Shake-up Home Economics and make it compulsory for all kids

Should Home Economics be mandatory for all pupils, asks Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
Shake-up Home Economics and make it compulsory for all kids

TEACH THEM HOW TO COOK: Should we be sending our kids off to college without even the basic cooking skills, to help them live independently?

‘EATING is cheating’ used to be the catch-cry — and perhaps still is — of students and young folk on the lash, spending all their money on booze with nary a thought for their guts.

It’s never a good idea to drink on an empty stomach. Prioritising beer over a healthy dinner is something you might get away with for a while, maybe grabbing a slice of pizza on-the-go. But as a way of life, it’s a really bad idea.

In my drinking days, I used to occasionally be in the company of blokes for whom basic nutrition was beyond their ken. They considered food to be time and money-wasting, while on frequent nights on the town. I remember one guy, when I enquired what he’d eaten one evening, saying he’d had a Mars Bar, and that basically was his dinner. He was a very good argument for making home economics compulsory at school.

If you are what you eat, then it’s pretty much imperative that you ingest healthy food rather than cheap and nasty (but admittedly delicious) junk.

Last week, there was a call for mandatory Home Economics classes as part of the Junior Cert cycle. Schools need to teach children how to cook and eat healthily if we are to tackle obesity among young people. And learning how to cook applies to both girls and boys.

There’s nothing funny about finding yourself living independently as a young adult and not knowing how to boil an egg. Or even how to sew a button.

A survey last year in the UK found that one in four can’t sew a button. We live in such a disposable society that we never thinking of mending clothes. Items of clothing that have lost button or zips are thrown out or cast to the back of the wardrobe. Which is a terrible waste of money and ultimately adds to the landfill of garbage.

I remember my mother darning socks. I wouldn’t go that far. But I did pick up some useful knowledge in home economics (or domestic science as it was called in my school) such as how to make clothes using patterns and fabric, how to bake brown bread, how to make white sauce (one of life’s essential skills) and, at primary school, how to embroider tray clothes (definitely not one of life’s must-have skills).

Home Economics was something us girls studied, that didn’t have the aptitude for, or interest in science. Looking back, it was practical and quite enjoyable.

Boys tend to be shepherded towards woodwork and other technical subjects. But really, when I think of my own cluelessness around things like changing a plug, I wish home economics had included such useful skills.

An overview of the proposed new city boundary.
An overview of the proposed new city boundary.

When household things go wrong — like a tap that won’t stop running or an electricity blackout — my default response is to google an expert, who is nearly always a man. Shouldn’t we be taught, at school, what a trip switch is for and what it actually looks like?

Mandatory Home Economics classes should include handy household tips as well as how to achieve the perfect glaze on scones.

Kids should also learn how to prepare their own school lunches, making sure they include protein and fibre.

What is it with those school kids who queue up at chippers during lunch break? Has anyone told them about dangerous cholesterol levels?

An Oireachtas Committee was told last week that the presence of fast food restaurants, close to schools, is a problem. Childhood obesity increases by 25% when a school is within 400 metres of a fast food restaurant.

Clearly, it is time for youngsters to cop on and start cooking. It’s not rocket science. Anyone can make soup once they see a demonstration. It just might prove to be the making of school kids, instead of automatically ordering chips with curry sauce.

There has been a call from Philip Moynes, chairman of the No Fry Zone for Kids committee in Greystones, Co Wicklow, for local authorities to ensure fast food restaurants are not opened near schools.

While schools should enable young people to engage with practical food literary skills, parents have an important role in making sure children have healthy eating habits.

The first two years of life are crucial in influencing eating behaviour and weigh outcomes. Advertising should be responsible. Children in Ireland see about 1,000 unhealthy TV ads per year. ‘Rewarding’ children for good behaviour with sweets sends out a terrible message. One that carries over into adult life. If I’ve been ‘good’ on my latest diet (it’s an ongoing thing), I treat myself to a bar of chocolate. A treat is supposed to be special, an occasional thing. Unfortunately, some of us are far too easy on ourselves, with ‘treats’ indulged in far too often.

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