Did you learn to cook in school?

The UK government is instituting an interesting school policy. Starting in September, cooking courses will be compulsory at schools in England. (I guess it’s not for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland yet?) It’s part of their campaign against childhood obesity. (Read more about it on the Guardian Word Of Mouth blog.) It’s a very appealing idea, though I’m not sure if it will accomplish their goals, if they aren’t eating right elsewhere. But we shall see.

I had to take what were called kateika (domestic science) courses in Japan, in the 5th and 6th grades in elementary school and the first 2 years of junior high school. (In junior high it was for girls only; the boys got to do gijutsuka, which meant mostly building fun things. I wanted to do that more than the cooking and sewing!) I don’t think we did a whole lot of cooking (I remember doing more sewing for some reason) but I do remember some of the things we made.

  • A basic vegetable soup - though bacon was used for the “dashi”.
  • Rice with green peas (mame gohan)
  • Sweet potato paste with chestnuts (kuri kinton), a standard osechi (New Year’s feast) item…except that the teacher couldn’t get a hold of chestnuts so we had to use apples instead…so that was actually ringo kinton
  • Some sort of freeform rock cakes or such
  • Pork and ginger buta no sho-ga yaki
  • For some reason, a fancy sole meunière
  • Sandwiches, the Japanese way - with soft white bread, mustard butter, the crusts cut off neatly, and the whole thing kept nice and moist (shittori) with moist kitchen towels!

I’m not sure if any of that was very useful - we never learned fundamental skills like how to wash rice, how to make a dashi, and so on. The only one that was useful was the sandwich class, so if I want to hold a tea party I’m all set! There were time constraints of course, which prevented the teacher from doing anything too complicated. I do remember that the classes were always chaotic - and we’re talking about fairly well-behaved Japanese schoolkids! I wonder how the British teachers will fare.

Did you take cooking classes in school? If so, what did you learn? Do you think cooking classes are a good idea?

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Home Ec

I had to take home economics in 7th grade. It was 1/2 a year of sewing and 1/2 of cooking. Only girls took it at that time.

I definitely did not learn how to cook in that class. To the best of my recollection, the only things we made were desserts. We probably talked about nutrition, but I don’t remember ever making anything healthy. I’m sure that was partly because we were 12 and were more likely to eat desserts.

What we should have been learning was how to plan meals so that they’d be healthy, how to grocery shop on a budget - the real life skills you need when you’re on your own. I learned these skills from doing them with my mother.

Valerie | 22 January, 2008 - 17:03

No Home Ec Class

I did not have Home Eco class in school, always thought it would have been useful but from reading the comments, maybe I didn’t miss much.

I really learned how to cook after getting married. Also, watching cooking shows helped. I also get books from the library. Love to experiment so I am always trying new recipes.

Wakkun | 22 January, 2008 - 17:57

home ec., too

yeah, first two years of high school we girlies had the 1/2 yr sewing (oh, the humanity), 1/2 year cooking (home economics). by the time my brother came along 2yrs later, he got 1/2 yr cooking, 1/2 yr building stuff.

I can’t say we learnt nothing in the cooking class: we started with sandwiches, but we did cook at least a cake, some cookies, a pie, casserole, pizza(!) that sort of thing. what we didn’t cook was what many of us ate at home most nights: meat (steak, chop, sausages etc) + vegies/salad.

And I did pretty well in cooking because I’d spent a lot of time with my mum in the kitchen. Not necessarily cooking much at that age, but watching. So when we had to do it in class I was often using things I’d picked up from watching mum.

@ Valerie: yep, that would have made sense, eh?

mel p | 22 January, 2008 - 18:02

Just desserts

I did Home Economics in England for about a year when I was 13 or so (early ’80s). I remember making rock cakes, scones and a victoria sponge. As the food had to be taken home afterwards (not consumed at school) that would explain why we mostly made desserts.

I remember being taught about nutrition, and informed that wholewheat pasta was better than the usual kind. I asked my mother if we could have it instead but it was a bit of a disaster as none of my family liked it. For other classmates the message fell on deaf ears, I had a discussion with one girl who poo-pooed the whole notion of vitamins - she ate pies, chips and beans on an almost daily basis and everyone in her family was perfectly healthy!

