Imagine a world where every child left home not only with the skills to cook five meals from scratch, but also with an understanding of how to eat for better physical and mental wellbeing. Kate Percy, author and food entrepreneur, shares her plans for #Cook5withKatePercy and why she is so passionate about helping the next generation to cook.
Hi, I’m Kate Percy. Food has always been at the centre of my life. Whether it was learning how to make bread pudding or peeling vegetables with my grandma – a powerful Eastender of a lady who looked after me when both my teacher parents were working – or making Maryland chicken when I was left to my own devices in the kitchen for the first time aged eight. I just loved food. With my grandparents living with us, family mealtimes were always special – full of lively discussion, always something delicious and always full of love.
Fast forward 40+ years. It’s November 2016 and I find myself giving an ‘eat like an athlete’ course that I’ve developed along with the United Learning Academy Group to a bunch of Year 6s in a school in London’s East End and I can hardly believe what I am seeing. Admittedly I’m very tired having just launched the first product of my new food brand and I have omitted to tell anyone that I’m waiting for the results of breast scan that evening, but when my husband asks the innocent question, “How was your day?”, I burst into floods of tears.
It all comes out like a torrent. The children’s behaviour had been challenging and so many of the children and the teachers were hugely overweight. It was just so dispiriting, surely it shouldn’t be like this? It was on that day that my husband and I decided we just had to try and do something.
Fast forward again to 2022, refined after many years working in schools and talking to and learning from teachers and children, I’m excited to share our plans to transform the health of the next generation with our new initiative, #Cook5withKatePercy.
What is #Cook5withKatePercy?
The aim of #Cook5withKatePercy is to teach young people to cook five healthy meals before they leave home and have a basic understanding about how food works.
Using the simple concept of the Power of 5, it addresses cooking in bite-sized chunks: five recipes, five key nutrition basics and five cooking hacks, introduced over the course of five sessions and supported by online resources such as videos and nutrition and recipe downloads. These provide a range of achievable skills, tips and tricks to help young people connect with food so they can make healthier food choices and gain the skills and the confidence to enjoy cooking for the rest of their lives. Students invite someone they would like to share their meal with for the final session.
We’re also not talking about cupcakes and cookies, #Cook5WithKatePercy is about enabling and inspiring young people to cook proper food; everyday meals to support a healthy lifestyle.
We have just completed a fantastic pilot at the Merchant’s Academy in Bristol and are running two further #Cook5withKatePercy pilot schemes in London before we establish the structure for a national roll-out. We are considering separating this from the business and setting up a foundation at the moment, so any advice would be gratefully received!
How will #Cook5withKatePercy encourage a healthier nation?
In their ‘levelling up’ white paper, the government have committed £5 million to launch a “school cooking revolution”. One of the initiatives is for every child leaving school to know at least six basic recipes that will support healthy living into childhood. This is great news. According to a 2018 study, one in four Brits can only cook just three recipes from scratch. The consequence? Young people don’t pick up cooking skills at home. Over 50% of our nation’s diet is now processed or ultra-processed, resulting in problems with gut health, mental wellbeing and weight management.
#Cook5withKatePercy Pilot at the Merchant’s Academy, Withywood, Bristol
After introducing the pilot initiative in an assembly to Year 7 at the Merchant’s Academy, every single student signed up to the (voluntary) course! Together with the Head of Food Technology, Sam McKean, we chose five appropriate recipes from a selection of 20 which have been designed to appeal to a wide range of cultures and ethnicities: oaty banana pancakes, pasta shells with homemade tomato sauce, risi e bisi (rice and pea risotto), chicken fajitas and ‘healthier’ homemade burgers. On the final session, students cooked for parents, siblings and carers, thus involving the wider community.
Children are quick learners!
Initial results show that, given the chance, children pick up cooking skills and understand nutrition basics very quickly. Many of the amazing Year 7 children at Merchants Academy had never cooked before but it was evident on the fifth session in week five that they were willingly trying (and enjoying!) new foods and had gained key skills which they had found a challenge in the first week:
- Knife skills – they were chopping veggies like pros!
- Controlling heat – frying without burning, understanding the difference between boiling and simmering
- How to follow a recipe (see recipe example above)
- Kitchen hygiene and how to stay safe in the kitchen
- Clearing up and washing up!
“I am over the moon that we have had the opportunity to work with Kate piloting her #Cook5withKatePercy initiative… Equipping our young people with basic skills to enable them to lead healthy and happy lives has never been more of a priority and one that we are equally passionate about at Merchants Academy. More of the same please Kate!”Sam Williamson, Principal of Merchant’s Academy