Crawling, walking, catching, running, riding a bike and learning to swim - all essential activities to learn for a child. But cooking? It might not sound like a core skill but an increasing amount of evidence points to the fact that learning to cook has numerous benefits for children.
Studies conducted in the last few years show that children who cook or eat home-cooked food are less likely to be overweight, and more likely to have healthier eating habits. That's why, at Great British Chefs, we launched our Cooking With Kids campaign this year which features more than 100 recipes from some of the UK's best chefs specifically designed to get kids cooking fresh, healthy ingredients (as well as the occasional treat) with their parents.
It's now almost eight years since Jamie Oliver started his 'Feed My Better' campaign to improve the quality of school dinners. Some may argue that the campaign has had mixed success, but it did bring to attention the harmful effects processed food has on children's weight, ability to learn and general well-being.
Earlier this year the Women's Institute called for cooking to be taught to all schoolchildren, while Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, founders of the 'Leon' chain of restaurants, have been acting as advisers to the coalition Government about the inclusion of cooking on the curriculum. As of 2014, the aim is for all children aged 7-14 to take compulsory cooking classes that focus on savoury dishes.
This new measure should be applauded, and it chimes with research we conducted for our campaign. We surveyed over 2,000 parents and found that 90% of children had cooked a cake or dessert but only 39% had made a salad and just 36% had made a soup. 97% of parents agreed with the government's introduction of compulsory cooking lessons in school.
Academic studies about children's eating habits are reaching similar conclusions - home-cooked food helps children's development. A study conducted by the Children's Food Trust (formerly the School Food Trust) discovered that learning how to cook enhanced children's recognition of healthier foods and, furthermore, encouraged their desire to eat them. Research carried out in Liverpool by City University London found that schoolchildren and adults who took cooking classes changed their eating habits for the better, with both kids and grown-ups stating they ate more fruit and vegetables as a result.
A 2012 study by Goldsmiths' College, University of London, looked at 4,000 Scottish children between three and five years old and found that children of a lower socio-economic status who consumed more fast food fared worse in IQ tests than children from middle class backgrounds who were fed more fresh fruit and vegetables. Although there are other reasons why children from diverse backgrounds fare differently, other studies in Australia and the US have published similar results indicating that poor nutrition can affect brainpower.
What all the experts fundamentally agree on is that a change to the culture of ready meals and junk food is required. Fast food, that began as a convenient way of enabling us to work longer and play longer, has become a threat to our health, intelligence and relationships. If children and adults are taught basic cooking skills and simple recipes they're not only learning valuable life skills, they'll be - if not wealthier - healthier and wiser.