Food & Drink: Nutrition Tuition Targets Children; Concern about the Nation's Bad Food Habits Has Prompted a Healthy Eating Group to Target Young People. Cue a Sophie Grigson Masterclass. Alison Jones Reports
Jones, Alison, The Birmingham Post (England)
There are some estates in Britain so deprived of fresh fruit and vegetables that children living there do not recognise a banana when they see it, let alone know how to eat it.
It is the type of ignorance last found during the war years when the battles raging abroad stopped exotic fruit getting to our shores.
But now the enemy is apathy and a lack of education about elementary nutrition.
The shocking fact that in an apparently affluent country where we visually consume a regular diet of food and drink programmes, there are youngsters who do not know how to peel a banana, was uncovered during a nationwide programme to stir up schoolchildren's interest in cooking.
Focus on Food is a five-year project dedicated to filling the knowledge gaps left by a lack of basic home economics tuition either at home or in the classroom.
Anita Cormac, one of its directors, said she was stunned by how poorly informed some young people were about what they ate.
'We have been to some areas where they don't know what ingredients are. The shops where they live don't stock any fresh food because there is no call for it in a diet that relies on convenience meals and takeaways.
'Though we may talk a lot about a nutrition and healthy eating, young people are not going to be able to practise this if they don't know how to prepare and make meals.'
In many secondary schools home economics classes have been replaced by design and technology. This looks at food related subjects, such as the design and manufacture of new products, but only 50 percent of curriculum time is devoted to practical work.
'We want to help children learn how to enjoy food, to appreciate good quality and know how to shop for it.'
Two thousand schools have already registered to join the campaign which has reached 180,000 pupils.
It is backed by the Royal Society of Arts, together with Waitrose supermarket, and has been supported by a number of famous chefs who have given their time free to help out.
Which is why Sophie Grigson found herself in the back of a pantechnicon in the carpark of Waitrose at Hall Green this week, teaching the finer points of stir frying and wrapping filo pastry into spring rolls to a group of 12 to 13-year-olds from Hall Green School.
'I got involved because I think it is so important that children learn about healthy cooking as young as possible,' she said.
'I find it absurd that on the one side we are being told that we have one of the worst diets and that we should eat better and yet it isn't taught in schools. I think this absolutely should become a Government priority.
'It is one of my hobbyhorses because it is not like the old days where children could pick up these skills at home. Often two parents are working and don't have time to teach them, or maybe they don't have the knowledge themselves.'
'When they are very young you can't do a lot of things but I think it is important to involve them to some small extent as early as you can, certainly from primary school age.
'After all food is essential. We all have to eat and the production and consumption of food is at the centre of most cultures.'
She believes some schools have been put off the idea of teaching cookery because it is an expensive subject requiring specialised equipment and they are worried about the risk of pupils cutting or burning themselves.
'I understand that but obviously learning how to avoid cutting yourself or dealing with it once it has happened are good lessons as well. Also in school you can be taught about food hygiene, which is crucial.'
Ironically Sophie was not given formal cookery lessons but learned from watching her mother, food writer Jane Grigson, preparing meals as she did her homework.
'Cooking as a career option used to be seen as something that you gave the stupid children to do, the ones that weren't likely to pass any other exams, which is terrible.'
She believes that television and the cult of the celebrity chef has helped to give cooking a newer, sexier image.
'I think it is especially good for teenage boys from a pulling point of view, make a girl dinner and boy will she be impressed,' she laughs.
'In fact I think teenagers should be encouraged to cook to give their parents a break once in a while.'
She is worried, however, that in Britain the country could soon become divided between the more affluent classes who see cooking as a leisure pursuit and enjoy preparing dinner parties, and others who are surviving on cheap takeaways and quick fix junk food.
'It shouldn't be seen as elitist and it doesn't have to cost huge amounts of money. If you don't know the basics then you are gong to end up spending a lot on not very healthy food. That is not very good for the country in the long run because it will become a drain on the health system.
