"Have you come to teach us how to eat like an athlete, Miss?" asked a boy as I entered the room to deliver an introductory session to the course before getting into the kitchen.
I was somewhat apprehensive - well, who wouldn't be on their first foray into an AP (Alternative Provision) school, that's a provision for pupils who have been excluded or who cannot attend mainstream school for various reasons, for example, behaviour issues, illness, school phobics, teenage mothers etc?
I need not have worried though. These eight boys, all aged between 13 and 15 (yr 8-10), were switched on from the word go. Years of experience has taught me that the word "healthy eating" can alienate some children. With our alternative 'Go Faster Food' approach using role models and examples of real 'active' people (pop stars, Olympians, footballers, dancers, young sporting hopefuls etc) children generally find it easier to relate to food. They not only find it interesting, but they also find it easier to make sense of what they eat and how they can benefit from eating more healthily.
Using the knowledge and skills gained from the "eat like an athlete" training day, as well as a tool kit which includes the book, Go Faster Food for Kids, and a resource pack of lesson plans, videos and posters, these boys will then deliver a six week course to fellow pupils in the school (with teacher support). Using our "kids teach the kids" approach, this will not only equip them and other pupils in the school for life, it will help them develop concentration, confidence, leadership skills and communication skills.
Starting the morning with a video of racing cars is guaranteed to engage a child with attention problems. It immediately switches them onto the whole theme of why we are what we eat. Works every time!
Then we got down to the serious stuff ... cooking eating and tasting!
I don't believe in dumbing down food especially for children. Yesterday's course was a great example of how children from all walks of life will open up to new flavours if presented with them in the right way. During the course of the day, pupils are taken on a journey through the food groups, so they can relate what they eat to how the food fuels the body. Here children were tasting and cooking foods they may not have not tried before, including garlic, avocados, fresh strawberries, paprika and coriander. Chicken kebabs marinated in lemon, garlic and coriander seed, with juicy red peppers were an absolute hit, especially dipped into the homemade tomato ketchup that one of the groups expertly made from scratch. By the afternoon, the boys were growing in confidence and even got a bit creative with a homemade guacamole (the session on unsaturated fats), tasting for seasoning and adding more chilli, lime and coriander according to what they preferred. The results were absolutely delicious! Especially with the homemade corn tortilla chips freshly toasted in the oven. Other hits were protein-rich sports drinks (blueberry blaster and banana recovery shake), the wholemeal banana pancakes and some very tasty date breakfast muffins.
I have to say that I found my first 'pupil referral unit' experience very rewarding. A couple of the boys were so inspired that they said that they would consider taking cooking further as a career choice. One of the boys asked to take the recipes home with him to cook for his family. The school is going to try to use the kitchen every Monday now, and mentioned introducing 'GoFaster' snacks and power shakes to help keep the kids on an even keel before they go into their exams.
I would also like to send a huge thanks to the heavy involvement of the amazing support staff at the school. Not sure I could have done it without them!