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Why Cooking Matters

Obesity - the facts

Right now in the UK, most adults and two-thirds of children are overweight or obese. These figures are rising and they’re a ticking timebomb for our health and happiness. Here’s why it matters:

  • Being overweight carries a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers
  • Being overweight can affect mental health and make it harder to find and keep work
  • Obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS over £5 billion ever year
  • Unhealthy eating habits can affect behaviour and make it harder for children to concentrate at school

Cooking and health

One reason why we’re struggling with our health is a lack of knowledge and skills when it comes to food, nutrition and cooking. Being unable to cook means that people have less control over what they eat and may eat less healthily. Why?

  • They're more likely to buy ready meals or processed foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt, and lacking in essential nutrition
  • They may use cooking methods that increase the fat content of dishes
  • They may find it harder to get enough fruit and vegetables in their daily diet

However, the good news is that there is increasing evidence to show that teaching people cooking skills can reduce unhealthy eating behaviours. Here are just a couple of examples – but more and more organisations like us are starting to track the effects of their good work to gather more evidence.

  • A study in Liverpool carried out by City University found that cooking classes had a positive impact on both children and adults, including an increase in fruit and veg eaten.
  • The School Food Trust have evidence to show their school cooking clubs lead 58% of people to eat a healthier diet as a result of learning to cook and that 92% of people use their new skills at home.
  • The Food for Life Partnership (which Focus on Food is part of) increases fruit and vegetable consumption by children at school and at home (NFER 2011)

Cooking in schools

We believe that every child deserves to be taught to cook at school, because it may not possible for parents to pass on healthy cooking skills at home.

A stronger focus on cooking in schools is a hugely positive step, but we will also continue to work with individuals, groups and families in deprived communities to make a stronger impact on the whole population.

That’s why we’re very supportive of the government’s new plans to make cooking a compulsory part of the curriculum for 7 - 14 year olds from September 2014. Lessons will involve progressive development of key cooking skills and children will learn a range of healthy dishes suitable for family meals.

We have always maintained that children need more time at school devoted to practical cooking – allowing them to develop skills, learn recipes and get to understand food and nutrition for themselves.

Until the 1990s, cooking was part of most children’s education at school in the form of home economics. Pupils learnt hands-on practical cooking skills and often left school being able to make an array of di"erent dishes. In the 90s, things changed. Food Technology replaced home economics and the amount of practical, hands-on cooking time dramatically decreased.

We believe that bringing practical cooking back onto the curriculum is an extremely positive step forward, not only in terms of food education but also for our nation’s long-term health.

Teaching cooking effectively

The implications of cooking coming onto the curriculum are huge – especially for primary schools. Many teachers are not trained in teaching cooking and a lot of schools lack the facilities, resources and equipment they need. Our Teaching Cooking Confidently survey (April 2013) showed:

  • 65% of primary and early years teachers have had less than 3 hours of practical cooking training during their entire teaching training
  • 53% of primary and early years teachers have had no teacher training
  • 69% of primary school and early year teachers say they would benefit from training in teaching cooking
  • 72% of primary school and early years teachers say their school needs support to plan and deliver progressive skills-based cooking lessons

It’s essential that preparations are made before September 2014 and that teachers are given access to the training, resources, facilities and equipment they need to teach cooking effectively.

What’s more, we are always exploring innovative ways to support teaching cooking, such as our School Cooks pilot which trains staff working in school kitchens to teach cooking.