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Let's Get Our Children Cooking

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My wife was brought up on a diet of tripe, cabbage and lentils. Every now and then, for a treat, her mum would make pretend chicken nuggets - out of bread-crumbed, deep-fried lambs' brains.

They ate like that because they had no money. But my wife remembers the food with fondness. It tasted delicious because her mother is a great cook. Someone who was able to take free bones from the butcher and turn them into a delicious soup, who could transform the simplest ingredients into something nutritious and delicious.

Contrast this with recent events in Thanet. I met the local MP Laura Sandys last month as part of the work we are doing for the School Food Plan. She is supporting a scheme being set up by the local catering college to teach young parents to cook. But this isn't some cosy lifestyle programme, it is about survival.

These are people (mostly women) whose parents did not cook for them and who cannot cook themselves. As a result they cannot afford to feed their families well. They live off frozen ready meals and fast food because it is easier to calculate what they can afford to spend. The vegetable aisle fills them with terror because they do not have the knowledge or skills that my mother-in-law possessed to be able to transform it into cheaper healthier food for their families.

The result? We live in a country where 30% of children leave school obese or overweight and where we spend £6billion on treating diet related diseases every year. We have a generational skills gap - 60% of 18 to 25 year olds leave home without being able to cook five basic dishes. And it is making us unhealthy and unhappy.

The government recognised this when it accepted our recommendation - as part of the School Food Plan - to make it mandatory for the first time for all schools to teach children up to the age of 14 to cook a repertoire of savoury dishes. The curriculum launches in September 2014 but to get things started before then, we launched Cook 5; a campaign with the aim to make sure every child in the country can cook five basic savoury dishes.

Taking part is simple: we want children to cook five savoury dishes and upload photos to the Cook 5 site as they go. We've included 15 starter recipes for inspiration but participants are just as welcome to cook their own favourite family dish. And to encourage as many kids as possible to take part, we've put aside a pot of gold in the form of £5,000 for the overall Cook 5 winner, as well as another £5,000 for the school with the most participants, to invest in teaching cookery.

We are also encouraging people to post pictures of their mistakes. The physicist Neils Bohr defined an expert as someone "who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field". The great thing about food is that when you make a mistake it almost always tastes good.

Our target for this year may be for 100,000 children to cook five dishes, but we won't stop there. We're going to keep going until every child in the country can cook and to do that we need your help. Please talk to children and schools you know and ask them to get involved at www.cook5.co.uk. If you help us to achieve our goal we'll soon be living in a country that is healthier, happier and a little more likely to win the World Cup.

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