Inside track: cookery lessons are for life, says Chantelle Nicholson

01 March 2022 by
Inside track: cookery lessons are for life, says Chantelle Nicholson

Here's what we can all do to help budding chefs at school, says Chantelle Nicholson

School Food Matters, a charity that I work with and feel is of utmost importance, was established to teach children about food and to improve children's access to healthy, sustainable food during their time at school.

Today, there is a clear disconnect between what consumers eat and where it comes from (and their knowledge of that process). There are many factors at play here as to why, but how can we all play our part in changing the tide?

Earlier this month I spent a morning with students at Northolt High School. Their rather incredible food lead, Shelley Hobbs, welcomed me and the facilitating teacher from School Food Matters with open arms. Shelley feels food education is more important now than ever, due to numerous factors, which include diet-related health problems. She also feels students need to understand where their food comes from and how it gets onto their plate.

Most important to her is that the students learn valuable life skills, such as how to make simple and nutritious meals. After her lessons, the students "leave with their food and an instant sense of achievement", which she feels is given too little time and importance versus the emphasis on academic subjects.

As an outsider, I asked Shelley what barriers schools face in offering food education. Her reply was in line with a number of other industry's issues right now – a lack of skilled people to teach. She also feels that schools and parents place so much emphasis on academic subjects; that food is often seen to be a less important choice when it comes to choosing GCSE subjects. Furthermore, the time allocated to lessons is incredibly challenging for practical cookery lessons – 50 minutes to teach a class of 20 students to cook a dish and clean up!

Shelley makes the valid point that "food often falls under the umbrella of art and design. I think it should be a separate subject with students having one lesson a week. We have only one lesson per rotation, versus all academic subjects, which have four per rotation."

During my time in Shelley's classroom, I noticed how well the students responded to her instruction and encouragement. She has also had a number of teams in the Belazu Fresh Enterprise scheme (an initiative where students create their own food products, experiencing the journey from concept to shelf), which is a testament to her skills.

When I asked what she attributes her success to, her response was "good classroom management, a lot of patience and a belief that everyone should be able to cook healthy, basic food."

Shelley is a real asset not only to Northolt, but also to the wider community and, in many ways, our industry. When asked what would support her to be able to do more with her students, one of her points was: "More invitations from outside agencies to enable students to better understand the real-life opportunities available in the hospitality and catering industry."

So, what are you all waiting for?

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