14/08/2014 16:47 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

The House Dad Chronicles: It's Time To Get All Our Kids Cooking At School

The House Dad Chronicles: It's time to get all our kids cooking at school

My mother never taught me to cook, based largely on the fact she wasn't much of a cook herself. But it was she who inspired me to learn – because every time I shovelled a pile of hour-long-boiled sloppy cabbage into my mouth at Sunday lunch I'd think to myself: "Food has to taste better than this."

So when I was 15, I was first in the queue for Home Economics lessons. This wasn't entirely because I wanted to learn how to make a steak & kidney pie or an apple crumble: a lot of it was to do with the fact that I knew I would be the only boy in a class of 25 girls. But I digress.

I earned myself a CSE and never looked back. Cooking wasn't my first love, but it was certainly my second – and since I've become a parent, I've been determined that my kids should learn about where food comes from, how it affects our bodies, and how to cook it.

Unfortunately, not all parents have the time or inclination to cook from scratch – a situation that has led to a dependency on cheap ready meals, which has in turn led to the horse meat scandal that is gripping the nation. It has even been found in school meals in Lancashire.

Added to this is the fact that the uptake of school meals by children has dropped to an all-time low of 30 per cent (from a high of 80 per cent) because parents no longer trust the nutritional value of what schools provide.


This, ironically, has led to children being sustained on carb-sugar-and-salt loaded packed lunches and the quality of school dinners sinking even lower because education authorities can no longer afford to buy decent ingredients in bulk.


I'm sure you'll agree, it's a big, soggy, sloppy mess. No wonder we have an obesity crisis. Many of us don't know what the hell we're putting in our mouths – or our children's mouths. It's clearly time for a change.

So I was heartened to read this week that that change is on the cards. Renowned restaurant owners Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent have been asked by Education Secretary Michael Gove to examine what pupils are eating and how it can be improved.

Following their preliminary recommendations, the Government has agreed to make food and cookery lessons compulsory for the first time. As part of the new national curriculum, all children aged 7-14 will be taught how to cook from September 2014.

John explained: "First the kids will have to understand nutrition and where food comes from.

"Second, they have to be able to cook a range of savoury dishes, enough to be able to feed their families and themselves.

"Third, they have to know techniques such as whisking, that will enable them to broaden the menus they can tackle."

By the age of 14, children will be expected to have a repertoire of up to 20 dishes, which, for example, might include cottage pie, stir fries or curries.

"We are deliberately leaving it to the teachers to tailor what kids want to learn in any particular region. The common thing will be that it will be wholesome and we hope there will be an emphasis on making vegetables taste good."

I think this is such a brilliant idea that I went to see my sons' primary head teacher to suggest an after-school cookery club ahead of the Dimbleby-Vincent proposals. Of course, there will be lots of red tape to cut and hoops to jump through, but he was all for it. Let's see what happens.

In the meantime, I will continue to cook for and with my kids every day, planning menus, sourcing ingredients, ensuring they know that what they're putting in their mouths doesn't contain a trace of Dobbin.

Here are three super-simple recipes to get your kids cooking, too.


Serves 2
Prep: 10 mins
Cooking: 10 mins

4 large eggs

240ml milk

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

4 slices thick white bread, cut into triangles

2 tbsp sunflower oil

100g blueberries Maple or golden syrup, to serve

1. Crack the eggs into a mixing bow. Add the milk and cinnamon and mix together.

2. Pour the mixture into a shallow dish. Soak the bread for about 30 seconds in the mixture.

3. Heat half a tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan on a low heat. Carefully place two bread triangles in the pan.

4. Fry the triangles on both sides until they turn golden. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the remaining bread triangles.

5. Serve the eggy bread warm with blueberries and syrup.


Serves 4
Prep: 5 mins
Cooking: 10 mins

5 tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Handful of basil leaves, torn

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Ground black pepper

200g farfalle pasta

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

1. Put the tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil in a large bowl and season with black pepper. Stir the mixture together using a wooden spoon.

2. Cook the pasta in a saucepan of boiling water, according to packet instructions (around 9 minutes). Drain the pasta in a colander then toss with the tomato sauce and serve.


Makes 8
Prep: 40 mins
Cooking: 15 mins

100g butter at room temperature

1 egg

125g caster sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

150g self-raising flour

Flavouring ingredients of choice e.g. hazelnuts, chocolate chips, cranberries, chopped dried apricots

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line two trays with baking parchment. In a large bowl, use an electric whisk to whisk the butter and egg together. Mix in the sugar and vanilla.

2. Work in the flour with a spoon until the mixture forms a soft dough, then mix in your additional ingredients. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

3. Roll the dough into about 16 balls and place on the baking trays, leaving space around ach ball. Flatten the balls slightly and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden, Cool them on a wire rack.