Why cooking skills are the key to healthy eating

Teacher showing children how to cook

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Parents who want their children to eat more fruit and vegetables should give them an apron and let them cook, recent research suggests.

By teaching our children to cook they are more likely to grow up to be healthy adults because they have a better knowledge of cooking techniques, preparing food and new tastes.

Watching talented amateur cooks on Masterchef and gazing longingly at meals concocted by TV celebrity chefs is fine, but actually doing the cooking ourselves is what matters.

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Being able to cook is a life skill which helps children grow into healthier adults.”

End Quote Rob Rees School Food Trust

When it comes to young children, I Can Cook on CBeebies might hold their interest while you put on the washing but it's no replacement for getting out the butter and flour and letting them make a mess, or so new research has found.

A study in Liverpool, by City University London, found that cooking classes aimed at both school pupils and adults had a positive impact on eating habits, with more pupils saying they ate more fruit and veg following the sessions.

Another study, carried out by the School Food Trust, which measured the impact of a national network of school-based cooking clubs for four to eight years olds, found that learning to cook improved their recognition of healthier foods - and their desire to eat them.

With the UK in the grip of an obesity epidemic, is this the answer to improving our diets and our lifestyles?

A boy cooking a stir fry Experts say children can learn a lot about food from cooking themselves
On hold

The push to get school children to eat more healthily is not new, with Jamie Oliver among many others campaigning against unhealthy 'turkey twizzlers' on school dinner menus for years.

But the previous government's plan to include cooking skills in the curriculum for 12 to 16-year-olds is now on hold while the current government reviews the national curriculum, to come into force in 2014.

At primary level, cooking is still part of the curriculum but the quality of lessons is thought to vary enormously from school to school.

This is where charities and social enterprise initiatives can play an important role, inside and outside school.

Jacqui Lawson, a teacher of food technology at Enterprise South Liverpool Academy, knows how valuable cooking lessons are for school pupils.

She organised for a group of her sixth form students to take part in a secondary school cooking competition run by Can Cook, a social enterprise.

The students received three hours of training from a chef, before practising cooking some recipes and then their dishes were judged by a panel of professionals.

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They were trying things they hadn't tried before, like Spanish cooking, Thai food and how to make burgers from scratch...”

End Quote Jacqui Lawson food technology teacher
Beef burgers

"They were trying things they hadn't tried before, like Spanish cooking, Thai food and how to make burgers from scratch with lean mince beef.

"At first they were sceptical, but they learnt to cook restaurant quality meals and the experience also taught them about working as a team and independently - lots of skills useful for later in life."

After the sessions, students' comments included, "It was challenging in a good way", "it was fun learning how to cook", "the chicken was quite hard to understand but the chefs helped" and "I felt I could do all of the stuff we were shown".

Since 2007, Let's Get Cooking has helped more than 1.7m people improve their cooking skills through more than 5,000 school-based clubs.

A survey of 2,500 of its members found that 92% used their new skills again at home and more than half said they were eating more healthily as a result of learning to cook.

Child eating strawberries Primary school children are currently taught cooking as part of the curriculum

Of the 335 children surveyed, an increased number said they ate more bananas, tomatoes and peas than before.

'Less fatty'

Rob Rees, chairman of the School Food Trust, says all children should have the chance to learn to cook.

"Fundamentally, being able to cook is a life skill which helps children grow into healthier adults, and that's why our evidence to the national curriculum review calls for practical cooking to be compulsory for all children."

Professor Martin Caraher, author of the Liverpool study from the Centre for Food Policy at City University London, said the range of meals cooked at home following the Can Cook sessions had changed.

"They were less fatty and less sugary than prepared previously, and there was less use of microwave and instant meals, suggesting an increased knowledge of healthy eating."

But Prof Caraher says it is about changing the culture, giving children simple and healthy recipes to take home and cook and giving their parents the basic skills to help nurture their enthusiasm for cooking.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Who's to say what healthy eating is ?despite....increasing consumption of junk food.death's from heart attacks are falling and life expectancy increasing in both the UK and US

    > The reason they know life expectancy is increasing is through people born between 1930-1950 - the healthy war/postwar years. I'll bet it'll start falling for those born more recently & fed on fast foods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Most parents can't cook unprepared food

    What chance do the children have

    Nanny country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    One of the best things you can teach people to prevent them becoming overweight is a love of food, as opposed to a love of eating.

