Education Quandary

'Will cooking lessons at school turn children off? And what should we try to teach them?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

It will certainly be an uphill task. Learning to love cooking involves a lot of things that are impossible to teach in a classroom, like the joy of touching, smelling and choosing fresh ingredients, and the pleasure of sharing a meal with friends or family. Dried-up lasagne carried home on the school bus never quite cuts it.

But it is worth a try. So many of today's children have no exposure to cooking, and their health and finances will suffer unless they learn that not all meals come out of the microwave. Maybe the key lies in creating imaginative programmes that will allow parents and other adults to enthuse about good food, or offer small after-school groups the chance to cook and eat together in a real kitchen. After all, there is no reason why schools alone - yet again - should be expected to repair the ills of society.

As for what they should learn: it needs to be simple, but flavourful enough to entice young palates blunted by too much salt and sugar. Spicy kebabs with roasted red peppers will encourage interest; fish in a parsley sauce might produce upturned noses. Children need to understand that if they learn a few basic recipes, they can ring the changes with different ingredients, and that if you know how to roast a chicken, or grill a chicken breast, then you basically know how to grill or roast anything else. There are plenty of cookbooks for children around, but those that advocate smiley-faced pizzas are a waste of space.

Readers' advice

Forty years ago, in the early years of my grammar school, I learned to cook soused herrings, brandy snaps and quiche lorraine, and have continued to prepare food without recourse to ready meals ever since.

But, on pursuing the subject to O-level, the practical side disappeared as we spent the time learning how a fridge works - which I've never had cause to use since! Encourage children to prepare fun foods and get used to different tastes.

Viv Burrows, Derby

Cooking is a skill that I failed to learn at school. As a 25-year-old who often succumbs to microwave meals, it would have been very useful to learn how to shop for and cook nutritious food on a budget. Young people should be taught about how food is produced, made aware of the additives in convenience food, and be able to evaluate the claims for organic alternatives. Girls, especially, should be taught what constitutes a balanced diet so they can be wary of fads, quick fixes and Hollywood waifs.

Vicky Milnes, Oxfordshire

I teach food technology in a secondary comprehensive, and teach adult education classes and young army recruits basic cooking skills, and think there are many positive aspects to the idea of giving children some basic food preparation skills.

But we need: funding for equipment, rooms and ingredients; training and support for teaching staff; time - 50-minute or one-hour periods are not enough; and small groups, so that children can get enough teacher-time to learn new skills.

Tessa Mitchell, Cambridgeshire

Next Quandary

'My daughter goes to university this week, and I am worried about freshers' week. Some friends have said that their children have spent half their term's money during this week, and I know that many students get run down from the late nights and drinking. Isn't it irresponsible of universities to start students off on their academic careers like this?'

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 25 September to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.

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