Cooking with Ella

22 September 2006

I received a few books from HarperCollins a while ago and this children’s cookbook was one of them. It’s written by Nora Sands, who has been arguably the most well-known dinner lady in the UK since her appearance on the Channel 4 programme Jamie’s School Dinners last year (I don’t know why but here in the UK the school lunches are called school dinners even though it is lunch!).

I’ve mentioned the programme before – I knew that children here were eating too much junk food but what I saw on the programme was far worse than I had imagined. They were mostly being fed processed, really unhealthy (and unattractive looking!) food at school and home (and having seen Super Size Me, the situation in the US looks just as bad…). Jamie tried to teach the dinner ladies as well as the kids and their parents how important it is to eat better food, but from the reactions in the first episode of the series, it seemed unlikely that anyone would share Jamie’s enthusiasm.

We had a ‘catch-up’ episode of the programme this week – the government has taken this matter quite seriously after the first series and has started to put some effort to change the situation, although Jamie’s ideals are still some way off. At least the government has secured some money for local councils and schools until 2011 (more details and key figures here and here) which is definitely worth the effort.

For the schools that don’t have a kitchen (I couldn’t really believe it), they are trying to get local pubs/restaurants involved in preparing school meals as well as the local producers who can offer cheaper fresher ingredients for them. It’s only a temporary measure but surely seems a good way to get better food into as many kids as possible and also raise awareness of the issue.

I’m certainly moved by their enthusiasm and determination, especially Nora’s – even though she hasn’t got paid for the extra hours she’s been working since this campaign started, she hasn’t served a single chip at the school since then! It’s really nice to see children enjoying hot meals rather than eating packed lunches (normally a packet of crisps and a fizzy drink; the closest thing to food for most of the kids seems to be something like a processed cheese snack!).

I feel a little sad that this is such a big issue – for me, it’s something fundamental that shouldn’t need as much as improvement as it does. It’s totally understandable that some people aren’t interested in food/cooking, but giving young children decent food and teaching them the importance of knowing what they are eating is adults’ responsibility. I actually like eating junk food occasionally – but that’s my decision and I’m aware that I’m eating bad food – but how would children know good food from bad if they have never tasted good food.

Anyway, back to the book. I don’t have any children but was intrigued by the book and asked my friend Cheryl if she and her 4 year old daughter, Ella, would be interested in trying out some of the recipes from it. It was a while before we managed to get round to it, due to Ella’s extremely busy social life (much better than ours, as we all agreed!).

The book is aimed at children aged around 7-12; Ella is a little too young to work on her own, so Cheryl helped/supervised all way through. They chose two recipes this time – mighty muffins and pea & ham risotto (they use bacon in the book) – both of which turned out delicious. Ella did all the mixing and stirring for the muffins, and put them in paper cups ready for baking. For the risotto, she chopped the ham (with her special plastic knife), stirred the rice and delivered chives from the garden (in her favourite red car).

Cheryl liked the fact that the finished dishes were attractive to both children and adults as well as the clear instructions. It was also nice that Ella had great fun creating her own supper which she loved (and scraped the bowl clean!). Cheryl thinks the book differs from many others in that it shows kids how to make good healthy dishes which they can eat with the family rather than just ‘children’s food’, ie cakes with faces on or biscuits shaped like animals!

I asked Cheryl what the good things about cooking with young children are and she cited doing something together, fostering a love of food and introducing new ingredients (children are more willing to try something that they have helped to create). Also it’s educational in a fun way – maths (weighing and measuring), science (how ingredients react to heat for example), co-ordination (stirring, filling cake cases etc) and later, reading and understanding the recipes. Only by learning to cook themselves will this generation of children grow up with an understanding that not all meals come ready-made.

Ella’s school is lucky enough to have a proper kitchen and a committed cook who prepares meals that the children seem to enjoy – no chips feature on the menu and packed lunches are not an option. Sitting down for a proper hot lunch at school is also vital to help young children enjoy eating together as a social activity – particularly when many families can’t always eat together in the evenings.

It was lovely to hear Cheryl’s own childhood story too – she was given this book for Christmas in 1969 by her auntie Lesley that started her cooking in the first place with delicacies such as Eggs in Tomatoes, Baked Alaska, Coconut Ice and Peppermint Creams… no wonder she is such a wonderful cook!

