For Mary Berry, it’s at least ten. Restaurateurs and School Food Plan authors Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent recommend it starts with at least twenty. So is there a magic minimum number of dishes that kids should learn to cook at school?
With the revised National Curriculum set to include more practical cooking from September 2014, it’s a good time to ask. The guidance for schools which follow the curriculum starts children off with preparing dishes at Key Stage 1; will have them preparing and cooking ‘a variety of predominantly savoury dishes using a range of cooking techniques’ at Key Stage 2 and cooking ‘a repertoire of predominantly savoury dishes’ and becoming ‘competent in a range of cooking techniques’ at Key Stage 3.
Not a number or target in sight. Is that a bad thing? Possibly, depending on the interpretation of the words ‘variety’ and ‘repertoire’ for busy teachers heading up the curriculum. Or not, if you subscribe to the view that putting a number in there would simply constrain children’s learning about cooking to no more than a limited suite of recipes.
And constraint is most definitely not the name of the game here. Being able to cook well is so much more than just a box to tick in a child’s education. Just as we know that fostering a love of reading (reading anything, from the side of the cereal packet to a Jane Austen novel) turns the key for so much of children’s academic development, so developing cooking confidence and knowledge gives children not just an essential life skill they’re going to need for their health as adults, but also fosters their interest in tasting new foods and ingredients, and understanding what it means to eat well on a budget.
Master the basics, and you’re off. You can learn a fixed range of things by rote or you can grasp the fundamentals and have no boundaries at all. In fact, with cooking a hugely powerful teaching tool for all sorts of subjects, not just a skill in its own right, the possibilities are endless.
So how about not putting a number on it? How about helping schools to use the opportunity offered by the new national curriculum to make practical cooking skills a really meaningful and fundamental part of every child’s education, rather than a target to be met?
As Mary, Henry, John and many others have pointed out, they’re skills that really can change lives.
Maggie runs our Let’s Get Cooking programme.