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EMS – Cooking on a Budget

Environmental Management Services (EMS) based at the Freedom Centre on Preston Road are a community project very active in growing and cooking food with families in East Hull. One of the things they run is cooking on a budget classes. The main difference of their project has been actually getting children involved in the whole process of cooking, learning how by changing a few ingredients you can make a number of different dishes with widely varying tastes, and, for the older element, how to have sufficient confidence and self belief to actually make a meal from basic fresh ingredients for themselves.

EMS have noticed that a number of families attending our courses have limited, if any actual skills in making meals at home. The exception being those coming from more affluent backgrounds, as those particular children tend to be collected from school by relatives/ grandparents who then cook a meal with them while they wait for their parents to return from work. As we have identified that a large percentage of parents who attend our courses do lack in basic cooking skills we always make sure that when we are describing how to make the meal we always ensure that we are describing the process to both the parent and the child and not assuming they have that knowledge, while being careful not to be seen as being patronising in any way.

Children attending our sessions always comment on how tasty the food is and how simple the meals are to make, and, as they get to try three different meals during each session they often experience something new to them which they can then make themselves, or ask if their parents can start cooking on a regular basis at home.

During some of the sessions EMS noticed that groups of school friends would often team up to cook together and this is always really pleasing to see, particularly when older siblings take charge of cooking a dish and then take a portion of whatever they had made to their younger brother or sister to try.

The major difference our project makes is with the older age group as by the end of the second session they tend to have taken ownership of the meal being made on their table, have used the recipe card to guide themselves through the whole cooking process and seem to enjoy serving up the meal they made to eat themselves and to share amongst their peer group. They also ask questions as to whether they could substitute certain ingredients for others, showing an interest in the whole aspect of preparing and cooking the meal and even personalising it to their own particular tastes.

We have been given feedback from a number of staff members from the locations we have visited as they have actively pursued their clients to become involved with us and want to see any development that takes place. We also note down any conversations with children attending the courses as this can illustrate to us whether the courses are achieving their desired outcomes and whether we need to make any changes to ensure this happens.

While we were cooking at a session recently one of the younger boys who attended helped me make a very basic chicken curry. Once the dish was ready he called a friend over, handed him a plateful, took one for himself and went to sit down to eat with his friend. They both came back a few minutes later and asked if they could have a little more to eat as neither of them had had anything since the day before. As I loaded up their plates the lad who had helped me said

“Are you a professional chef”? When I told him no, I wasn’t he replied “well you should be, and I am going to learn to cook as this curry is the best meal I have ever eaten and I want to be able to cook for my friends in future”.

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