Although I knew Ella normally eats well, I’m glad that she enjoyed both the process and the end result – I had great fun too so thanks again, Cheryl and Ella; hopefully we can have another session in the near future :) (oh and here and here are some other cookbooks that they have enjoyed dipping into.)

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  • what a lovely post!

    Posted by Kat | 22 September 2006 #
  • keiko-san 

    nice pic. and...sorry japanese!

    イギリスの学校給食のこと、ジャンクフードのこと、以前別の方のブログで読んだのですがなかなか興味深い話題です・・・なのに ぅぅ (ぽんこつ)翻訳機で読んでいる自分を恨みます。すべてを読みとれなくてごめんなさいです。(しかも今仕事中です)



    そして今回もステキな写真ですねー 特にEllaちゃんのニカーッkawaii!! 手を洗ってるとこもイイ感じです。

    Posted by azu | 22 September 2006 #
  • Oh how cute!! A B-I-G hug from Japan :)

    BTW, I’ve heard that a Japanese public school started providing breakfast because many of the children come to school without eating breakfast. It’s so sad...

    Posted by obachan | 22 September 2006 #
  • Thank you for all these funny photos !! great !

    Posted by mercotte | 22 September 2006 #
  • oh, she is so adorable!

    what a happiness(!) =)

    yes, I totally agree with those school dinners in the UK - some kids didn’t even recognised a tomato...

    Posted by julia | 22 September 2006 #
  • Keikoさん、はじめまして!




    給食のお話も興味深かったです。アメリカも似たような現状で、正直言って学校のHot Lunchはなるべく食べさせたくないです。(あ、息子の上に、娘が2人いるのです。)こういう運動が必要ですね。


    Posted by Kazuk | 22 September 2006 #
  • Ella really seems to enjoy the cooking, so one can hope she grows up to be somebody who appreciates good food and won’t rely on junk food alone. (Occasional junk food treat is obviously fine).

    Kids can be so tricky though. My older nephew (aged 6) eats pretty much only sweets at home (though he ate everything at the nursery). The younger boy (aged 3) ’helps’ me out in the kitchen, nibbling beetroot, garlic, lingonberries, cheese etc as we go along, so I’ve got great hopes for him:)

    Posted by Pille | 22 September 2006 #
  • I’ve been thinking of inviting my friend’s children over to cook. I’m glad you documented your afternoon with Ella. She looks like she had a great time.

    Posted by Lucy Vanel | 22 September 2006 #
  • lovely.

    Posted by sooishi | 22 September 2006 #
  • what a great and adorable series! i love how spontaneous and natural the photos are. you really captured their enjoyment in baking. :)

    Posted by aby | 22 September 2006 #
  • Firstly, " it’s something fundamental that shouldn’t need as much as improvement as it does. It’s totally understandable that some people aren’t interested in food/cooking, but giving young children decent food and teaching them the importance of knowing what they are eating is adults’ responsibility. " - I couldn’t agree more!

    Second, omigod Ella is way too adorable!

    I’d like to order this book for my sister. She’s got 5 kids and her daughters like helping her in the kitchen. :)

    Posted by Christine | 22 September 2006 #
  • Really insprirational story (not just for people with kids). Beautiful photos, as always.

    Posted by enuwy | 22 September 2006 #
  • Hi Keiko

    What a great post and what utterly delightful pictures! And please tell Cheryl that My Learn To Cook Book was also my first cookbook - in fact, I still have it! The crispy crackolets were my all-time favourite, although I also remember making the peppermint creams many, many times. The illustrations are so great - I still remember the cat saying in the croque monsier recipe "But rememebr - hot cheese can be REALLY hot!", and the drawing of the baked alaska. Too marvellous.

    I am under no illusions that if it weren’t for my mother I would not be able to cook half the things I do today. When my brother and I were little we LOVED helping out in the kitchen when she baked and she made sure that both my brother and I learned some useful recipes early on - my brother could whip up a mean omelette and I specialised in scones. Much later, when I was a student and still living at home, I wouldn’t cook meals, but I was always in the kitchen with her talking, chopping and watching, so when I (*finally*!) moved out I was amazed at how much I’d learned from 30 years of just hanging around and watching.

