Tag Archives: Home economics

Learning to Cook

A few years ago we encountered some problems when G wanted to learn to cook gluten- and dairy-free recipes in her school cookery classes. Her teacher appeared reluctant to help G learn how to adapt the “normal” recipes to suit her dietary needs and even told her that she would have to bake a normal red velvet cake because baking an allergy-friendly one would require too much work. It was not the most auspicious experience we would have with their school and one that would leave me feeling a little jaded about what might happen when it came time for M to start his round of food technology lessons.

Fortunately, M’s Year 7 teacher was willing to work with us when it came to each of the dishes he would be preparing in class and all in all, it was a positive start to M’s life at secondary school. This year M found himself once more in the cycle of food tech classes and all I could hope was that his Year 9 experience would be as good as his Year 7 one. As luck would have it, his teacher this year was keen to make sure that M could learn how to cook safe food for himself just as his classmates do and encouraged M to adapt every recipe to suit his particular dietary requirements, no hesitation and no fear that it would be too difficult to manage.

Having a teacher that not only helped M learn to cook, but who was also interested to find out more about how and why we made the adaptations we do was a huge boost to M’s confidence. Her attention to detail and preparedness to make sure that the cross-contamination risks of sharing a classroom kitchen and work-spaces with other

13 and 14 year-olds were reduced as much as practicable helped reassure him every week he cooked. M even shared my blog with her as he wanted her to understand more about his condition and see the many recipes that I’ve already adapted to suit his various allergy needs.

From chicken biryani to a prawn stir-fry and chilli con carne to a cheese and potato pasty (although that one wasn’t safe for him), M flexed his cooking muscles and has learned some great new skills that will stand him in good stead in the future. Our thanks have to go to a fantastic teacher who didn’t see M’s food allergies as a barrier to him learning to cook and worked with him to make sure that his health issues don’t stand in the way of achieving whatever he sets his mind to: that’s inclusion at its very best.

Back to basics

I’ve noticed that recently a lot of my blog posts have highlighted the challenges we have with feeding M and our inevitable focus on home cooking to manage his dietary needs.  It’s not that his EGID diagnosis has disappeared or changed as there is a lot going on in the background that I’ve yet to find the words to express, but rather that his food is a primary focus in his life right now.  The children and I have been talking a lot about them becoming more involved in the kitchen at home and learning a few simple recipes that they will eventually be able to prepare by and for themselves.  I really feel that this is a crucial skill for them both to learn because of their current food allergies and the need to prepare meals from scratch to avoid unwanted reactions.

basketI still remember the joys of Home Economics at school – arriving at school once a week, weighed down by not only my school bag and books, but also a basket containing all the necessary ingredients and paraphernalia needed for that day’s recipe.  I don’t remember many of the meals I lovingly attempted in class, though I have a vivid recollection of the challenge of recreating Shakespeare’s Globe theatre from food following a school trip to Stratford-upon-Avon!

These days learning to cook, even the basics, appears to be gradually dropping off the National Curriculum here in the UK, unless chosen specifically by the child as a subject for more in-depth study.  Recent news reports have commented on the increasing trends of young people unable to identify fruits and vegetables on sight, showing a lack of understanding of how diet impacts on their health and unable to cook even a simple meal for themselves and their families.  The huge increase in availability of ready-cook meals and the emergence of the handy microwave means that many of the younger generations have no idea of how to prepare a balanced, nutritious and delicious meal from scratch.  There is a widely-held belief that cooking from scratch requires long hours of hard labour, which makes it untenable for anyone who works full-time; but I know that just isn’t so.

microwaveI almost always cook from scratch and not just because of the complex nature of M’s diet. I enjoy the experience of creating a meal from a few ingredients and find it a great way to release tension at the end of a long day in the office.  Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe that there are times when nothing can beat a prepared dish that simply requires a few pokes with a fork and less than 10 minutes waiting for that “ping” to indicate that dinner is served, but I do think that there’s nothing better than an honest home-cooked meal to finish the day.  There are times when I don’t want to cook, especially if the children are being particularly trying and there is nothing more disheartening than having your hard work pushed around the plate before the child in question – usually G – states that “they’ve had enough” and “please may they get down from the table”; but I hold firm in my statement that the highs definitely outweigh the lows most of the time.

junior masterchef

I don’t know how much cooking G and M will be taught during their school life and so we have gently embarked on some home cooking lessons instead.  The meals we cook might not set the culinary world alight right now, but I hope that, with a little perseverance and a lot of practice, I’ll end up with 2 competent and confident cooks by the time they eventually leave home.  I hope to be able to teach them how to adapt recipes to meet whatever their current dietary requirements without batting an eyelid and show them that we all need to learn to laugh at our mistakes, brush ourselves off and give it another go.  Ultimately, I want 2 children who learn to love food and experience the joys of having that hard work rewarded with a tasty meal and people who enjoy what they’re eating.