I remembered her when I watched http://www.channel4.com/video/jamie-oliver-eat-to-save-your-life/ and wondered how she was doing more than two decades later.

Loretta | 22 January, 2008 - 18:15

I had home ec in junior

I had home ec in junior high, along with shop class. Both were entirely useless.

In home ec, the “cooking” consisted of making tomato soup from a can. As I’d known how to prepare canned soup from about age 6, I found this very insulting. The coursework never went beyond that. Fortunately, mom and dad believe that cooking is a required skill, so I got a solid grounding at home.

The shop class, and the sewing portion of home ec were marginally more useful. This meant that in shop class I didn’t get to use any tools that we didn’t have at home, and most of the ones I was allowed to use I’d been using since I was 2. Touching a jigsaw was right out in school… and I was allowed to use it at home. And in sewing, the whole point was to teach us to use a sewing machine. (Anyone else see the amusing contradictions there?)

Emily | 22 January, 2008 - 18:54

pseudo home ec

We sort of had home ec, but I’m not sure if it’s because during that time of my life, I was in 5 schools in 4 years or not.

The only home ec class I ACTUALLY had, was for 1 semester in 7th grade and we did “interior design,” “sewing” (which included cross stitch and about 5 min on a sewing machine), how to read a mercury thermometer (the only thing that I actually found useful), and “cooking” which, IIRC, involved a little bit of basic knife skills, basic measuring skills, making a salad and cupcakes in the microwave (we weren’t allowed to use the stove/oven for some reason).

Wow. I don’t think there are enough parenthesis in this comment. Here are some extras: (((())))

Magpie | 22 January, 2008 - 19:14

maybe if it were done correctly

We didn’t get any of these, we got ‘Life Decisions’ in the 7th grade. Basically, it was sex ed, physiology, and our teacher would show us commercials and explain how they were marketing to us. I wish someone would write a Home Economics curriculum that would teach kids:
- how to make good nutritional choices, and what happens when they don’t.
- how to be SAFE and sanitary in a kitchen (for the love of all things holy, don’t try to catch the knife you just dropped and wash your hands after touching that chicken!)
- how to make, keep and update a budget
- how to read a loan/credit card application
- how to understand when you’re being marketed to (that was the part of the class that really stuck with me)

I’m sure there are more, but these are things that I wish I had learned earlier in life. Maybe then I wouldn’t be cleaning up after myself now.

melissa | 22 January, 2008 - 19:17

Re: maybe if it were done correctly

Someone did write that curriculum - at least including nutrition, hygiene in the kitchen and basic cooking. The Nordic countries have had compulsory home ec training for both sexes for at least 20 years. The kitchen bit is a separate class from the sowing and woodshop classes (which included an automatic saws for the older students - with a warning from the teacher to mind long hair when using the saw :-)
I actually learnt a lot (how to wash the dishes in a sensible order, making bread, planning a menu, timing dishes, how to treat vegetables etc). Bringing home what I had cooked to my family made me proud and confident in my cooking and inspired me to try new dishes.
Only problem now is that schools try to save on food to keep within their meagre budgets.

anon. | 16 June, 2010 - 19:55

I always assumed that it was

I always assumed that it was already compulsory in England! I did it at various points during infant and junior school, and then for 3 years once I was in high school, all of this was compulsory for girls and boys. I did learn to make some nice things, but nothing amazingly healthy as far as I can remember.
Like you, we weren’t really taught basic skills so people like me who helped to cook at home and baked a lot would have to end up helping other people do basic things.

It would definitely be a good idea if people were taught really basic things in school, because as lots of people have parents who just cook ready meals etc in Britain, if you aren’t taught things like this in school then even if you want to cook properly at home then you won’t necessarily be able to unless you want to learn everything completely from scratch on your own.

I do think though that the people who eat the worst in England are generally the people who come from poorer backgrounds, and although I don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush, the schools which are in poorer areas are the ones which are least likely to be able to successfully carry out cooking lessons and so on. Also, I’m not sure what they will do about ingredients because we always used to have to bring them from home, and some people obviously won’t be able to afford to do that…

I hope that England does end up having less obesity, but I think that it’s not particularly likely seeing as the typical British diet is far from healthy, and that people are getting lazier and lazier.

