Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Never too young

  • The thing about Delia is... her recipes always work. This was the thing people used to say. As Delia Smith herself said: “Who on earth would write recipes that don’t work?” Who indeed. That said, I could name quite a few.

Delia has also said that she has no intention of showing off, but simply encouraging healthy eating through home cooking. The key thing here is basics. While there are many people who either cook instinctively or have learned from family members, for most people the basics don’t come easily for those who aren’t kitchen trained.

The definitive solution to this is a school curriculum which includes food nutrition and a scientific approach to tasty healthy eating. Not only can learning these skills be great fun, it is becoming increasingly clear how important it is to eat healthily for your future wellbeing. The rise of obesity leading to diabetes is at a peak. The importance of diet - along with exercise - has proven to be the answer to good health. (Obviously not smoking and not taking drugs or drinking too much alcohol have a part to play). But having a good diet is a good start.

I think there would be a huge benefit if schools and colleges were to provide Delia-style cooking and nutrition classes. It doesn’t need to be their chosen course but perhaps a free period option. When I was at college my free period courses were French cuisine and flower arranging, and they’re skills I have taken with me to adulthood. Even just one school/college period watching an episode of Delia’s How to Cook could inspire so many. Well-balanced meals - whether meat based, vegetarian or vegan - with emphasis on food budgetIng is also essential, and could set a child or young adult on the right course for life.

There has been a generational issue here. A lot of children a couple of generations gone were latchkey children; arriving home to an empty house as both parents were at work. Often this was a necessity, in order to keep the family clothed and fed. Tinned food (not all bad) became the norm. Then we had microwave - or ‘ping’ - meals, which were a godsend to working parents.  Tasty though the ‘ping’ meals were and inarguably convenient, they often contained additives, colourants and lots of salt and sugar. And as a consequence, some children grew up with that being the only way of cooking their parents knew.

Of course, plenty of children have the encouragement from their parents to eat healthily and participate in the preparation of their meals if they are lucky enough to find the time. But the stress of homework, after-school activities and day-to-day commitments leave even less time to think about family meals.

I have found it difficult to find suitable cookbooks for both young children and children in their teens, which cover the very basics of cookery. Social media tends to show the end results, but not how to get there. Television could provide an answer to this and instead of predominantly competitive programmes like children’s bake-off or junior master chef, why not provide cookery programmes for children based on learning to cook from scratch? No one is too young to learn, on varying levels, about food and nutrition. Family mealtimes can be very relaxing and become a special stress-free time to spend together. Get children involved. Whether it is measuring, chopping, mixing or tasting, this can only be good for their outlook on food, where it comes from, cooking, eating, and can develop their tastes for years to come.

Modern cooking should not be all about competition, but perhaps more a celebration of good and healthy food. Most of all, enjoying the experience of cooking and eating tasty, healthy home cooked dishes.

Because once you know the basics, the world is your (proverbial) oyster.

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