    Without effort and understanding you don't get satisfaction and food means nothing. Just something to shovel down your neck in one gulp until you're full, then rinse and repeat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    100% in agreement. My wife spent many happy hours in the kitchen with our daughters, both of whom are good cooks now too - in their 20's and in their own homes. For my part I showed them some basic DIY skills, which they've also put into effect.
    I do agree that, as a Society we teach too much theory and not enough life skills. I've never used Latin, Algebra or my analysis of the poems of Keats!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    yes its down to parents,but alot of parents work different hours not always at typical meal times,schools are meant to teach are they not? i have still yet to find a use for pythagorean theorem! start teaching children LIFE SKILLS,stick real food on the tv if they watch too much of it,then instead of gastro guff, how about the soaps, they never cook, its always "in the cafe" !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    re comment 16. To say many refuse what is put in front of them just shows how important it is to start them as soon as they start eating solids. if they do not like some things just try them again they soon get use to differnt foods. My daughter in law does this with my grandson of 14months he eats a great variety of things all homemade. {we did the same with our 2] Parents just need to make time

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    In childhood, my mother hated cooking although she did it. She taught me to make Rock Cakes and that's about it. I think she felt it was her duty! At Grammar School I did Domestic Science and enjoyed that, while the boys did Woodwork\Metalwork but that segregation would be very old-fashioned these days! We started with making Soup in the first year and graduated to a full meal in the fouth year

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Cooking is a basic lifeskill and definitely should be on the school curriculum for all pupils. And not as 'Food tech' which has been disastrous for the nation's cooking skills'.

    However, it is even more important that children cook at home. It's not just the cooking skills; it's the sharing of an enjoyable experience as well as, hopefully, improving the family's health and nutrition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    This has been known for yrs. Part of the problem is that far too many parents are to busy doing other things to bother in spending time to help their children. It is in fact they are not organized & prefer to spend time evading resposibilities & expect schools to do it. I learnt from my mum & school & my two boys learnt from me, both enjoy cooking and their parters enjoy the results. Its not hard

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    It is nothing new but unfortunately a lot of young parents don't know how to cook meals from scratch and are not in a position to pass on the skills to their kids.

    I remember spending a lot of time in the kitchen with my mum learning how to cook. It was fun and I now do the same thing with my son who prefers home cooked meals to junk food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Having had to learn to cook at the age of 58, yes, learning to cook is an essential. I just wish I had been given lessons at school!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    "Of the 335 children surveyed, an increased number said they ate more bananas, tomatoes and peas than before."


  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Is Mr Gove aware of these findings? He seems to feel that being able to cook isn't important. Food lessons are being cut, despite the last government saying all KS3 children should learn to cook. Some schools have cooking lessons just under an hour long. You cant' learn to weigh, prepare, cook and clean up in less than an hour. Some parents can't cook themselves, let alone teach their children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Following the link to the Liverpool study, it is clearly crap science. No statistical significance tests; no stratification; no multivariate analysis of confounding factors; directionally coercive questionnaires...in a word: crap.

    Pity. Because their conclusion is probably true. Understanding about food and its preparation, does enhance appreciation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    It's nothing new, they used to call it Home Economics when I was at school. My wife andI both have the time to cook at home and subsequently my childnre eat very little junk, but the key to this is having the time, most parents do not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    of course imports are OK, but one week of transport is different from 4 or 6.
    Not trying to be righteous, just pointing out that as a teacher you might encounter some thorny (controversial as you put it) issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    All very well, but many children refuse to eat what's put in front of them, unless it's junk food heated in a microwave.

    Celebrity chefs need not apply. To achieve the ideal, kids need to be reared on fruit and vegetables from the moment they can consume hard food, and told that they don't get down from the table until they've eaten everything on the plate

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    @7. Boilerbill Yes, cookery has been raised to the level of rocket science by tv chefs, they often fail to tell the difference between cooking in a restaurant and good old plain cooking at home. Of course it's a good idea for children to learn the rudiments of cookery, how can it not be - but what they cook depends on a lot of factors; dumplings are lovely but healthy? Hmmm, possibly not!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    "increased number said they ate more bananas, tomatoes and peas"

    Cooking lessons have the potential to teach when a vegetable really must be thrown away, how much effort&time is involved in preparing ameal, what is "fibers rich" or more info about oceans&habitats where ingredients are coming from-there are so many things a child(and a future adult) can start learning to have a healthy diet

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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