With Shrove Tuesday looming, it’s a safe bet that Food Technology classes around the country – if your school is lucky enough to have Food Technology as a subject – will be flipping and beating for all they’re worth, then coming home and wielding the pancake pan for the family.
For eleven years, our daughter Milly would rather do just about anything than cook with me at home. Maybe she saw it as drudgery or maybe she thought her food writer mother would be too hard on her. Then, just a few weeks into the autumn term at her senior school, she was proudly arriving home with squashed fairy cakes, pasta in silky cheese sauce and cheese scones.
Luckily for us, this interest has extended to family meals. Tentatively, I suggested she might like to help me make a chorizo, chicken and chickpea casserole for supper one night. I read out the instructions and she chopped, sautéed and stirred... it was excellent.
And that’s the crux of it. We all need to learn how to cook so that we can feed ourselves, but with many mothers lacking knowledge too, it doesn’t bode well for home cooking in the future. Over-consumption of ready meals and processed foods will also have implications for obesity, not to mention that they cost a lot more than cooking from scratch. The last government recognised this, pledging to teach Food Technology in all secondary schools by 2011, although this may now be under review.
If your children are reluctant to cook with you or lack confidence, praise their efforts and tell them how delicious it is. Encourage them to try new ingredients and invest in cookbooks that don’t just focus on cakes and biscuits. (The Sam Stern books are great for teens – especially boys, who love to see a fellow male wielding the wooden spoon.)
In 2008, the government produced a booklet called Real Meals with 32 different meals that 11 year olds and upwards can try. You might want to suggest your child picks a recipe from here - you can download them for free from the department of education website. http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationdetail/page1/DCSF-01137-2009
In Food Technology (a friend and I refer to it as ‘being FT’d when your child announces the evening before a class that she needs to take Parmesan, fresh thyme and eggs in tomorrow) the syllabus builds slowly, taking in basic techniques at first to give the children something to build on – and developing their confidence. A good approach at home is to talk to them about what they made at school whether they liked it or not and variations on the theme: pasta sauces, pizza and risotto are all excellent for this.
It’s also very helpful if your child masters a technique or dish that you find difficult. My own culinary bête noire is pastry – Milly’s is light and flaky, so I was quick to tell her how good it was.
Another positive effect of Food Technology is that Milly is becoming more interested in food generally and a less fussy eater. There’s still room for choice, though. In a recent Food Technology competition, she opted to make profiteroles, with a trial run at home. An adventurous choice. The ones at home were brilliant; at school she ended up with choux scrambled eggs and her cream wouldn’t whip. Oh dear. But at least she could smile about it.
Jo Lamiri is the editor of Delia Smith's website and a member of the Guild of Food Writers.