So we seem to have an obesity epidemic on our hands. The UK has been labelled ‘the fat man’ of Europe’ with 24.8% of adults in England obese and 61.7% either overweight or obese. 61.7%. A third of children are either overweight or obese when they leave primary school, setting them up for a lifetime of health problems.* The Mini Cooking Club aims to change these statistics by getting kids excited about real food and healthy eating through hands-on cooking classes.

It’s not hard to work out why. We sit in front of computers all day, drive cars everywhere, watch TV in the evening, junk food is readily available and let’s face it, the British weather doesn’t often help with a general lack of motivation to get up off our bums and go for a healthy jog through sideways rain on a cold, dark evening.

We live in a nation where everything is at our finger tips and instantly available. The internet and social media have helped shape us as a nation of immediacy and our busy lives means convenience dominates at every turn. There are rows of ready meals, sweets, chocolate and fizzy drinks in every shop we go in, packaged and ready to consume in a matter of minutes. Pizza, Chinese, fried chicken and more can be delivered to your front door in half an hour (or even to your school, more about that absurdity here).

With the busy lives we lead it’s easy to fall into bad habits and pick up a microwave curry or just order a takeaway, but these products have high levels of salt, sugar and fat which, eaten over a long period of time, can cause irrevocable damage. It’s not until later in life that you notice the difference and you’re well on the way to type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

As a nation that relies on convenience food and takeaways, we are losing our cooking skills and our understanding of how to prepare healthy, nutritious food. Meals prepared at home from raw ingredients are invariably much healthier than meals prepared outside of the home. A lack of understanding of this fact is leading us, as a nation, to make unhealthy food choices.

At the London Cooking Project we’re working with a wonderful charity called the Mini Cooking Club to educate kids from a young age about the importance of cooking and to give them the lifelong skills to prepare healthy, nutritious meals.

At our kitchen in Battersea, London we provide free hands-on workshops for local kids aged 7-11 on Saturdays to help them understand why healthy food choices are important. The children learn basic cooking skills, nutrition and healthy eating, and hygiene and safety in the kitchen. At the end of each session, they sit down together and eat what they have prepared, before helping to do the washing up. We also have our own kitchen garden so kids can grow their own vegetables and learn where their food has come from.

It’s amazing to see how much the kids get out of it and how much fun they have in the process. Chatting to one of Mini Cooking Club’s volunteers, Alison Wroblewski, about her experience working with the kids she said: “It’s such a pleasure to take time out and have the kids plant seeds in the kitchen’s allotment garden. They love identifying the vegetables such as cucumbers and radishes and seeing what they taste like raw. Some of the kids just need a little encouragement to grab a tomato rather than a cookie but when they give veggies a chance, they always walk away happy.”

“One of the best things I have seen over each six week course is the confidence the kids gain from cookingweek by week. One little girl went from asking questions barely over a whisper to talking with a clear and strong voice and interacting confidently with the other children. At the Mini Cooking Club, we teach more than cooking. We teach kids to chop veggies carefully, wash up dishes, how to set a table, as well as healthy and fast alternatives to the chemically-laced foods that are too readily available.”

Looking ahead, the Mini Cooking Club is looking to partner with local schools and community groups to run more cooking classes in the area, so the children can carry on developing their skills.

We’re doing our bit in our small corner of London but it’s not enough! We need more people to get involved in the food revolution and help us spread the love of cooking and create a more informed, happier, healthier and more sustainable society.

* Stats taken from the NHS website

About Emma Bebb

Emma Bebb is the manager at the London Cooking Project, a kitchen space and social enterprise that works to provide opportunities to develop and nurture young talent in the field. The kitchen space offers four kitchen stations that are available to hire on a permanent, ad hoc and short term basis for caterers, pop ups and photoshoots. There is a varied roster of supper clubs and profits are injected back in the local community and charity projects including the Mini Cooking Club and The Battersea Canteen. Find out more at www.londoncookingproject.com.