Miriam Stoppard: Tackling food ignorance in kids will help fight obesity

A few years ago I was attached to a programme in India which was aimed at curbing childhood obesity. There were many approaches but one of the most successful was helping the mothers of families to cook more healthily. This approach relied on a very powerful secret weapon, schoolchildren.

At school, the kids learned about the benefits of healthy eating and cooking, then took their lessons home to convince their mums to do things differently. Now that same strategy is being used in UK schools.

We know that children who learn to cook from a young age make healthier food choices throughout their lives. And yet, food education is not on the curriculum for primary schools.

There’s no consistent approach to how food prep and nutrition are taught around the United Kingdom and nowhere is it explicitly taught with the goal of helping children improve their diets. It’s not until secondary school that kids learn about a healthy and varied diet, or how to prepare and cook a variety of healthy dishes. Too late!

A survey of 1,000 children aged six to 11 suggests our children are frighteningly uninformed about food. For example, a common misconception is that eggs come from cows . So where does that leave our children? Ignorant.

While young people easily recognise avocados (76%) or aubergines (66%) (they feature in emojis), one in three children don’t know that the tuna in their sandwich is a fish.

It turns out children exposed to fun cooking lessons can teach the skills they need to create well-balanced, healthy meals while enjoying themselves. One such initiative is Cook School founded by food writer Amanda Grant.

In a Cook School session, children get up close and personal with foodstuffs and ingredients, playing with garlic cloves, smelling herbs and squeezing lemons while throwing in important issues like food waste and how to stop it.

Cook School, a charity, started its daytime classes this year in 10 schools in Luton, near where its sponsor, Zanussi, has its headquarters. The charity is also running opt-in after-school cookery lessons having trained teachers to deliver the content. By the end of 2020, Zanussi Cook School classes will be delivered weekly to a minimum of 30 schools nationwide.

Grant’s mission has always been to “help families and children relax around food. A lot of the issues come from not knowing what particular foods are and from not being familiar with them. I want to make food as accessible as possible”.

Good on you, Amanda!

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