Cooking, maths and stepping out of the classroom

jo_rossJo Ross is delighted to see cooking on the national curriculum. But she’s even more excited by the potential for it to step out of the classroom and into family life.

Changes to the national curriculum have come into force this term. Changes that will see more children aged five and over learning to cook, and make practical cookery lessons compulsory for 8 to 14-year-olds.

How the world has changed! Cooking skills were once just absorbed as we helped in the kitchen at home. But the pace and pattern of home life has changed and a recent poll by Sainsbury’s revealed one in three university students can’t boil an egg.

To me, cooking is a bit like maths – we all need to be confident with at least the basics if we’re to thrive and get the most out of life. Being able to cook healthy meals from scratch can help us manage our health and our budgets as well being a valuable skill for social and family life. For that reason alone I believe it deserves its place on the curriculum. But cooking in school offers so much more.

From my years of experience helping children and families to get cooking, I can tell you this: if you want to see a child flourish, try cooking! Especially if they get frustrated or struggle with other activities at school.

You see, because cooking is hands-on and there’s something to show and share at the end, it helps children build concentration, coordination, confidence and communication. Time and again I’m told about the knock-on benefits success in the kitchen has had on a child – throughout their school life.

Cooking is also full of opportunities to apply the concepts children learn in maths, science and English –bringing them to life wonderfully. But just like maths, cooking skills learnt in school need to step on out of the classroom and be put to work in the real world if children are to enjoy all the health, financial and social benefits throughout their life.

Fortunately, children usually can’t wait to try recipes again at home! They see making a meal for their family as a very grown-up thing to do – and get a huge sense of pride from it. Quite rightly.
So if your child’s cooking at school, seize the chance and get cooking together at home too. Even if you’re not that confident in the kitchen yourself – you’ll be amazed what you can create and learn from them!

Here are some of my top tips for starting to cook with your children at home.
• Start in your comfort zone – using the recipes your children bring home from school, or our recipes (which are designed for cooking with children) should be a good start.
• Be prepared – read through the recipe before you begin to make sure you have the ingredients, equipment and time you’ll need.
• If there’s a skill you’re not sure of – or you don’t know how to demonstrate to a child – our skills videos will help you.
• Look at our practical tips for cooking with children to help keep things calm – little things such as clearing up as you go along can make all the difference.
• Recipes every member of the family can make a part of, and personalise, are always a winner. Give our Pizza with a Scone Base a try – it uses a range of fun skills including rubbing-in, grating and chopping and if you make individual ones everyone can choose their own toppings.
• Soups use cheap ingredients and you don’t have to be too precious about the chopping being too even because it will all get liquidised. Plus, you can make the most of your time by cooking up a batch and freezing some. Visit our soup-a-doopa collection for inspiration.
• Knives are a necessity and making sure children learn to use them properly is safer than avoiding them. Just start with what is age and stage appropriate.

o Little ones can cut soft fruit, such as bananas and strawberries, with a table knife for our recipes such as our Fruit Kebabs.

o As children’s coordination improves they can move on to using a sharp knife but securing the food they’re chopping with a fork, keeping fingers out of harm’s way.

o Finally graduate to the bridge and claw technique (see the chopping demo here) when they’re ready – which is best practice for all cooks. Download our guide to chopping and peeling for a full explanation of this and other techniques.

Jo Ross is a regional manager for the Let’s Get Cooking network – which has more than 5,000 cookery clubs. She originally trained as a home economics teacher and has since worked in a variety of settings helping children as young as three years old, and their families, to get cooking.

If you’re involved in teaching cookery in school the Children’s Food Trust can help. Our training enables schools to set up in classrooms of all shapes and sizes using portable equipment to run practical cooking activities. We enable teachers to feel prepared by developing their skills in food hygiene and safety, helping them explore a range of cookery and preparation techniques, and by helping them understand the components of a healthy, varied diet. If you’d like to know more email info@letsgetcooking.org.uk

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