Jen | 22 January, 2008 - 19:35

Did I learn to cook in school?

My class back in the dark ages of 1963 consisted of how to make scrambled eggs and toast. I was 13 at the time and saw it all as a waste of time. I grew up in a family of 5 with the added bonus of having grandma living with us. Grandma was my main teacher,but my older sisters also taught me some kitchen skills.
My husband proudly states that I make the only pie crust that he will eat in the entire world…thanks to my grandma. Even my M-I-L wants lessons in making pie crust.

sjt in tx

skystone | 22 January, 2008 - 19:46

Foods 8

In 1978, I took “Foods 8” in grade 8. The only thing I remember making was baking powder biscuits. The whole class, I felt, was pretty much a waste for me as I had already done some cooking at home and (cocky me) I could already read.

I did take a few more years of sewing which I figured was a skill I could improve on but it turns out every time I decide to sew something now, I get half-way through and am cursing myself for ever starting the darned thing.

But I’ve always enjoyed cooking while not always successful. I would have liked to learn things like, “lemon is good with oregano” or “tomato is good with basil”, etc.

It was a bit of a joke between me and my dad, who enjoyed cooking in his retirement but not my “helpful” hints. He always asked if I learnt that in “Foods 8” to shut me up.

julie | 22 January, 2008 - 20:26

Everyone, boys and girls,

Everyone, boys and girls, took 1/2 year cooking, but to my memory, we didn’t learn any nutrition, or any one set of techniques that we could use to keep ourselves fed from scratch. We learned how to measure, how to read a recipe, and how to tell a simmer from a full boil, but there was no overarching theme, like how to make soup, or cook vegetables, or anything like that. I never learned anything from that class, since I could already put a whole meal together under my parents’ eye.

Bipolarlawyercook | 22 January, 2008 - 20:38

I think cooking classes in

I think cooking classes in school would be a great idea.

Fourleafclover | 22 January, 2008 - 20:51

When I was in sixth grade in

When I was in sixth grade in the United States, in a suburb of Philadelphia, both boys and girls had to take Home economics and Shop class. Home economics was split into sewing class and cooking class. We made orange julius, English muffin pizzas, some kind of macaroni entree, and chocolate chip cookies from scratch. (I still have the recipes filed away somewhere!) We had to sit in tables of three, and each person had an assignment: head cook, assistant cook, and dishwasher. Somehow, I remember being dishwasher for more instances than not, and I was not happy about that.

We also had some time where we had to cut out the nutritional labels of foods and analyze their content. We learned about the functions of vitamins and which ones were prevalent in what foods.

By sixth grade, I had already done some cooking at home, so I didn’t really learn anything in school that I didn’t already know. But it was nice to eat the stuff we made.

yoko | 22 January, 2008 - 21:28

Home Ec in Glasgow

I’m in Scotland, and had home economics. It was compulsary in first and second year, but I don’t seem to recall it being so in the rest of my time in highschool.

It wasn’t really anything major we made — we learned to make things like french bread pizzas, or chow mein using sausages. We made onion bajis, once — I overpeppered mine. XD We also made cakes.

However, learning proper cooking would have been handy. Over the last few years, I’ve been having to teach myself to make things like poached eggs, boiled eggs, baked potatoes — you know, useful stuff like Mum would have learned in school.

We also did a little bit of sewing, largely using machines.

~Fiona

Fiona | 22 January, 2008 - 21:49

I graduated from high school

I graduated from high school a year and a half ago for reference.

We had no compulsory cooking classes but there was a week each spring in which all the students signed up for classes, or travelled, or volunteered. I happened to take cooking classes times. Two of these times we focused on basic techniques in the morning, followed by making moderately complex dishes in the afternoon, using what we had learned. The third time, we focused on French cooking. I think I learned a lot.

I do think cooking classes are useful. I think I eat healthier because I know how to cook and don’t necessarily have to default to take-out. A lot of my friends wish we had taken some kind of class in school that focused on basic living skills - cooking, laundry, changing a tire, painting a room, performing car maintenance.