'I am not saying you shouldn't use convenience food - there are days when I want nothing more than a plate of beans on toast. What you have to aim for is a comfortable balance.
'We are never going to get to some idyllic point where everyone prepares meals from scratch every night. That is just not realistic.
'But if you are using a convenience food as the basis of a meal, you can easily cook some fresh vegetables in the time it takes you to microwave your main course.'
To register a school call the Focus on Food Campaign on 01422 383 191.
(suitable for vegans)
This vibrant and colourful dish is familiar to anyone who has visited Spain. It should be made with Spanish Valencia rice, but you could use Arborio or risotto rice instead. Many regional variations exist but rice and saffron are the two ingredients common to all. Don't leave out the saffron or use turmeric instead - there is no substitute for the real thing!
3 tablespoon fruity green olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced in rings
1 yellow pepper, seeded and slice in rings
450g/1lb tomatoes, skinned and chopped
225g/8oz thin green beans, trimmed 450g/1lb peas in their pods, shelled
450g/1lb Valencia or Arborio rice
1 teaspoon paprika
300ml/1/1 pint dry vegetarian white wine
1/1 teaspoon saffron
900ml/11/1 pints boiling vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 Heat the olive oil in a paellera or large shallow frying pan. Fry the onions and garlic gently until soft and golden. Add the peppers and fry for four to five minutes. Then add the tomatoes, beans and peas and cook for another five minutes.
2 Add the rice and paprika and stir well. Pour in the white wine and bring to the boil. Mix the saffron with the boiling stock and pour into the pan. Reduce the heat a little and simmer for five minutes.
3 Cover the pan with a lid or some foil and place in the bottom of a preheated oven at 180C, 350F, Gas mark 4 for 30-40 minutes, until the rice is tender and has absorbed all the stock. Alternatively simmer on top of the stove in the same way as you would cook a risotto. Season to taste and stand, covered, for five minutes before serving sprinkled with parsley. Serves four to six.
Griddled Aubergine Stacks
Suitable for vegans
This recipe is completely dairy free, but if you like cheese then these vegetable stacks are lovely topped with a slice of griddled Halloumi. The sauce should be dotted with lots of tiny pieces of tomato and pepper, which form the 'confetti'.
A little olive oil
1 large aubergine, cut into rings
2 beef tomatoes, skinned and cut into rings
zest of one lemon, finely chopped
Few sprigs of fresh sage, chopped
Few sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
Few fresh chives, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Balsamic vinegar, to taste
4 slices Halloumi cheese, lemon zest, or chive flowers to garnish
Tomato confetti sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion , finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
225g/8oz fresh ripe full-flavoured tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped
150ml/ 1/4 pint white wine
1 yellow or red pepper, roasted, skin removed and cut into strips, then across into diamonds
1 teaspoon balsamic
salt and pepper
1 First make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and fry the onion gently with the garlic. Add half of the chopped tomatoes and the white wine and cook for five minutes. Blend until smooth. Mix in the rest of the chopped tomatoes with the pepper pieces and one teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. Season to taste.
2 Brush the griddle with olive oil and cook the aubergine slices so that they are seared with stripes. Put on one side and keep warm. Grill the beef tomato slices gently.
3 Mix the lemon and herbs together and season well. On individual serving plates, layer the aubergine, tomato and herb mix. Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar. Repeat until all the layers are used up and top with a slice of tomato and a sprinkling of the herb mixture. Grill the slices of Halloumi and arrange on top of each stack, garnished with lemon zest and chives. Drizzle tomato confetti sauce around the plate and decorate with chives or chive flowers. Serve warm.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Food & Drink: Nutrition Tuition Targets Children; Concern about the Nation's Bad Food Habits Has Prompted a Healthy Eating Group to Target Young People. Cue a Sophie Grigson Masterclass. Alison Jones Reports. Contributors: Jones, Alison - Author. Newspaper title: The Birmingham Post (England). Publication date: June 24, 2000. Page number: 59. © 2009 Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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