Cookery lessons are back for all

Despite Jamie Oliver's best attempts, it appears we are still a nation of junk food junkies. Now, the Government has decided high school lessons teaching pupils how to cook healthy meals will become compulsory. Education reporter Ian Rosser reports.

ED BALLS is a fan of cooking goddess Delia Smith. That little (chicken) nugget of information was revealed this week as the School Secretary and Normanton MP unveiled the Government's latest attempt to improve the diets of the nation's schoolchildren.

From 2011, all teenagers will be given compulsory cooking lessons for the first time, to ensure that all pupils know how to make a healthy meal.

But the emphasis will be on making sure pupils can master simple, healthy recipes using fresh ingredients, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has said.

From this September, every 11to 14 year-old in the 85 per cent of schools currently offering food technology classes will be taught practical cookery.

The remaining high schools will be expected to teach the compulsory classes by 2011.

What to cook, though, will be up to us, it appears, as Mr Balls wants members of the public to suggest the dishes to be taught. They must be healthy, easy to prepare and the kind of meals that teenagers will want to eat.

The announcement comes as part of the Government's obesity strategy, Mr Balls launched with Health Secretary Alan Johnson yesterday.

"Teaching kids to cook healthy meals is an important way schools can help produce healthy adults," Mr Balls said earlier this week. "My mum was passionate about all this and bought me my first Delia Smith book."

The 15 per cent of schools that do not offer food technology classes tend to be all-boys' schools and former boys-only schools.

But ministers believe this is an unacceptable throw-back to the days of gender stereotyping.

The new secondary curriculum strongly emphasises practical cooking skills, and will also include diet and nutrition, hygiene and safety and wise food shopping.

From 2011, it will be mandatory in all state secondary schools, with pupils learning to cook a variety of dishes, including a "top eight".


Unless action was taken now, said Mr Balls, the country would have "real problems" with obesity in the coming decades.

"If we can make sure that people are all learning to cook the basics, then maybe they can take that home and infuse some of that into their home environment, then that can make a real difference to the healthiness of our society in the next decades," he said.

The Government began an overhaul of school dinners three years ago after TV chef Jamie Oliver campaigned against the poor quality ingredients being served in canteens.

Attempts to boost diets and lifestyles, however, were already in motion across the country.

In Leeds, Education Leeds had been running its Leeds Healthy Schools programme, which focuses on the curriculum, mental health, physical health and the environment.

Other projects also been running in the city, including healthy eating scheme Phunky Foods and Growing For Schools, which encourages pupils to nurture their own ingredients.

Both projects were established by Purely Nutrition, a Harrogate-based firm that works in partnership with the Government, primary care trusts and leading food firms.

"It's fantastic that cooking is going to be made compulsory in high schools, although we would have liked to have seen even more time committed to it," said Purely Nutrition's managing director, Sorrell Fearnall.

Plan gets a mixed reception

PLANS to make high school cooking lessons compulsory have drawn mixed reactions.

Children's Food Campaign co-ordinator Richard Watts said: "We are delighted the Government has recognised the need for all children to learn to cook in school. Poor cookery skills are an important reason why some people have such a poor diet.

"This announcement will make a real difference to children's health.

"It is clear that some in Government, like Ed Balls, do recognise that the scale of the obesity crisis demands urgent action."

Peter Hollins, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: "Childhood obesity is one of the nation's most pressing public health issues.

"Given the link between the marketing of unhealthy food to children and poor diets, there is the strongest possible case for further action to regulate marketing of unhealthy food to children."

The National Union of Teachers welcomed the plan but warned it would cost money.

Life skill

NUT general secretary Steve Sinnott said: "At long last cooking has been made a core part of the curriculum. It is an essential life skill and should have been recognised as such."

He said the Government must provide funding for training and recruiting new cookery teachers.

"Many schools need their equipment and facilities updating," he said.