Mauri | 23 January, 2008 - 00:34

I didn’t take a whit of

I didn’t take a whit of cooking in school. I graduated from high school in 2000.

I agree with a lot of people up there - a “life skills” class where they teach how to make a nutritionally complete meal, budget for groceries, balance a checkbook, etc. would be much more useful.

Dina | 23 January, 2008 - 00:53

I didn’t take any, but the

I didn’t take any, but the high school my husband teaches at now (in the US) has great culinary classes taught by an awesome chef. They actually learn to make fairly involved things, and sometimes bring what they’ve made to share with their teachers, which my husband loves. :D

prac | 23 January, 2008 - 02:41

We had middle school

We had middle school Consumer Sciences in the 6th grade, and our only recipe was caramel corn, made with cheese-flavored microwave popcorn. I wish I was making this up.

It was not tasty. Your cooking class sounds amazing.

purpleshoes | 23 January, 2008 - 03:49

not at all

I’m still in HS now and up to now, all my cooking skills have been completely self taught. NY public schools only require sex-ed and the majority of my peers cannot cook for their life!

Ami | 23 January, 2008 - 06:16

nope~

lol, it’s quite funny what you were taught. i read manga and watch anime all the time, and they always show more elaborate dishes that were taught. but the truth is funny. i never had a home ec/cooking course before. needless to say, i couldn’t cook, and i still can’t sew! i had to watch the Foodnetwork on tv to learn how to cook. yup, that Rachel Ray and her infamous 30 minutes show were my learning guides~ i really do wish that we had something like that when i was in school. these, i think, are basic life skills. i mean, after 9 years of Spanish, i can still only say “yo quiero helado” which means “i want icecream” =D

Sarah | 23 January, 2008 - 06:23

In 8th grade we had

In 8th grade we had (regardless of gender) six months each of cooking (including sewing our own aprons ;)) and ‘werkunterricht’ (working with wood and how to do simple electrics) classes. We did learn about nutritional values and were shown how to cook all kind of meals. It was kinda nice and definately a lot more useful than other stuff we were taught.

So - I vote in favor of ‘basic life’ classes. :)

Jochen | 23 January, 2008 - 13:41

Cooking and sewing were optional

I took both courses because no one had shown me how to do much of either. Also, because of the weird scheduling rules at my school, anyone participating in extra curricular classes for credit had to take one extra class per trimester after they mandated that everyone had to come in at the same times in the morning, so us extra curricular kids ended up taking ‘filler’ courses like home ec, shop, and philosophy types of classes.

In cooking, I remember learning about food safety, and how to decorate cakes (I was the only one that could make a rose, even better than the teacher, total luck LOL). I’m sure we were taught more, but that’s all I remember.

I remember sewing a sundress in sewing class, but at least we were taught how to use a sewing machine.

Sherri | 23 January, 2008 - 13:53

interesting

Another interesting comment thread! I think a ‘life skills’ type of class would be great, especially now that more parents are working or simply not around to teach those things to the kids…(though that in itself is a sad thing). My ideas for a ‘life skills’ curriculum would be:

  • Basic personal finance - how to manage a budget etc. I wish I’d known that before I had to learn through trial and error!
  • Basic cooking and nutrition
  • Very very basic sewing (how to sew a button back on etc)
  • Maybe some basic home-fixing skills

Maybe as an elective/optional course….even in college (though I guess academics would have a hard time coming up with the right credits to give or something)

maki | 23 January, 2008 - 16:25

I did!

So funny that you posted this as I have been meaning to write about my “home economics” courses in grade school. Budget constraints meant that the classes were cancelled after one year, but for the first year they taught our class to sew and cook easy things like pancakes and eggs. i had already been cooking for a few years before this, so I was actually quite bored in class and would invariably end up experimenting outside of the recipes (much to the teacher’s dismay).

Alejandra | 23 January, 2008 - 18:23

I had “exploratory”

I had “exploratory” classes in 6th grade, where you took 9 weeks of each of the electives the school had to offer (9 weeks of ‘shop’ class (the boys’ class you refer to), 9 weeks of home ec, 9 weeks of typing, 9 weeks of… I can’t remember them all! And 4 1/2 weeks each of German, Latin, French and Spanish. I seem to remember baking cookies and sewing pillows, but nothing else!

srah | 23 January, 2008 - 19:55

Not Quite Home Economics...

