Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

Youngsters raise spaghetti to new heights

"The onions are stinging my eyes," 8-year-old Nihaal Singh moaned as he chopped the devilish vegetable - a harsh lesson all budding young chefs must learn.

But the stinging was soon forgotten as the excitement of pouring the vegetables and mince into a pan took over, and the 8 and 9-year-old pupils of Mission Heights Primary School in Manukau were soon chopping capsicums to garnish their completed spaghetti bolognese.

Soon the school's staff room - where the FoodStorm cooking lesson took place - was almost silent as children ate their meals.

"This is yum," Nihaal tells his friends. "I could eat this every day."

It's the first time Nihaal has eaten the Italian dish and part of what makes the programme so successful, says co-founder Suzi Tait-Bradly and school principal Veena Vohra.

 William Rowlandson. Photo / Jason Oxenham
William Rowlandson. Photo / Jason Oxenham


"They're learning a lot of cooking skills obviously, but it's not just about the cooking, it's about that group experience, and [being] social and they're trying new foods.

Parents are coming to me and saying, 'thank you so much for getting my child to start eating whatever vegetable they hadn't been eating before', because they tried it in class," Ms Tait-Bradly said. "It's been absolutely amazing."

More than 80 per cent of the school's pupils have English as a second language, and Ms Vohra said the FoodStorm programme can help with that.

"This is an opportunity of verbalising," she said. "Foods look familiar to all cultures ... and it provides that other platform for conversation."

And the kids "love it", she said. The programme is already over subscribed for next year, and the pupils are demanding more cooking classes be added to their extra curricular options.

The programme was within the school's budget, offered hands-on learning for the children, and was popular, she said. It had become a vital part of the school's curriculum.

"I think it's something that we do need to have, because we talk about learning capabilities, where children learn to work in teams, they learn to manage themselves, they take responsibility for their food," Ms Vohra said.

"We know obesity is an issue. I think that in New Zealand we've done a lot of work with giving [children] healthy physical lifestyles ... but we haven't done enough with the eating side."

Ms Tait-Bradly, and her Little Cooks partner Bex Woolfall, was also inspired by tackling childhood obesity, with the aim of teaching every child to cook.

The pair teamed up with sKids and the Heart Foundation to create the FoodStorm programme, which is now being rolled out to around 17 schools across Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington.

The programme teaches children to think about what's in their food, to look at labels, think healthily, and reduce salt, fat and sugar content. But Ms Tait-Bradley says it teaches other skills - like mathematics in measuring ingredients, reading as they go through the recipe, team-building and leadership skills in the cooking groups, as well as teaching them to follow instructions and tick off what they've done.

But for the kids, it was simply fun.

Eating the food at the end was "nice too", Nihaal said.

Riya Gulani, 8, said she enjoyed being in charge of using the pan to cook with, as she was the oldest in her group, but "I let the other girls use it as well".

"Making it", and "eating it", were the best parts.

Obesity factbox

• One in nine children, aged 2-14 is obese, that's 11 per cent.

• A further 22 per cent of children are overweight, but not obese.

• Among Maori children, 15 per cent are obese, and 30 per cent of Pacific children are obese.

• Children living in the most deprived areas are five times as likely to be obese as children living in the least deprived areas.

• The child obesity rate increased from 8 per cent in 2006/07 to 11 per cent in 2014/15.
(Source: Ministry of Health)

FoodStorm facts

• The brain-child of Little Cooks founders Bex Woolfall and Suzi Tait-Bradly, working with sKids and the Heart Foundation.

• Includes 12 "essential recipes" for kids to cook and learn from, including colonel cluck's scrambled eggs, surfie fish pies, pizza selfies, bionic baked beans, and hearty spaghetti bolognese.

• 17 schools across Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington are set to bring the programme into their classrooms.

• Mission Heights Primary School, in Manukau, is the first to offer it as part of its daytime curriculum.

For more information on FoodStorm visit: skids.co.nz/foodstorm; and for more information on Little Cooks, visit: littlecooks.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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