting delicious new ingredients.
Developing cooking and nutrition with children
Do you have appropriate equipment?
It is important to make sure equipment is age appropriate. You could use cutlery knives to chop soft fruits and vegetables. If you are cooking in a classroom, maybe invest in an inexpensive table top electrical multi-cooker, which will make cooking ‘proper’ meals achievable almost anywhere you can plug it in!
Are you aware of any allergies or dietary requirements?
It is incredibly important to find out this information before you start, to ensure everyone’s safety.
Are you and the children ready to cook?
Before you start make sure everyone’s hands are clean and sleeves are rolled up to elbows – if you have an apron why not pop one on! Then check all surfaces are clean and the ingredients you need and equipment are ready.
“For health reasons, I want to cook from scratch more, and it’s great that these sessions encourage that.”
“I work during the evenings, and these sessions have helped my daughter become more confident to help me at teatime”
“I enjoy learning about different foods from different places in the world. I can’t wait to try and cook things for my family at home.”
“I learned how to cut vegetables in different shapes and how to use different techniques, such as the ‘bridge’ and the ‘claw’”
“We’ve developed our cooking provision since 2015, and it’s not only an integral part of our curriculum, but we also consider it a key life skill. Cooking and nutrition is a really important factor in helping address other key issues such as health & wellbeing. The family sessions are so important, and it’s great for the parents to see that that their children actually prepare everything from scratch.”
David Potter, Headteacher
Middlefield Community Primary
Jennifer Martin has worked for SIL in the School Food team for the past five years. Here’s what she had to say about the programme:
“My job is to instil a love of food, cooking and eating in children, staff and parents all around the city and this is an incredibly rewarding role. By involving children in cooking from a young age we are cultivating a habit that will have lifelong benefits. My favourite recipe to make in schools is our ‘Chinese noodle soup’ as it is definitely the most popular!”
Jennifer’s Top Tasting Tips:
• By involving children in the preparation and cooking, they are much more likely to taste!
• Talk positively about food
• Taste buds are ever changing so encourage children to taste ten times
• Get a bit of everything on the spoon, mixing ingredients creates new and exciting flavours
• Make food fun and engaging for children
To find out more about what the team does or for some quick and easy recipes you can replicate at home visit:
If you’re interested in developing cooking in your school, email: firstname.lastname@example.org