Sainsbury’s Active Kids recently released a report showing some shocking stats about the health and nutrition beliefs of 11-14 year olds. Apparently, over one fifth refer to social media, YouTube stars and bloggers to find information on healthy eating, which can be very hit and miss as they (we) are not qualified nutritionists. 41% of kids believe they should ‘probably do more’ when it comes to exercise and 43% of kids think that cutting out a food group (such as gluten or dairy) will lead to a healthy lifestyle.
The good news is that most of the children surveyed understood the importance of healthy eating. The most common reasons for wanting to eat well related to health and fitness, with 55% saying that it is important to eat well in order to feel healthy and 36% saying a nutritious diet is important to avoid becoming ill. So what prevents children from actually eating well? Unsurprisingly, healthy food being dull and fast food seen as cheaper were the top reasons, followed by misinformation from social media and parental influence.
Among the 11 to 14 year olds surveyed, most said that parents made their meals, with only a third of the children preparing at least one meal a week. While children do not necessarily need to cook at this age, their future health depends on them developing these skills before they leave home. Unfortunately, the findings reveal limited cooking skills among young people with nearly half of 11-14 year olds (49%) admitting they are not able to cook a simple pasta dish. There is evidence to suggest gender bias in cooking with girls having stronger cooking skills than boys, revealing a particular need to focus on getting more boys into the kitchen at a younger age.
I felt very smug and virtuous as I read this last statement because all three of the Madhouse kids have been helping out in the kitchen from a very young age. It still amazes me when I see how good Pierre is at cracking eggs into a bowl without getting the slightest bit of shell in there !
However, when I really thought about it, most of our family-oriented culinary endeavours are rustling up sweet treats and bakes. The Madhouse kids definitely know how to make muffins, cookies, banana bread, fruit salad and jelly, but what about real food? I decided that this half term would be the ideal time to get them more involved in helping cook main meals, and I was surprised to see just how much they enjoyed it - not just the food prep and cooking but also the eating ! From mixed bean and tuna salad to pasta bake, they rose to the challenge and were so proud to get compliments from the whole family when we sat down to eat.
Now that she's at secondary school, and school is literally just across the road, Juliette comes home for lunch rather than going to the canteen. A few times a week, she is left to fend for herself and, although she's allowed to use the microwave, kettle and optigrill, the oven and hob are out of bounds (in case she forgets to turn them off and burns the house down !). As I was busy doing the washing up, I asked her if she'd like to make a start on cooking her favourite creamy prawn dish and she acted as if she'd been doing it forever, turning on the gas and stir-frying the mushrooms and prawns ...
Then seasoning to taste and squeezing in the crème fraîche. It's not the most complicated of dishes but she got a real sense of achievement out of making it from start to finish and I was very impressed at how confident and competent she was.
This made me realise that, now that she's turned 12, she is surely old enough to be allowed to be a bit more adventurous and have more free reign in the kitchen. I think that from now on, she'll be allowed to use the oven and hob too ... but I might phone her at the end of my lunch break at school to check she's turned everything off properly for a while longer !
Even though he's only 7, Pierre wanted in on the action so, watching him like a hawk and repeatedly telling him to watch his fingers, I gave him permission to stirfry some veggies.
He did a great job, helping to create our gumbo-style meal right through to the end. (Click through for the recipe.) He took it really seriously and had a real sense of achievement when it was ready to serve.
So there you have it ! It's not just a case of teaching the kids how to cook. It's also a case of teaching myself to cut them some slack and trust them a bit more in the kitchen so that they can learn these vital life skills and not just know how to take part in the Great British Bake Off !
Disclosure : Sainsbury's sent me a copy of their Active Kids Report and a shopping voucher to encourage me to get involved in cooking healthy meals with the Madhouse kids.