Ask a child to check if they’ve got a soggy bottom and they’d probably give you a funny look, but chef Mary Berry wants children to learn everything about cookery – from whether their cake is cooked all the way through (aka soggy bottom-free) to whether their biscuits have enough crunch.
Mary, of Great British Bake Off fame, says, “With rising levels of obesity, it’s essential children learn the basics of nutrition as well as the joy of being able to produce a simple meal from scratch”.
“Following a recipe, being able to improvise a meal from leftovers and under-standing how to store food are vital ingredients for a happy, healthy life,” Mary told the Daily Mail.
Mary puts youngsters’ cooking skills to the test in the junior version of the show, but says she despairs at how many children have had to look outside of school to find cookery lessons – namely from Grandma. The Women’s Institute has earned Mary’s respect after they started a campaign to see school cookery lessons more widely available in schools. But is enough being done to inspire the next generation of Marys, Paul Hollywoods, Gordon Ramseys and beyond?
“It’s scandalous we are sending our children out into the world without even the simplest cookery skills. Of course there are exceptions, but my point is that cookery is not a fixed subject on the curriculum. And it should be.”
It’s not just cooking either – general kitchen common sense is passing children and parents by, which worries Mary.
“I despair when I watch young people throwing away perfectly good food because it’s past its sell by date. But then who can blame them? They’ve not been taught to use their eyes and noses. They don’t know that while raw mince might last two days, once cooked it will keep for seven, says Mary.”
If your child isn’t getting much guidance at school, try helping them at home, with Mary’s age-specific guide:
You’ll need to be involved at all steps, but buy a small, cheap seven-inch non-stick omelette pan and a little plastic spatula and show your child how to make an omlette. Let them choose the ingredients to inspire them to think about flavours. And why let children slice up Play-Doh when they could be cutting pastry to make biscuits or small tarts. At this age cookie cutters or a small blunt knife are best. Or go super simple and get them to help make jelly cubes.
By this age children are more confident reading and counting numbers so get them to follow a recipe and weigh out the ingredients – helping them along if they get stuck. A sponge cake is a nice one to start with at this age. Children could even help make a simple dinner, like pasta with pesto stirred in – just help them with pouring off hot water. Excite children about ingredients by getting them to choose what they’d like to eat out of the fridge and take them to pick fruit when the season is right.
Even icing ready-made cupcakes teaches children patience and decoration skills. Cooking will help your children feel a sense of achievement, so it’s time to get out in that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans! We’ve got 100s of recipes to get you going. See them here.