Jamie Oliver tried to change children’s eating habits with better school dinners.
But the healthy eating project he set up in Rotherham – the town which got such a deep-fried battering in his TV documentary Jamie’s Ministry Of Food, seems to have found another way.
Teach a child to cook and their love of junk food flies out the window.
“The kids are our secret weapon in changing the eating habits of Rotherham,” says Jan Davies, manager of the Ministry Of Food cookery school and cafe in All Saints’ Square.
The project, launched by Jamie but now a self-financing social enterprise, has just celebrated its third birthday – a day cynics thought would never be reached.
Jamie set out to change Rotherham’s bad habits, in reality no worse than any other town in the UK, during the making of the 2008 series. He met many a stone wall – and onlookers across the country thought his task was nigh-on impossible.
But today, the school and the ethos he left behind are alive and kicking.
Says Jan: “At the Ministry and through its work in the community, over 7,500 people have learned how to make simple, quick, healthy and cheap meals. And we’ve got a waiting list.”
Children are the fastest converts, says Jan, who has backed the project from the off – she replied to Jamie’s call for volunteers.
“We go into schools and parents and children centres and teach kids as young as five how to cook. Without exception, they all absolutely love it. Parents say they can’t get their children to eat healthy food, but once a child has cooked a dish, they will want to taste it. More often than not, they like it.
“We know we can send them home with ideas and recipes which will influence the whole family’s eating habits.”
The Ministry has forged a number of other strong community links; Rotherham College of Arts and Technology’s catering and hospitality students get hands-on work experience in the Ministry’s cafe and in return, other students are given lessons on cooking healthily on a budget.
Ministry cooks are showing families at the Shiregreen Neighbourhood Regeneration Project how to make meals that are as tasty as a takeaway, but cheaper and more nutritious, and working with Barnsley Youth services to encourage 11-16-year-olds to cook.