A local charity is working hard to help change the eating habits of children across the borough. APPLE, based in Acton, works with children and young people living in areas of deprivation or with those experiencing other difficulties in their lives. It runs a variety of creative or practical activities such as art and gardening and is supported by Ealing Council’s Youth & Connexions team.
One of its core programmes, in particular, focuses on improving young people’s diets through cooking classes and useful nutritional information. Children also now get to see how their meal is produced by helping to plant their own vegetables and fruit in a new garden the charity recently raised money to install through crowdfunding. The council also donated £1,000-worth of top soil and bark for the garden.
This food project started 10 years ago with the staff and youngsters cooking together to demonstrate how to make fresh, home-cooked meals eaten in a family setting. The goal was to show the children the benefits of enjoying healthy food. APPLE now also tries to challenge the fast food habit so many young people have now just because it is convenient and easily accessible – and to educate them of the health problems arising from a diet packed with foods that are high in sugar and fat, such as rotten teeth, diabetes and heart disease.
Tackling poor diets
Vicki Barker, the charity’s CEO, said: “It is a long haul to change the eating habits of the country, like turning an oil tanker. But APPLE thinks one of the ways to start is teaching young people to cook and enjoy homecooked food with fresh ingredients.
“APPLE is passionate about teaching children and young people to know food from seed to plate. Children are taught how to read recipes, budget for shopping, lay the table, time recipes, clear up. The young people are skilled and confident and understand the importance of a healthy, balanced diet for good health and well-being. The joy and pleasure of good food and hospitality then becomes ordinary and everyday.”
Lessons you learn for life
Jessica Mason, first attended APPLE when she was six years old and now volunteers for the charity.
She enjoyed going when she was younger mainly because of the art lessons but then started to get really interested in making food. Jessica, who is now 24, got involved in meal preparation and cooking for all of those that attended the centre.
She said: “The cooking is invaluable, I went to university and no one knew how to do anything in the kitchen. The difference it made being able to feed myself was huge; and not just learning how to make a recipe but learning how to look in the fridge and say ‘right I have this and this what can I cook’. It has made me learn what it means to cook something and knowing how food works and what you can do with it.
“At university I started doing Tuesday night dinners. I would cook for everyone and they would all put in a couple of quid because there would for everyone and then I would keep the left overs for lunch and make a bit of profit, it worked out very well.
“Unhealthy food seems cheaper because you can get a burger for the same price as a bag of carrots, but when you realise that with a range of ingredients you can create enough food for a week, it is a lot cheaper and it is healthier.
“If it wasn’t for APPLE I would probably just be eating pasta; it changed my perception a lot.”
“I now do APPLE’s social media and marketing, kind of anything online,” Jessica explained. “There are always opportunities for people to volunteer and as you can tell I have learned a lot in my time here. We need people to help with the garden, to help cook something when we have big events, we ask people to bring food if they can, running art workshops, and people who can help with sport. So, if you want to come and have a game of football please do come along.”