Should cooking be a compulsory school subject?

The Staff Canteen

Many people feel it is important to develop children’s knowledge with regards to how to grow and cook with fresh ingredients - it's a life skill but is it also a step in the right direction to solving the chef shortage?

By teaching children about food and how to cook from a young age, yes it will hopefully lead to a healthier way of life as adults but it may also be the inspiration they need to step into a kitchen full time. Getting chefs into schools is a great start and one way that this is being achieved is with initiatives such as The Royal Academy Chefs Adopt a School Programme and ‘Chefs in Schools’ where they aim to place 100 professional, restaurant-trained chefs in 100 schools by the year 2023 and the ‘Feed Me Better’ organisation which aims to improve school dinner offerings.

marksargeant gallery big 20
Mark Sargeant

How can we educate young people about food?

From vegetable gardens in schools to encourage children to participate in sports, there are many initiatives that can hopefully encourage young people to think differently about food and health. Chefs Mark Sargeant, James Golding and Paul Askew are all actively involved with The Royal Academy Chefs Adopt a School trust where the subjects of healthy eating, food provenance and sustainability are discussed.

This programme also addresses awareness of encouraging healthy eating not only into the school system but also about the children’s ‘system’ too. Mark also used to work for ISS education where he went into schools all over the country talking about food education.

He revealed he has paid for a vegetable garden to be installed in his daughters’ school and in the summer, he does cooking demos with the produce.

James believes that it is of utmost importance to ensure that children understand where and how their food comes from.

He says: “If your child is taught to understand the importance of food, life, health and quality then you are truly blessed, as I believe you are what you eat and if your child understands the process that the animal, plant, product has to go through to land on your plate hopefully they will respect that meal and eat it ALL.”

Should cooking be a compulsory school subject?

Mark believes ‘our school system is archaic and Victorian’, he says: “It should be compulsory to learn nutrition, buying, provenance, sustainability, ecology and cooking way more than f**king Pythagoras Theorem."

Paul, who is also part of the Chefs Adopt a School programme agrees, he says: “I think it’s an essential part, I mean it’s a life skill, isn’t it?"

He continues: “It’s not about the academic ability of a child it’s about a life skill that you need no matter what your niche subject.

"We want to get back to fresh ingredients and people cooking for themselves because as we all know… unrefined food is pretty good for you.

James also agrees, saying that he thinks cooking ‘should be 100% compulsory’.

“I believe a lot of the health issues related to kids come from poor food choices both at school and at home," he explained. "With a bit more knowledge this may help kids and parents of the future make more informed and better food choices!”

Many chefs agree with Mark, Paul and James including JP Mcmahon who tweeted about 'ultra-processed' food in Ireland: 

Can food help improve concentration and aid academic achievement?

There is no doubt that most people would strongly believe that nutritious food is not only good for the body, but it is good for the mind. According to Dr. Axe, ‘Food is medicine’ and there are certain types of food that are said to boost concentration which includes the likes of blueberries, green vegetables, avocados, celery, dark chocolate, salmon and walnuts.

James Golding

When it comes to school dinners, it is not that often you will see the likes of these ingredients on the menu. Schools can actively encourage pupils to eat healthily but the food options on offer are not always as healthy as we would like.

Whilst the Turkey Twizzler has long since been banished from school kitchens (despite a recent campaign to bring them back) it seems that the ‘twizzler’ represents all ‘junk’ food which is high in sugar, salt and fat.

"There is no doubt that children and young people naturally gravitate towards junk food, so the only way to ensure that they are eating well is to change what they are eating.

Paul believes that the education of food should not just be exclusive to school dinners but should be applied at home too. He says: “It’s about converting their lifestyle - to reverse all the TV dinners and the convenience food."

School Dinners vs Packed lunches

What is better for children to eat – a packed lunch or a school dinner?

Chef , restaurateur and author Mark, believes that children should have school dinners as opposed to packed lunches. He says: “I don’t believe in a packed lunch as I think all children should eat a hot school dinner”

He continues: “The very first question I will ask my children is “what was for lunch girls?” so I get them talking about what they are eating and then I know what to do them for dinner.”

Mark also feels that a lack of time and ideas can result in parents providing children with less than healthy packed lunches.

He says: “It’s quick and easy to put a cheese roll, penguin, a pack of wotsits and a carton of sugary drink in a box without thinking of their health. I was lucky. My mum used to make me salads and leftover food that was delicious cold but then I just went to the tuck shop anyway and bought loads of sweets. After all, kids are kids.”

James, chef director at The Pig Hotel Group feels that school dinners need to be ‘a healthy option, a local option, and an interesting option’ saying: “I think people are lazy sometimes and if you have no interest in food then the packed lunches will also be rubbish. It’s easy to reach for the processed option or last night’s take away that’s why food education in school is so important as if the kids knew the negative impact their packed lunch was having on their body they would make the parents change!”

Paul Askew, chef owner, The Art School, Great British Menu 2017
Paul Askew

He feels that by tackling what is included in children’s packed lunches could contribute to curtailing food waste.

He says: “You read every day about the amount of food waste that happens all over the country, whether its wrong sized vegetables being thrown away or not enough people buying game!"

He continues: "If there was some sort of way to offer an interesting nutritional meal to kids that would make them think about what they were eating (even if they didn’t always like it) at least it would be better than the processed junk that tends to end up on the plates of our kids.

"It would be great if schools could team up with local farms, join city gardening initiates, speak to local allotment associations and local chefs.

"I’m not sure there is a quick fix and I know it easier to get a large company to drop it off in the mornings to warm up…but something has to give and the only people who suffer from bad school meals is the NHS and more importantly our KIDS”

Paul  acknowledges the issues with packed lunches for parents who feel ‘they think they can do it cheaper and better’.

He says: “It’s understandable that those parents who lack the time and resources to put together a fine cuisine might rush to the first thing they find in the cupboard and class it as a sufficient meal. So maybe, it’s the education of the parents that needs to be adjusted."

By Elfie Cheetham

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th July 2018

Should cooking be a compulsory school subject?