    If today’s parents are all reheating microwave meals of turkey twizzlers instead of cooking from scratch, how on earth will children ever learn to cook and eat properly?

    Posted by Jeanne | 22 September 2006 #
  • too cute

    Posted by bonheursdesophie | 22 September 2006 #
  • What a fun experiment. Lovely insight of a day cooking with a child.

    Posted by Bea at La Tartine Gourmande | 22 September 2006 #
  • what a wonderful post. ella is so adorable, her apron it too cute!

    Posted by aria | 22 September 2006 #
  • Is that your kitchen, Keiko? Wow ... it is so sleek. I spy the expresso machine in the background. You are a lady of exquisite taste :)

    Posted by San | 22 September 2006 #
  • Keiko:

    What lovely pictures and it’s so good of you to encourage friends to cook/bake with young children. They not only learn valueable kitchen skills, it’s also an opportunity to bond and teach lessons in life. I’m sure you had tons of fun!

    Posted by maria~ | 22 September 2006 #
  • So beautiful!

    Posted by menus propos | 22 September 2006 #
  • A very lovely post indeed! I loved the pictures - Ella is adorable, and it looks like you had a great time. I’m waiting for my nephew to get a little bit older - he’s just one.

    Posted by Anne | 22 September 2006 #
  • I managed to catch an episode of the Jamie Oliver show here on cable, and I’ve read articles about it as well. I love what he is doing and I wish it would really start a sweeping movement in the western world. I dare say america if even worse than England when it comes to raising healthy children. Adorable photos, too, Keiko.

    Posted by Julie O'Hara | 22 September 2006 #
  • Glad to see you’re back! I always enjoy your posts and pictures.

    Posted by Brilynn | 22 September 2006 #
  • There’s something amazing about watching a child cook - the inquisitiveness, probably, that I find very appealing.

    Excellent photographs.

    Oh, and I saw the latest Jamie Oliver programme too, which is filmed in my home region (and I had to make my own post about!).

    Posted by Scott at Real Epicurean | 23 September 2006 #
  • wonderful photos! I have this book as well cause they gave away some from Nora Sands’ website and I was one of the lucky ones. It’s really good for kids to try out cooking (with an adult nearby of course)

    Posted by Swee | 23 September 2006 #
  • What gorgeous pictures! You can shoot people as well as you shoot food!

    The quality of the light inside the kitchen is beautiful. Was the kitchen very well lit with bright lights, or was there a big window? I am very curious. Most of my indoor shots do not turn out so natural looking.

    Posted by Erielle | 23 September 2006 #
  • I like this post very much, thanks Keiko for sharing with us :-) It’s a brilliant idea to write and support this issue of school cafetaria (lunch/dinner) ;-) for kids. You’re absolutely right, kids (18&less), esp. the younger ones, don’t know any better about anything really, and adults/parents have this very responsibility to protect and to teach/play so that our world becomes a better world in the future with potentially more responsible adults in it. Kids are like sponges...they learn so much so fast, and the process can be a heck of fun time for everybody involved. Kids are so creative and funny :-) I love those pictures of Ella. She’s a star now. This post will encourage other adults/parents to have more fun cooking sessions like this inspired by you, Keiko...Bravo! 5 stars for you....’til next time.

    Posted by Maya | 23 September 2006 #
  • I totally agree with the whole post. I have a nephew though who is difficult to feed as he’s really stubborn about being introduced to new foods. He has a really limited menu. Maybe if he does cook himself (which he enjoys) he will try more.

    Your whole site is beautiful and inspirational.

    Posted by Kathleen | 23 September 2006 #
  • kawaiiiiii indeed

    I love cooking with my 5 yrs old daughter Marta

    She’s learning lots of things while preparing some recipe, how to measure solids and liquids, the fraction of numbers and so on.

    Marta is quite eathy eater, though.

    I admire your photoes, bravo!


    Posted by comidademama-elena | 24 September 2006 #
  • hi keiko, as you say, "not only food" - your portraits perfectly tell the story (and what a great subject too ;)) ella is a beautiful little girl...muffins and risotto at the ripe old age of 4 - one can only imagine what a brilliant and confident cook she’ll be in years to come!

