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The case for food education at school

Guest Post
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Now that schools have got to grips with universal infant free school meals, Jo Creed, at the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, gives us the lowdown on why food education is important and suggests some ways to make it fun.

As a nation, we’re disconnected from the food we eat. A 2012 survey of 2,000 16- to 23-year-olds found that over half didn't know that butter comes from dairy cows, only two-thirds knew that eggs come from hens and over a third had no clue that bacon comes from pigs. Yet big fast food franchises and the food products made by them are immediately recognisable to most kids. This disconnect comes from a lack of food education; without it, kids don't always understand that food doesn't arrive ready-made in a heavily branded box.

[caption id="attachment_3960" align="alignleft" width="808"] Where do potatoes come from?[/caption]

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Last year, the School Food Plan brought about improvements in the quality of food served at schools. The Key's recent survey of school leaders suggested that schools have found it relatively easy to implement universal free school meals for infants, meaning more are eating wholesome, real food every day. Perhaps most revolutionary, cooking lessons are now a compulsory part of the National Curriculum for all five- to 14-year-olds.

For me, it's about more decent food being served up on more plates, and more kids across the UK learning about food at school again – where it comes from, how it grows, how to prepare and cook it, and the impact it has on their bodies. As we’ve taken some big steps forward, I thought it a good time to share some of the innovative and fun practice from two schools taking part in Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen Garden Project. Here are three ways they're getting involved:

Get cooking in the classroom

[caption id="attachment_3953" align="alignright" width="814"] Getting to know their vegetables: pupils at St Paul's Whitechapel Primary.[/caption]

St. Pauls Whitechapel Primary School in Tower Hamlets has fully embraced cooking at school, with the school timetable being rewritten to include two hours of dedicated cooking time every week, for every child. As a borough, Tower Hamlets has high levels of deprivation, and the number of pupils at St Paul's receiving the pupil premium is well above average. Yet the impact of including cooking as a core part of the curriculum can be felt throughout the school community. Kids' knowledge of food and health as increased, as has their willingness to try new things.

Grow your own

Despite the fact that it doesn’t have large grounds, Rhyl Primary School in Camden has created green spaces throughout its site, including a garden built in the school car park. It has also developed a whole-school growing programme that allows for progression of learning as children move through the school. Pupils even sell their school-grown fruit and veggies to a local cafe.

[caption id="attachment_3953" align="alignright" width="180"] The vegetable patch at Rhyl Primary School in Camden[/caption]

Join Food Revolution Day 

Food Revolution Day, coming up on May 15, is another way for schools to get involved in food education and share the fun of cooking with their pupils. Tune in to Jamie Oliver’s Squash It Sandwich cooking lesson. In doing so, you’ll be helping to equip kids with the lifelong skills needed to feed themselves and their families properly.

There are now more than 42 million children worldwide under the age of five who are either obese, overweight, or suffering from diet-related diseases. So many of these problems are entirely preventable. The UK is taking steps towards redressing the situation, but children globally will continue to suffer without nutrition education in the classroom. That's why Jamie Oliver has launched a global petition for compulsory, practical food education for kids worldwide. It would be great if we could arm future generations with the life skills they need to lead happier, healthier and more productive lives. Making food education exciting is a good way to start.

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