COOK SMART FIXERS PROJECT
When children start secondary school, they begin to make their own choices and are susceptible to developing a bad relationship with food. At this time under a quarter of them are either overweight or obese, but by the time they leave school this figure has risen to over one third.
Lack of concentration, anaemia and depression are all symptoms of nutritional deficiencies in the diet. A School Food Trust Study found that diet has a positive impact on pupils' engagement, concentration, and their ability to learn in the classroom. In fact, they found that just by eating healthily, children are 18% more likely to stay on task.
The national curriculum has recently started to incorporate healthy eating into lesson plans. By Key stage 3, the curriculum specifies that students should be able to cook a range of primarily savoury dishes, and be able to apply the principles of nutrition and healthy eating.
However, food technology lessons in schools are still primarily focused on baking and sugar-laden foods. Schools do not have the resources to build these new requirements into their courses.
What We Do
CookSmart fills this gap, and teaches children to make healthy choices about food at an age when they are beginning to gain independence and make their own decisions. The project provides them with the skills and confidence to make these choices which in turn helps them concentrate on their school work.
We have devised an after school course of 6 comprehensive lesson plans over 4 weeks that provide digestible information on healthy eating to a class of 14 children aged from 11 to 12 years old. These sessions showcase different cultures and eating styles, as well as reinforcing their underlying message of health because concentration and diet are intrinsically linked.
The first school we have worked with was St Mary Redcliffe, a secondary school in south Bristol.
The highlight of our sessions this year has been the practical element. Each class teaches the children a new dish to cook, giving the children kitchen confidence and the tools to eat better forever.
The school does currently have food technology lessons and facilities, although the time that students spend on these session is minimal. It was therefore thought that this would be a good school to pilot the programme with as we could add to the time these children spend and in doing so give them a real boost.
The meals that we cook in the classes have been calculated for cost and will feed a family of four for under five pounds so that even low income families who frequently turn to ready meals or fast food will be able to utilise them after the course has finished. We feel strongly that budget should not have a bearing on health and wellbeing.
To add to the impact of our course we have arranged with the charity ‘Fixers’, to publish a cookbook. This will enable the students to take home something from the sessions and so continue to benefit from them in the future. It also means that the parents can have more of an input on how the lessons learn for the classes are utilised.
We see it as crucial to involve the parents in this process. Since the children are still at an age where their parents have a lot of control over what they eat.
Schools can now teach children to be both book-smart, and to CookSmart.
This year has been the start of a small, yet powerful, food movement. By educating children at the age where they are most susceptible to learning bad eating habits, CookSmart has been able to help them take control. Reducing their chances of developing food related illnesses and increasing their chances of achieving the best they can academically.
Over the next few years we will be working with new schools and setting up similar courses. In addition to this we will be refining their cookbook which will expand benefits of the project even further. In order to continue our impact we will be training sixth formers in the schools to run the programme, making the project sustainable for the future. Whilst at the same time enabling the sixth formers to gain work experience, which will help with their university or job applications over the coming years.