Teach Your Children Well – 29 June 2016

This week I am feeling so downcast by the political situation in the UK that it is hard to concentrate on the pesky issue of lowering cholesterol. I feel more concerned about the political turmoil and the future opportunities for my children’s generation than I do about the future of my cardiovascular health. But maybe the two are not mutually exclusive.

Talking of the future of the next generation, the weekends these days are filled with university open day visits. I have been surprised to discover that self-catering facilities have the sort of kitchens that would not look out of place in an IKEA catalogue – spacious, bright, funky chairs at large kitchen tables, multiple hobs and fridges. Viewing several of these on Saturday, I was just itching to get cooking. I wondered how much real food is prepared in these kitchens in any academic year. One of the tour guides opened a freezer to show prospective students (or the parents) how the space is divided up. As I suspected the freezer was packed tight with boxes of pizza and oven chips. In the corner of the kitchen there was a pile of empty bottles presumably awaiting recycling. The pile was sizeable and composed mainly of alcohol empties. Perhaps the less parents see of these kitchens the better.

This experience set me to thinking about preparing my son for a self-catering life that is not composed of endless dinners of pizza and oven chips. Eighteen years of eating lots of fruit and veg, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, loads of grains, fish and fowl and a small amount of red meat, homemade bread – all this is but a distant memory if he does not learn to cook. He makes a good cheese omelette and a mean toastie, can put together a simple pasta sauce and recently roasted a chicken under instruction. So the bones are there.

How many students are ready for a future in which they will have to take care of their own nutrition? Our schools do little to prepare our children for an independent life – oftentimes they are not even prepared for being independent thinkers. Cooking should be as much part of the curriculum as PE. Nutrition and eating well is every bit as important as exercise.

Back in my student days I learnt to make pasta and not much else. No one had taught me to cook before I left home. On campus I ate the cheapest meal deal in the lunch canteen – usually large slabs of macaroni cheese. Along with my peers I ate at late night greasy spoons. I did no exercise aside from running to lectures that I was usually late for. I put on a whole lot of weight in the three years that ensued. It took another three years to get back to my normal size.

This morning I paged through a Student Cookbook to see if it might offer inspiration to my son but in fact it was far too complex for a student. Who takes an electric mixer to university? Some of the recipes were time consuming with ingredients unlikely to be available in the campus grocery shop. I assured my son that I will teach him to cook a few dishes that are quick and easy – one fish, chicken, egg, veggie, and of course, pasta dish– macaroni cheese probably as it is a favourite. After all it takes the same time to put fish fingers on an oven tray as it does to put a fresh fish fillet on an oven tray. A squeeze of lemon and a grinding of black pepper and supper is almost ready. I feel a new cookbook coming on.

We all know about the obesity epidemic and might feel powerless to do anything about it. Teaching our children to cook is one way to ensure that they are able to feed themselves healthily once they are no longer eating their meals in our kitchens.

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