The UK government launched its Childhood Obesity Plan in 2016, yet even as recently as last week, the results of a study by the British Medical Journal showed ‘no improvements in children’s diet and activity levels.’ The sugar tax will come into effect from April this year as yet another attempt to incentivise parents and children alike to adopt a healthier diet. But ultimately, the one-size-fits-all approach never really works; a real difference has to be made first on a smaller scale to have any lasting impact. But there are some hidden jewels - one such jewel is Charlton Manor Primary School near Greenwich, and my goodness it truly is a rare diamond.
Headmaster Tim Baker and his staff have created something truly special. Both Jamie Oliver and Raymond Blanc are avid supporters. From their model ‘history’ street to the secret garden where they grow fruit, veg and keep bees, to the healthy tuck shop ‘Sweet Pickings’, the school’s ethos is rooted in equipping the children with essential life as well as academic skills, believing that in order to build a thriving community, we need to educate our children on how respect each other and the environment and to eat healthily. Although school lunches only cost £1.60 per head, Chef Flavio and his team create the most delicious, wholesome and nutritious meals. All the food is made from scratch – even the tomato ketchup! – creating plates full of vibrant colours and textures. When I had lunch there I couldn’t get enough of my sumptuous dahl, homemade chapatti and unlimited salad. We even had rainbow cookies for dessert – made with beetroot, spinach and butternut squash. It’s inventive, fun and innovative, and the kids love it. How I wished my school dinners had been anywhere near as yummy!
The school encourages learning through cooking, there’s no limit to what can be achieved. Cooking is a way of bringing the learning to life and there’s no end to what can be achieved. Whether it’s chemistry, history, maths, religious studies, biology, or geography, so much can be taught through the act of cooking. And it provides opportunities to teach the importance of teamwork and appreciation for other cultures as well as to reduce food waste.
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of teaching class 3H how to make sweet potato brownies in the Teaching Kitchen – one of the many unique and exceptional features of this amazing school. This class was made up of 25 eight-year-olds – all exceptionally polite and engaged. It was truly inspirational to see the concentration of the children as they read the recipe and even theirhidd excitement at the prospect of cleaning up their workstations!
Cooking with children is in itself a relatively easy way to teach them basic skills, as well as boost their confidence. Such a sense of achievement is felt from producing a tangible result, and psychologically it’s both rewarding and extremely satisfying.
This is solid proof that kitchen confidence goes a long way – no matter what age you are.