Blog: How I’m passing on my love of food to children

8 April 2022
Since joining School Food Matters in September, Sharon Conrad, an experienced food teacher and nutritionist, has visited dozens of primary schools, teaching children to prepare simple, nutritious recipes.

Sharon’s classes give many of these young children their first experience in the kitchen. Lots of primary schools lack the facilities to provide hands-on food education and many are without staff with the confidence to run cooking sessions. Often children tell us that they don’t have the opportunity to cook at home, so Sharon’s session are always enthusiastically received. 

Sharon uses her visits to schools as an opportunity to train teaching staff to lead their own food lessons, so that the learning can continue once she leaves the school. 

Having now been with SFM for over six months, we took the opportunity to speak with Sharon about her journey into becoming a food teacher in schools, the importance of teaching children about food from a young age, and the vital reforms we need to see to embed food education into the curriculum. 

What inspired you to share your love of cooking with others? 

Growing up, cooking was something my family loved doing. Both my mum and stepdad are excellent cooks, and they used to cook most of our meals from scratch. I remember waking up on Saturday mornings to the lovely smells of Italian and French food. I think that’s all had an influence on me. 

In 2010, having just returned from living in Italy for a few years, I had the opportunity to change careers, and decided to follow my passion - teaching food. Since then, I’ve taught cooking skills to ex-offenders through a criminal justice charity and at a further education college, but I really wanted to teach in schools, so I could pass on that love and excitement about food to children. 

The habits children learn from a young age carry on through to adulthood, so encouraging healthy eating habits as early as possible is key. It’s about giving them the opportunity to try new things and teaching basic cooking skills, so they can make themselves and their families a tasty, nutritious meal when they grow up. 

Can you speak a bit about your role? What do you do on most days? 

I feel very lucky to be doing a job that I love. It’s really varied, but I’m mainly in schools, teaching children about food, where it comes from and how delicious it can be. 

If I’m in a primary school classroom where they haven't got any kitchen facilities, then it's a no-cook session, where the children work together; snipping, cutting, blending and mixing whilst using all their senses to experience new foods. So, we’ve made recipes like beetroot hummus, smoked mackerel pate, pico de gallo, halloumi vegetable kebabs with tzatziki and seasonal salads. 

It’s mainly plant-based using seasonal vegetables. Where possible, I ask teachers what students are studying in the curriculum, and if they say, for example, Ancient Greece, we might try a Greek mezze. 

If I'm not in a school hosting a cooking session, then I'm either thinking about recipes to introduce, buying ingredients or speaking to schools to see what equipment they have or if there are any allergies to work around. 

I’ve also just completed cooking workshops in secondary schools, helping students come up with tasty pastes, as part of our Fresh Enterprise programme with Belazu.

  • Sharon teaching at Northolt High School
    Sharon teaching at Northolt High School
  • Sharon teaching at Northolt High School
    Sharon teaching at Northolt High School
  • Sharon teaching at Northolt High School
    Sharon teaching at Northolt High School
  • Sharon teaching at Norbury Manor Primary School
    Sharon teaching at Norbury Manor Primary School
  • Sharon teaching at Norbury Manor Primary School
    Sharon teaching at Norbury Manor Primary School
  • Sharon teaching at Norbury Manor Primary School
    Sharon teaching at Norbury Manor Primary School

What sort of reaction do you get from children? Are they excited about learning to cook? 

Going into primary schools, the children are so excited to learn. A lot of them haven’t done any cooking in school, and some, you can see, don't have any involvement in the kitchen at home. So, they are really fascinated and engaged. 

I recently did a session with a school where they happened to have a rooftop garden full of beetroot that was ready to pick. So, we took the children into the garden, and they dug out the beetroot and some other things, like green beans, which we took back into the classroom to cook. We encouraged them to taste the beetroot raw, and they turned the rest into beetroot hummus. In terms of the reaction, they really love the actual doing - the process of growing, picking and cooking the food. 

You’re also training staff in schools so that they can lead cooking lessons themselves. Tell us about that. 

I often go into different primary schools and teach cooking for an hour, which isn’t all that long, so I thought it would be really valuable for the children to carry on learning after our session. So, now we’re equipping teachers and TAs to confidently run their own cooking lessons after I leave, because even if they themselves can cook, teaching others is a whole other ballgame. 

Now, when I host cooking sessions in schools, the teacher shadows me, and I pass on tips around things like setting the classroom layout, knife skills and where to find recipes, as well as how to link food with other subjects in the curriculum. 

There's lots of information and amazing resources online, but teachers are so busy that they don't necessarily have the time to research and collate it. So, we’re also sending them recipes and lesson plans, as well as directing them to those excellent resources. 

How can the curriculum be best improved to support children’s food education? 

There needs to be more priority given to food education. We need to make sure all children, from at least Year 7, are learning to cook regularly at school, as laid out in the national curriculum. And we need Food to be reinstated as an A-level subject. 

But the Government must provide schools with the funding they need for kitchen facilities and staff. I was just in a school where they are clinging onto their food tech equipment, having had to sell off resources for resistant materials and metalwork. 

And I think we should be teaching children about things like budgeting, making a shopping list and how to cook on a budget. It’s really great to see schools already doing things like growing their own fruit and veg, arranging visits to farms and taking part in things like our Fresh Enterprise programme, introducing children to the business and employability side of food. We want to see more of that! 

Sharon runs flexible, hands-on cooking lessons for our member schools. Find out all the benefits of becoming a member and join here.