Scotland's national chef wants kids taught to cook from age five

Scotland's first national chef has called for children to be taught how to cook at school from the age of five in a bid to curb the country's obesity crisis.

Glasgow chef Gary MacLean wants Scottish children to be taught to cook from as young as the age of five
Glasgow chef Gary MacLean wants Scottish children to be taught to cook from as young as the age of five

Gary Maclean, who was the winner of MasterChef: The Professionals in 2016, said food education must start in the early years to stop youngsters becoming hooked on fast foods.

The Glasgow chef said Scotland had the worst diet in Europe.

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He blamed the lack of time taken by parents to teach their children how to cook at home.

Mr Maclean, who recently cooked for Prime Minister Theresa May at a Burns Supper in Downing Street, was appointed to his new role by the Scottish Government in December.

The role will involve him taking forward plans to make Scotland a “good food nation” and deliver a government commitment to promote locally sourced and produced food and drink.

Official figures show two thirds of Scots adults and more than a quarter of children are obese or overweight.

Mr Maclean insisted the answer was to teach children about the benefits of fresh produce from a young age.

He said: “There is definitely a passion for food in Scotland. We have the most amazing produce, but we still have the worst diet in Europe, so there’s something gone wrong in the middle.

“Our kids aren’t seeing our food first hand. We’ve lost the relationship with home cooking.

“Your parents probably didn’t cook, my parents’ generation didn’t cook. My grandparents, who were born in 1910, they were the last generation who were really cooking in the house every day, so it’s 100 years ago.

“We’re talking one hundred years of change. I think we’ve lost that ability to pass down those skills, those basic, basic culinary skills to survive.

“Fundamentally, we need to get our kids educated in food. It shouldn’t be seen as a secondary subject.

“I think it’s as important as maths and physics. If you’re rubbish at physics, it doesn’t mean you die at 50 because you don’t know how to cook.

“People learning to cook, and I’m not talking about terrines or something like that, I’m talking about cooking a bit of chicken, being able to boil veg properly, things like that.

“It’s a long-term battle and we have to be starting with our five-year-olds. If they’re not seeing that food at home, they should be seeing it at school.

“There’s been a lot done on physical education and how important that is but fundamentally, if you have a kid running around for two hours a day and then they go and have a sausage supper for lunch, it doesn’t matter.

“Those two hours are gone. I think physical education and food education should be closer linked.”

In an interview with Holyrood magazine, Mr Maclean also dismissed suggestions parents who were working full-time jobs did not have enough time for home cooking.

He added: “I think they don’t have the skill, so they don’t have the time.

“I think a lot of people try a bit of cooking and they car crash. And we’re all creatures of habit. Everybody is cooking – or just heating up – six or seven things in a week and they go in a cycle ‘wee Johnny likes that’ or ‘my husband likes that’ and no one is prepared to take the risk and change.

“Even folk who cook are cooking the same things.

“If you’re an Italian, you mum is showing you how to cook. She’s showing you how to cook in an organised way, as well as flavour, seasoning, purchasing, everything. So, all those life skills are being passed down by parents.

“In Britain we’re not teaching our children to cook. We aren’t teaching those life skills because we aren’t doing it.”

Mr Maclean’s national chef role will also see him demonstrate ways of cooking fresh ingredients at events and via social media, as well as highlighting the benefits of good food on physical and mental wellbeing.