‘If the children grow it themselves, they’re more likely to eat it’

Jul 15, 2017 by

Since taking control of its own catering, a Cornish community primary school has enthused pupils with a love of fresh produce, putting food at the heart of their education

“These are peas,” says a tiny girl in a red bucket hat, her face a tapas of freckles. “We eat them for snack time. They just taste like ordinary peas; like you’d eat for your dinner.”

I am standing in the Marlborough School allotment, tucked into the side of a sunny hill in Falmouth, Cornwall, surrounded by children no taller than my hip, as they chew on nasturtiums, studiously check the soil temperature and throw themselves on to the grass beside a bed of carrots to look for slugs. This is where groups of Marlborough students, aged five to 11, and their parents, come and grow their own courgettes, broad beans, kale, carrots and herbs, all to end up in their school dinners.

Since ending a contract with catering firm Chartwells in 2014, this small, state-funded seaside school has been making waves with what they serve the children. So much so that in May mother Ruth Littlejohns-Sames and the school chef, Jessica Oughton, published a book of their best child-friendly recipes, called Feed. Forget suspiciously yellow custard and chicken nuggets; it is full of surprising favourites such as root veg rostis, tomato and sesame soup, homity pies, breaded mackerel and nettle pizza.

“My approach to vegetables is that they’re everywhere, so the kids can’t really avoid them,” says Oughton as we walk past a patch of nettles and blackberries where she goes foraging with the kids. “They’re with the food, in the food, on top of the food. I don’t really agree with ‘hiding’ vegetables, because I want them to appreciate that you need a balanced diet. You need protein and vegetables. I do put things in sauces, but that’s to give it more flavour; not to hide it.”

The secret is to get children involved from the beginning. “If they cook it themselves, they’re more likely to eat it; if they grow it themselves and cook it, then they’re much more likely to eat it. They’re the opposite of grossed out; they’re excited by it,” says Oughton. And what, I wonder, of the grubby little issue of hygiene? “A bit of dirt is part and parcel of having kids,” she replies. “We get them to wash their hands before cooking, but if they have dirty fingernails in the book that’s because children have dirty fingernails. Ours is quite an earthy school.”

Source: ‘If the children grow it themselves, they’re more likely to eat it’ | School meals | Life and style | The Guardian

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