Euro-toques Chefs Nationwide visited schools for annual ‘Mini-Chefs’ School Food Workshops last week.
Last week many chefs around the country took time out from busy kitchens and businesses to share a little of their passion of food and cooking in Ireland’s classrooms, part of an annual initiative by Euro-toques Ireland – Irish branch of the Europe-wide ‘European Community of Chefs’ – to encourage healthier eating habits in children. The idea behind the workshops was simply to get children interested in food; how it grows or is produced, where it comes from, how to prepare and eat it, and to encourage them to think and ask questions about what they eat.
“These workshops are about sparking children’s interest in food and sharing our enthusiasm for it; growing it, cooking it, eating it”, says Ruth Hegarty, Secretary-General of Euro-toques Ireland.
“It is about empowering children to make better food choices and giving them the skills and knowledge they need to do this. Public health campaigns based on negative messages and guilt trips have proven to be ineffective, and the current government approach will be a dismal failure in dealing with our chronic obesity problem and bad eating habits. No one is giving our children the tools they need to improve the way they – and future generations – will eat. Healthier eating is closely linked to cooking ability. But we are now looking at a lost generation who cannot cook and will not pass any cooking skills on to their children”.
Ireland’s obesity rates continue to rise. Euro-toques believes that the way to tackle this is to teach people how to cook and therefore avoid processed, convenience foods. A 2003 paper from Harvard University showed that the increase in obesity in the US was in direct proportion to the reduction in time spent cooking at home and, it follows, an increase in consumption of ‘mass-produced’ food. While several UK studies have shown that hands-on cookery not only improves children’s knowledge of healthy ingredients but also encourages their consumption, concluding that cooking skills are the key to healthy eating.
Earlier this year Minister for Health Dr. James Reilly’s announced his intention to ask restaurants to include calorie counts on menus. Euro-toques believes this will not only be ineffective, but is actually a negative move. They believe that thinking of food in terms of calorie counts and nutritional tables instills a fear of food and encourages a negative relationship with it and they say that evidence shows that this is not an effective way of tackling obesity. According to a recently published report people in France show particularly low understanding of nutritional labeling on food, yet they have the lowest obesity rates in Europe. Knowledge of nutritional labeling and average calorie content of food is highest in the US and yet 80% of their population is now classified as overweight.
“We should be teaching our children that good food is one of the greatest pleasures of life and encourage them to love food, not fear it”, says Hegarty.
The government are totally missing the point when they talk about calorie counts and nutritional labels. It is the very foods which carry all this information, which have destroyed our diets and our health. Unless people can cook, they have no chance of accessing better food. We need a radical change in attitude and approach towards food in this country and we are calling on the government to develop a national policy on Food Education, something which currently does not exist.
These workshops are a bit of fun with a very serious purpose. Knowing how to cook and to eat in a balanced way is an essential life skill – it can also become a lifelong passion”.
The workshops, which took place in selected schools around the country last week, were run by Euro-toques industry chefs, who appeared in the classroom in their chef’s whites and take the entire class on as their ‘commis’ for the session. The interactive workshops covered everything from growing food and seasonality to healthy lunchbox ideas and simple recipes. The fundamental part of all the workshops is Taste – teaching children how to taste and encouraging them to use all their senses when they eat and to be open to trying a variety of different foods.