A couple of weeks ago I was approached by the Good Causes arm of the National Lottery in Wales asking if I would like to visit one of their projects. They fund a number of projects across Wales, but were keen for me to visit Go4it!, a scheme that operates in the Rhondda valleys, working with families by giving them support on how to be more active and healthy.
I was invited to help out at one of their cooking sessions in Abercwmboi, a small village near Mountain Ash in the valleys where weekly cookery sessions take place in a small community centre. The aim of these sessions is to teach parents and children some easy and healthy recipes, there’s a dietician on hand to help the families with their day to day eating habits and it also teaches basic cookery skills to children as young as 3.
I had no idea what to expect or who I’d meet, but it did intrigue me as to how the sessions work and what type of information was given to the families. To me it’s common sense, but that’s because I pretty much grew-up in the kitchen, watching my parents cook and learning from them and my grandmothers how to cook and what was healthy. I do exactly the same with my daughters; involve them in everything I do in the kitchen, even if it’s a cup of tea. My oldest is 3 and a half and can make scrambled eggs (supervised), grate most vegetables and is able to cut things using a children’s knife, handling the knife correctly and safely. These are all skills I was taught as a young girl, just like my mother was taught and so on – so you can understand why to me it’s normal.
Upon my arrival at the community centre, the group of children and mothers were about to start making a curry using leftover turkey, taught by their cookery teacher Richard. I quickly put on an apron and got stuck in, meeting everyone and asking Richard what I could do to help out. It was brilliant watching Richard teaching the group, getting the children involved in as much as possible, using special knives and reminding the group how to use the knife correctly.
Whilst Richard continued with the recipe, I took the opportunity to talk to some of the mums, asking how long they’d been coming and what type of things they’ve learnt. One mum had been coming for over 9 months, with her children enjoying some of the activities that Go4it! offer. She also went to fitness classes offered by the scheme, but the big thing for her was that her son since coming to the cookery lessons was eating much better and a more varied selection of foods. She also said that he often wouldn’t eat a meal unless he was able to help out in some way!
Another mum I spoke to said that her and her daughter didn’t really eat vegetables and fruit and had never eaten a sausage until they’d started the cookery lessons. To say I was shocked was an understatement. I didn’t get a chance to ask what they use to eat before starting the lessons, but I was glad to hear that both mum and daughter now ate a more varied diet – including fruit and vegetables.
The curry that Richard had been making with the group was now bubbling away gently and included lentils and a number of vegetables and it smelt delicious. It was now my turn to do a recipe with the group, I chose to make my ‘Rudolph Treats’, which are carrot cookies and are perfect for the children to make on Christmas Eve ready to leave out for Rudolph as a tasty midnight snack.
The group loved the cookies, especially licking the bowl! Whilst the cookies baked, Richard showed how to make some easy flatbreads to go with his Turkey curry. Before we knew it, the time to go home had arrived and after a couple of photos, all the food prepared was boxed and bagged up for everyone to take home and enjoy with the rest of the family as well as the recipes written down for the group to hopefully make again.
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone and hearing how this Lottery funded project is helping these families lead healthier and more active lives. I also left there thinking that the small team of people who run these groups day in day out across a number of areas in the valleys are the real unsung heroes. Richard the cook was so passionate and was brilliant at engaging the children and mothers and obviously wanted to help them make positive changes to their diets and lifestyles.
I still couldn’t quite believe what some of the families use to eat before they attended the Go4it! sessions. I then started to wonder how many other families are out there who don’t include fruit & vegetables in their diet for whatever reason. I think that we just plod along with our daily routine assuming that everyone knows what’s healthy and how to cook a couple of recipes for the family, but this really isn’t the case.
It’s all very well and good having these diets splashed across the media, promoting superfoods and all the other trendy and expensive food stuff out there, but actually in reality there needs to be better education on just general eating and cooking and this is exactly what Go4it is doing. They may only be small, but they are definitely making a difference and helping as many families as they can.