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Interview: For children to eat healthily we must teach them about food

From an early age it’s important for children to learn the basics about the food they eat; helping them to ‘grow their own’ can do this, says chef Donal Skehan.

Image: Shutterstock

WHEN I STARTED my blog I never thought it would lead to where I am today, but it just goes to show that anything can happen. It has changed my life.

What first made me think about making a career out of food was my family. They supplied a lot of supermarkets and restaurants with whole sale fruit and vegetables and a couple of my family members also trained at the Ballymaloe cookery school, so healthy eating and eating good food was really a family ethos with us.

I suppose that must have influenced me into taking care of where I source my foods and understanding how important it is to know what foods you are eating. I really never thought that I would make a career out it; but my family definitely must have made an impression and influenced me.

Growing your own

This is the second year that I am involved in the Sow and Grow campaign, which aims to get kids around the country sowing and growing in classrooms and youth groups.  The Sow and Grow project aims to get 100,000 primary school children growing this spring by showing them just how easy it is to grow their own greens and eat their crop.

It is so important that kids learn early on about where their food comes from, from start to finish. Children should learn how it grows in the ground and ends up on our supermarket shelves. If children can learn about healthy eating early on, like I did, then it really can make a big impression on them. It really does stand to them when they are making decisions about what they are eating. Teachers and youth-group leaders can apply for one of 850 free sow and grow packs from Innocent Drinks. Each pack includes 30 growing pots, seeds, soil and growing guides.

Understanding the food process

This scheme is great, because it is inviting children to learn, get involved and grow their own. It is all about life-learning, helping them understand about the food process side of things and teaches them the importance of paying attention to what foods they are consuming.

And it seems especially important in light of the recent horsemeat controversy, which has further underlined the need for a greater understanding, for us all, about where our food comes from. Anything that can help kids make better and informed decisions about what they eat should be welcomed and it really should be something that starts in school, but parents at home have a role to play too.

I suppose it helps that I am a younger person talking to them –  it’s no harm that it’s someone off the telly that is telling them about this. Maybe that helps them to listen more so than they would to their parents. At the launch of the scheme, we had a lot of kids there that watched my show, so if I can help in making it cool to eat healthy and grow your own, I am only too happy to do it. It really is important that we try and make the changes as early as we can in children.

Weight issues

Obesity is a problem worldwide and not just in children. There has been a lot of talk about introducing calorie counts in restaurants. I think that knowing what you are eating and what fat content it has in it is important. If you are someone that is struggling to manage your weight, then these calorie counts on fast foods can help guide you to make better decisions, it is a good move in that regard. But if you are informed and eating healthy anyway, then you really shouldn’t have to worry as it wouldn’t be targeting you anyway.

I love food, and I also love taking photos of it! Food photography is something I am passionate about. I regularly feature my pictures in many of my publications. There has been talk in places like New York that they want to ban people from taking photos of their food in restaurants – and yes, I have to say, I am guilty of this. I think it’s all a bit of fun, so I would not be in favour of it. I think when you’re taking photos of your tea and toast in the morning it is a step too far – but I am guilty of Instagramming in restaurants – it’s just what I do!

Donal Skehan is a 25-year-old home cook, food writer and television presenter who has written three cookbooks,Good Mood Food (Mercier Press, 2009), Kitchen Hero: Bringing Cooking Back Home (Harper Collins, 2011), and Kitchen Hero: Great Food For Less (Harper Collins 2012). For more information on the Innocent and GIY ‘sow & grow’ campaign click here. Schools and groups that register for the grow packs can write about or upload photos about their growing progress. They will all receive a sow and grow certificates as well the chance to win prizes.

Interview by Christina Finn.

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