I was pleased that the Government introduced a Cooking and Nutrition GSCE a couple of years ago , but what a shame that it’s optional rather than mandatory and that such subjects are often considered ‘soft’ options. Surely an understanding of basic nutrition, what constitutes a balanced diet and being able to produce a healthy meal are fundamental life skills.
I still remember much of what I was taught in Domestic Science classes at school. We were taught a range of cooking techniques and I know which are protein foods, which contain fibre and a fair bit about vitamins and minerals. I enjoyed cooking at school but when I made macaroni cheese my mother gave it to next door’s dog! It was considered too exotic for our household. Given that my mother was so well travelled and had spent a number of years living in Japan and Singapore, you’d think her tastes might have been a bit more cosmopolitan! She managed a reasonable Sunday roast with proper potatoes (always served on the dot at 12 noon so that she could ‘sit down’ in the afternoon), but other than that what comes to mind is Findus crispy pancakes, Birds Eye boil in the bag chicken casserole, Cadbury Smash (dried potato) and Surprise dried peas. I also remember regular servings of Instant Whip. Cooking wasn’t her forte! Sometimes I hear people say almost proudly, “I can’t cook,” as though it is a badge of honour. I think what they are saying is that they can’t be bothered to cook. If you can follow an instruction, you can cook. Buy a child’s cookbook as a starting point – the pictorial instructions are simple and clear.
A few weeks ago, Paris’s respected Sorbonne University published a report into a large-scale study (45,000 people) into the long-term effects of eating processed foods. No-one is suggesting that the odd meal of sausages, or a ready-meal is going to wreak havoc on one’s health but a relentless diet of processed and packaged foods full of additives and ingredients which are sometimes of dubious quality is no good to anyone, and it’s not just about the higher salt, sugar and unhealthy fats that many of these foods contain; there is also concern over the cooking processes and storage.
At a time when we are facing an obesity crisis (and, bizarrely, at the same time a raft of eating disorders such as anorexia among adolescents), it makes perfect sense to teach young people approaching adulthood how to take responsibility for their own health. Make that GCSE compulsory.