I went to school in British Columbia, Canada. 10 years ago…

…When I was in the 7th grade, every student HAD to take Sewing, Cooking, Woodshop, and Metal Shop. Boys and girls alike. We made pencil cases in sewing, biscuits and something else in cooking, and various things in wood and metal shop (A n animal wall hanging and a sculpture out of wood and metal jewelry, I think). In the 8th grade we had a choice to take take foods, sewing, metal, or wood shop. I elected to take wood shop in which I made a model car and a spice rack. In high school you could take again a choice of the four. I took sewing. Heh. I sucked at wood shop, it turned out.

It’s interesting because the emphasis was on inspiring kids to do whatever the felt like, but foods and sewing ended up being mostly girls, while metal and wood shop was mostly boys, in the years when we had a choice.

Erica | 24 January, 2008 - 09:11

cooking at school

Yes, here in Swizerland we usual have obligatory cookinglessons in first secondary school, in 2nd you can choose between sewing,among or cooking and in 3rd secondary you can choose nearly all your subjects except the basics like German, Math, English and French

Yes i think what we learned was very useful, things like how to cook rice or how to make different kinds of dough how to roast meet and cook vegetables…

I just wasn’t so interrested on it, because i learned that all bevore from my mother… i began to cook with 10 years i just loved it. and I learnd a lot in this 9 years… and my boyfriend is realy grateful for that, because he is a catastrofal cooker, and his parents often leave him and his brother alone :) okay,i like to cook for my two boys, but after that they do the washing up ^^

ichigo-chan | 24 January, 2008 - 18:25

Not mandatory, but glad I took it

I had Home Making class in 6th or 7th grade back in early ’90s in San Francisco. It was 1/2 semester cooking and 1/2 sewing. It was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. We learned to make typical stuff like cookies, pizza, rice pilaf, etc., along with table manner (very important) and cooking terms. Everything we made were delicious, and I would make them at home sometimes. I don’t recall much about nutrition, but maybe back then it wasn’t a big deal. I learned cooking at home too, but this is very different. Everything was measured and from recipe. You wouldn’t find a single measuring cup or spoon in my mom’s kitchen. We always worked in groups of 4, each with different clean-up responsibilities when we were done cooking. It was an active & social class, and for me personally, it was cultural. I moved to San Fran from Bangkok in 1990, and we had different table manners and ways of cooking.
My boyfriend, on the other hand, grew up in US and went to private schools…never had Home Making class and is a disaster in the kitchen! “Keep out!”

Pat | 24 January, 2008 - 22:47

Vocational Foods

I first took a foods/sewing class in seventh grade. We didn’t really learn a lot unfortunately.

The class I learned the most about cooking (that wasn’t college based) was Vocational Foods in Highschool. It was a two hour class geared more towards students who planned to major in Culinary Arts. I think it should have been required though because it taught us a lot about business and managing money.

These days especially cooking classes should be given because it feels like cooking at home is becoming a lost experience. Most everyone just goes to a restaurant or picks up fast food.

Tat | 25 January, 2008 - 08:04

Cooking in school

I’m fairly sure food tech is compulsory here in wales already. In both my high schools we had to do cooking lessons from year 7 (first year) till year 9, the only one i enjoyed was when we got to choose what we made. I did a lemon meringue pie, sadly that was the most interesting dish i made in those three years.
I learned a lot more about cooking and healthy food from my familly and my almost constant reading of cookery books :)

Ellie | 25 January, 2008 - 23:36

Home ec

I do home ec at school at the moment and its still half a year of textiles and half a year of food tech. It’s compulsary for yr 7 to 9. We have to use healthy ingredients at school(eg. brown flour) but I don’t think it will stop childhood obesity. They don’t tell you what’s good or bad for you, they just tell you how to make bread and things like that. And because it’s so boring, no one is ever actually paying attention so no one ever learns anythng.

Taffy | 26 January, 2008 - 00:27

My two older sisters had to

My two older sisters had to take home ec in high school, but they dropped the class shortly before I became a freshman.