    Posted by Joycelyn | 24 September 2006 #
  • Fantastic photos. This book sounds fantastic- anything that encourages children to cook and eat in a healthy way that is also fun is worth chekcing out. Kids go through food phases and develop likes and dislikes, but the best way to form, and inform, their palates is to stay away from the easy, lazy things like sugary cookies and snacks that look cute but have no nutritional value. Yay for Ella! She’ll love food and cooking more for this experience, I’m sure.

    Posted by Liz | 24 September 2006 #
  • My son has just returned from three months work at a children’s summer camp near New York. He could not believe the food served to the staff and children. Fatty, greasy and deep fried. Even macaroni cheese crumbed and deep fried! We don’t have school dinners in NZ but we do have Tuck Shops. They are about to undergo a change in removing junk food from the shelves.

    It looks like you had alovely afternoon cooking with Ella.

    Posted by Barbara | 25 September 2006 #
  • わ~こっちはずっと更新されていた~!



    Posted by mame | 25 September 2006 #
  • oh this is a wonderful post! it is quite sad that many schools here are not doing enough to encourage healthy eating, and obesity is an ever more promimemt problem.. i love that jamie started the initiative in pushing the idea of healthy food forward, and i hope this will stay for good :)

    Posted by Lil | 25 September 2006 #
  • How delightful! You’ve captured the magic and innocence of perfectly with your story and beautiful photos - I’m sure the experience is something that Ella will take with her. Such a cute little thing!

    Posted by gilly | 25 September 2006 #
  • well done, Keiko. The situation is just as bad in the states. In Utah the cafeteria kitchens are more like re-heating stations. No one cooks. Most kids think they don’t like fruit and veg because they’ve never tasted a proper one. Some folks and I have initiated a school garden at one grammar school and are trying to convince administrators that kids need to learn how to eat. Once they do that, they will know how to taste. It’s amazing to see the glow from a kid’s face when she tastes a blood orange for the first time. Wonderful post.

    Posted by vanessa | 25 September 2006 #
  • Amazing post Keiko. Ella is super cute, especially in the photo holding her mother`s hand while stirring rice.

    Posted by Cenk | 25 September 2006 #
  • WHat lovely photos and it sounds like a really great sounds like kids cook books have come a long way. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    Posted by hag | 26 September 2006 #
  • I’ll admit to often skipping the words that go with these posts because I’m so engrossed in your amazing photos. I’m shocked that the state of school lucnches in the UK is so awful - we have this myth in the States that Europeans always eat fresh food they bought at the market that day, which was grown organically by farmers the day before.

    The first photo of Ella at the top is simply stunning and really captures the moment. And the last photo is insane - her expression is unbelievable. The other photos in the series are excellent as well, but those two really stand out.

    Posted by SD | 26 September 2006 #
  • oh yes, I saw that Jamie Oliver’s series and was suitably shocked by the grub the kids are fed in UK, and am thankful that Singapore schoolkids haven’t gone that way as yet. Our local school tuckshops at least sell bowls of noodles, sandwiches and fruits to our local kids. By the way, loved your series of shots with Ella, such a joy to see a child experiment in the kitchen!

    Posted by eatzycath | 26 September 2006 #
  • Heya Keiko! Interesting thoughts. I feel that the parent plays an important part in educating kids on what is good to eat. My earliest memories of my mom was baking and cooking with her.

    Posted by ivan | 26 September 2006 #
  • Keiko,

    it’s so interesting for me, becuase I have a 4 year old child and we cook a lot together. In fact, she gets upset if I do not cook with her some of her favourie food, like pizza. See the results of our last cooking session on my blog, if you like.

    Posted by Simonetta Taccuso | 26 September 2006 #
  • I am delighted to be able to say that I know Ella. She is a truly remarkable chef. It might be time for Jamie and Nigella to step aside. A TV series and book can’t be far off. Keep up the good work.

    Posted by Mark | 26 September 2006 #
  • I am lucky enough to cook with my daughter. She’s 5 years old and it’s very funny...sometimes ! She wants to do her best, but it’s often catastrophic ! Actually, these moments of life are wonderful, a lot of memories full of smells, colors and smiles.