But head teachers have criticised the plan.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Just six months ago, ministers promised heads greater flexibility in the curriculum. Now they have fallen at the first fence, creating another entitlement and more compulsion for this age group.

"The government should never have downgraded practical cookery 20 years ago. In the intervening years, schools have been built or refurbished without practical cookery rooms.

"It will be impossible for about 15 per cent of schools to put practical cookery on the timetable until they have the proper facilities."

Junk the junk food

Healthy eating programme Phunky Food shares a selection of its delicious dishes:

Fruit Kebabs


2 kiwis

small melon

1 mango


1. Peel the kiwis and cut them into bite-sized chunks.

2. De-seed and remove the skin from the melon. Cut into bite sized chunks.

3. Peel and stone the mango and cut into bite sized chunks.

4. Thread fruit chunks of fruit onto a kebab skewer.

Chicken Wrap


chicken breast

red pepper

green pepper

3 mushrooms

tin of bean sprouts

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 wraps


1. Cut the chicken into thin strips. Finely slice the peppers and mushrooms.

2. Heat the oil in a pan and add the chicken. Cook for 5 minutes until lightly browned.

3. Add the peppers and mushrooms and fry for a further 3 minutes until softened.

4. Add the bean sprouts and soy sauce.

5. Place a spoonful of the chicken and veggie mix in the centre of each wrap, fold the

wrap encasing the filling and enjoy.

Bean, Cheese and Tomato Wrap


Small tin mixed beans

1 large tomato

50 grams grated cheese

2 tablespoons Greek style yoghurt

4 tortilla wraps

Pinch paprika


1. Drain and rinse the beans. Dice the tomato. Grate cheese.

2. Mix the beans, tomato, cheese, yoghurt and paprika in a bowl together

3. Place a spoonful of the bean mixture in the centre of each wrap, fold the wrap

encasing the filling and enjoy.

Beautiful Burgers


500g extra lean minced beef

1 onion

1 clove garlic

1 small red pepper

4 tablespoons tomato puree

1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning


1. Pre-heat the grill to a medium heat.

2. Peel and finely chop onion and garlic. Finely dice pepper.

3. Put all ingredients into a large mixing bowl.

4. Mix all the ingredients together so that it comes together to form a sticky solid mass.

5. Divide the mixture into six and shape into a round ball, flatten to form a traditional burger


6. Cook under a preheated grill for 7 - 10 minutes on each side until it is cooked through.

7. Serve in a burger bap and fill with salad and salsa.

Herby Lamb Burgers


450g extra lean minced lamb

1 onion

1 stick celery

1 small red pepper

1 egg

1 tablespoon tomato puree

2 teaspoon dried mixed herbs

2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

50 grams fresh breadcrumbs


1. Pre-heat the grill to a medium heat.

2. Peel and finely chop onion. Finely dice celery and pepper.

3. Put all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands until well


4. Divide the mixture into six and shape into a round ball, flatten to form a traditional burger


5. Cook under a preheated grill for 7 - 10 minutes on each side until it is cooked through.

6. Serve with wholemeal bread buns and salad.

Fruity Feast


1 apple

1 banana

8 strawberries


1. Core the apple and cut into bite sized chunks.

2. Slice the banana into chunky discs.

3. Halve the strawberries.

4. Thread fruit chunks of fruit onto a kebab skewer.

5. Serve with a fruit yoghurt dip

No Fat Crisps


1 potato


1 Peel the potato.

2 Using the potato peeler slice very thin slices of potato.

3 Place the potato slices on kitchen paper and soak up the excess moisture.

4 Make a fan greaseproof paper.

5 Place the fanned paper across a microwavable plate.

6 Lay the potato slices flat on top of the fanned paper.

7 Microwave for 3 to 4 minutes on high power.

8 Allow to cool, and then eat them with your favourite dip.

Veggie Crisps

Same as above, bit try using parsnips, beetroot and carrots instead.

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