I would like to have home ec back in the schools. Besides cooking and menu planning, I would add basic clothing repair, checkbook balancing, tire changing, fire safety, how to spot a scam, how to turn off the water if your toilet begins to belch, and other basic things that teenagers really ought to know before they leave home. I don’t think that this would usurp parental rights because quite a few adults don’t know any or all of the above.

Jenny Islander | 26 January, 2008 - 07:05

change the course before its compulsory

well, its been 8 years since i did home ec, half a year food and half sewing.
in our food half we MADE SANDWICHES for 6 weeks. only one practical where we actually made them- the rest was theory. PLANNING our sandwiches.

Another project we had was making fairycakes (cupcakes). we spent an entire icing learning how to make glace (icing sugar and water!) icing. i still remember our teacher telling me one drop too much water would spoil the whole batch.

back in the 70’s my mum had to plan a meal on a budget for a family and make it. If they would teach real home economics it would be a great idea- otherwise…. well theres no point!

Katherine | 27 January, 2008 - 00:01

I wish!

The only things I learned to cook growing up were brownies and cookies, and that was on my own time — not at school. I’m sure my boyfriend thought it was hilarious the first time I tried to chip up a bell pepper to help him and his dad cook the family spaghetti recipe…

elaine | 28 January, 2008 - 04:37

Home Ec

I went to a girls high school and we had Home ec which divided into half a year of cooking and half of sewing sewing.
I hated the sewing but the cooking was good fun.
They had managed to set it up so we had 3 periods a week (total 2hours) of cooking one period was for theory where we would learn about nutrition hygiene and planning a meal, and the other two periods were back to back and straight before lunch where we would actually cook what we had planned in the theory class.
I do only remember having to do home ec in the first 2 years of high school though.

Becki | 29 January, 2008 - 00:21

Yes

I go to an all girl school in Junior and Senior high, which, luckily have a cooking class in their course. We also learn that building thing and crocheting (as it was all mandatory in my school), but that was beside the point.

I remember my teacher to be pretty strict with us, but she taught us many dishes that we can cook and actually useful for us. It was fun!

haezer | 19 August, 2009 - 02:19

Re: Did you learn to cook in school?

maki wrote:

The UK government is instituting an interesting school policy. Starting in September, cooking courses will be compulsory at schools in England. (I guess it's not for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland yet?) It's part of their campaign against childhood obesity. (Read more about it on the Guardian Word Of Mouth blog.) It's a very appealing idea, though I'm not sure if it will accomplish their goals, if they aren't eating right elsewhere. But we shall see.

I had to take what were called _kateika_ (domestic science) courses in Japan, in the 5th and 6th grades in elementary school and the first 2 years of junior high school. (In junior high it was for girls only; the boys got to do _gijutsuka_, which meant mostly building fun things. I wanted to do that more than the cooking and sewing!) I don't think we did a whole lot of cooking (I remember doing more sewing for some reason) but I do remember some of the things we made.

* A basic vegetable soup - though bacon was used for the "dashi".
* Rice with green peas (_mame gohan_)
* Sweet potato paste with chestnuts (_kuri kinton_), a standard _osechi_ (New Year's feast) item...except that the teacher couldn't get a hold of chestnuts so we had to use apples instead...so that was actually _ringo kinton_...
* Some sort of freeform rock cakes or such
* Pork and ginger _buta no sho-ga yaki_
* For some reason, a fancy _sole meunière_
* Sandwiches, the Japanese way - with soft white bread, mustard butter, the crusts cut off neatly, and the whole thing kept nice and moist (_shittori_) with moist kitchen towels!

I'm not sure if any of that was very useful - we never learned fundamental skills like how to wash rice, how to make a dashi, and so on. The only one that was useful was the sandwich class, so if I want to hold a tea party I'm all set! There were time constraints of course, which prevented the teacher from doing anything too complicated. I do remember that the classes were always chaotic - and we're talking about fairly well-behaved Japanese schoolkids! I wonder how the British teachers will fare.

Did you take cooking classes in school? If so, what did you learn? Do you think cooking classes are a good idea?

I did have cooking at school in the 1950's. We cooked such things as scones - jam roly-poly and apple crumble - all very healthy stuff don't you think?

m marr | 6 May, 2012 - 10:11

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