    Posted by Lilo | 26 September 2006 #
  • Wonderful post! I love cooking with my kids. The great thing is that kids will eat almost anything if you let them help make it. This makes it much easier to give them healthy dishes.

    Posted by Chocoholic | 26 September 2006 #
  • What a great post--on various levels. I reviewed a cookbook for Canada Eats that, in part, was to help parents figure out nutrious packed lunches for their kids. The results were mixed, and what I found was a number of working parents who looked at the book felt they were too busy to make (healthy) foods and were unhappily resigned to packing processed foods for their children...


    Posted by jasmine | 27 September 2006 #
  • I love how you handled such an important and increasingly pressing topic! The photos of Ella cooking are just adorable- you can really see the intensity in the moment. And the fun!

    Posted by s'kat | 27 September 2006 #
  • what lovely photos…

    thank you so much

    Posted by daniela | 28 September 2006 #
  • hi keiko,

    what a lovely post! the photos of Ella are gorgeous. I can’t wait til my partner’s niece gets a bit older so that I too can have little cooking sessions like this with her. :)

    Posted by ilingc | 2 October 2006 #
  • Thanks a lot Keiko for this fantastic message ( & your pics are so beautiful !!!)

    Comme toi je pense que bien manger est quelque chose de primordial et qu’il ne faut surtout pas oublier les enfants dans cette histoire !!!

    Merci aussi à Cheryl & Ella ! They make me remember when I was a little girl baking with my mother every sunday morning ;-)


    Posted by Camille | 3 October 2006 #
  • She is so lovely and cute!!!

    Posted by Francesco | 3 October 2006 #
  • Such a great post with wonderful pictures. Ella seems to be having a lot of fun. :)

    Posted by mandira | 5 October 2006 #
  • Hi! I am so inspired by all your gorgeous desserts! Are you trained in pastry or are you self-taught? Thanks for giving me the courage to try some of the more difficult pastries.

    Posted by Joan | 6 October 2006 #
  • That was a great article Keiko. And great pictures especially that of Ella reaching out to wash her hands. Was that pictures of your kitchen? If it is, it looks absolutely stunning! :)

    Posted by steffles | 7 October 2006 #
  • A lovely day ... I know this TV programm ... And i think it’s very important that children learn to eat well ... to discover new savours ...

    Posted by Fabienne | 7 October 2006 #
  • I agree - I can’t believe it is such a problem, but kids rarely eat anything that isn’t processed these days. It’s amazing. I see signs in the NYC subway that offers kids free lunch during the summers and I always wonder how many children are in need of that. I suppose if it is enough to require a whole program to provide it, the numbers must be quite large. It is very sad. This book sounds like a great way to start getting kids thinking about food and cooking.

    Ella is adorable too!

    Posted by Kelli | 13 October 2006 #
  • ご無沙汰しています。小さい子の表情、こんなに素敵に撮ってみたい~~!Ellaちゃんは、私の長女より少し大きいかな・・・こんな風に一緒にキッチンにたてる日が楽しみになってきました~。

    Posted by seiko | 14 October 2006 #
  • I never know what to say about your messages... As usual: very very very beautiful pictures, so clear and a little pinch of "magic", you know : like all these ads from Disney with children (happy forever) ;-) Such a pleasure!

    Posted by Stéphane | 5 November 2006 #
  • Cooking and working with kids is so much fun. I try to involve my daughter in small tasks, while I’m making dinner and she is home and we both enjoy the whole process and often go wild. Crazy times but more memorable ones they will be.

    Posted by Agnes | 8 November 2006 #
  • wowwee ella is so cutesy. cooking with kids are fun if one doesn’t mind the mess haha

    Posted by babe_kl | 4 December 2006 #
  • Thank you so much for all your kind notes, I learnt lots of things from your feedback!

    Hi San & Erielle – I wish it was my kitchen :) It’s Cheryl’s and just as you describe, it’s so sleek… not surprisingly, their whole house is sleek and gorgeous! it has a big roof window as well as the French doors – so it’s always filled with natural light.

    Hi Joan – I’m totally self-taught (and I think my posts show my lack of experience :))

    Posted by keiko | 12 January 2007 #
  • Ella is so cute! with kids is always so much fun..

    Posted by Srivalli | 10 January 2011 #

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