Norwich primary school pupils get a lesson in healthy eating
Six months ago Life Matters followed the work of a project teaching children about healthy food. Emma Harrowing catches up with the children who took part.
I love eating that!'
Grant is pointing – not at a burger, not at a pile of ice cream, but at a plate of wraps oozing with tomato, basil, lettuce and cheese. Next to him, two children are piling cous cous salad onto their paper plates, and Emily is heaping big spoonfuls of delicious Eton mess, glistening with fresh raspberries, into bowls.
This is Lakenham Primary school's grand Harvest Feast Picnic – a great celebration which took place last month for 60 children on the school playing field on a sunny afternoon at the end of the summer term.
But for 30 of the children, it is the culmination of six months' intensive growing and cooking in the Norfolk Food Discovery project. This pioneering three-year Lottery-funded project, run by the Country Trust, encourages children from six primary schools in Norwich and Great Yarmouth to get excited about good food.
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This year, 180 children and their parents have been visiting their own allotments and growing from seed all the fruit, vegetables and herbs they need to make the fantastic meals they've cooked in school.
And the menu has been far removed from the stereotypical stodgy school dinners with dishes such as spring vegetable soup with basil, vegetable lasagne, and cous-cous with fresh peas and broad beans, flavoured with fragrant herbs. 'He'll never eat his vegetables,' one mother commented as the children chopped up tomatoes and courgettes. And yet when it came to tasting time, the verdict was 'Lush!'
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The Norfolk Food Discovery project began back in March this year when pupils from the six primary schools grabbed their spades and planted fruit, vegetables and herbs on their own allotments. Then the pupils had cooking lessons to show them, and their parents, how to cook easy, tasty and nutritious meals. They visited farms to find out how food is produced and they met some local food heroes who explained how they make their produce.
The project, which educates children about how their food is produced from plough to plate, is managed by Christabelle Dilks: 'The schools taking part in the Norfolk Food Discovery project this year were St Nicholas Priory Primary, Edward Worlledge Junior and Cobholm Primary in Great Yarmouth, and Lakenham Primary, Mile Cross Junior and West Earlham Junior in Norwich.
'The children visited farms such as Morley Farm near Wymondham and smaller farms like The Grange in Rollesby, so they have witnessed the whole cycle of planning and gained new insight into how food is produced. One of the children even said how much they would love to be a farmer when they grow up!'
Over three years, the Country Trust's Norfolk Food Discovery project will give 540 primary school children, and their parents, from the neediest areas of Norwich and Yarmouth the chance to grow and cook their own food.
In a place such as Norfolk, where much of its prosperity comes from agriculture and with healthy eating becoming an important part of leading a full life, knowing where food comes from and having the skills to cook healthy meals is one of the life skills children need to have.
With chicken nuggets, chips and burgers temptingly easy to cook, the scheme aims to educate not just children, but their parents in how to cook quick and easy meals that are healthier to digest.
Looking at the marvellous feast produced by the children taking part in the project at Lakenham Primary there is not a greasy burger in sight. Instead, children are filling up on locally produced fruit and vegetables and are showing friends and family what they have made.
Says Christabelle: 'Children learn to sell their produce too, putting on Farmer's Markets in their playgrounds to sell fruit and vegetables to their parents and friends. The children's own crops were augmented by organic vegetables supplied by HFG Farm Shop and the markets proved a great success. One of the education coordinators, Paul Woodmin, said: 'Tara Taylor of Kiddycook, who helped the children prepare their feast today, was amazed at just how great they are at cooking.
'The idea is that bringing fresh local produce into the heart of communities might gradually change eating habits.'
Whether or not the project has changed the way the children from these schools think about food for good is yet to be seen, but back at Lakenham Primary's harvest feast the children collect their Norfolk Food Discovery certificates and a goody bag with a starter cooking set and you can see from their proud faces that they have loved every minute.
Norfolk Food Discovery begins again in October with six new schools. For more information visit www.norfolkfooddiscovery.org