YOUNG chefs in Yate cooked for the Deputy Prime Minister during a surprise visit to the town’s Tesco Extra store.
Nick Clegg dropped in on a summer cookery course, run by charity the Children’s Food Trust and supported by Tesco, on Wednesday (August 6) where he tasted youngsters’ tasty creations including falafels and fruit kebabs.
Mr Clegg, who was on a tour of the South West to promote his free school meals initiative which takes effect from September, met local mums of the eight to 10-year-olds taking part in one of the free, three-day courses and chatted to staff whilst wearing a colourful yellow apron.
The Liberal Democrat leader told the Gazette: “I am delighted that Tesco are doing this. Anything that encourages boys and girls to take an interest in the food they eat and where their food comes from is a good thing.
“The timing of these courses is particularly good given that from September we will be providing free healthy lunches for children in the first three years of primary school.”
He said the scheme, which comes at a £1billion cost to the government, would not only save families money but would have health benefits for all children in reception and Years 1 and 2.
“Most importantly, there is overwhelming evidence of the educational benefits of having a healthy lunch - more than many other education initiatives introduced in schools. By sharing a meal together and making sure children who can’t concentrate in afternoon classes are in a much better position we are dealing with the whole class together.”
He said research shows four in 10 children from families on low incomes fell outside of the qualification criteria for free school meals.
“Having little children share a healthy lunch together regardless of wealth has a dramatic effect,” said Mr Clegg, in response to critics of the scheme who say the state should not be paying for children whose families can afford school lunches.
“It is not good for children to be plucked off into little groups. This will give them a fair start in life.”
The government is investing £150million in schools which require upgrades to facilities but there are still concerns over how some schools will deliver free school meals for all infants.
“We have to be pragmatic,” added Mr Clegg. “This is a big change but the critics are wrong. Just over 99 per cent of schools say they are ready.”
Marie Sims, head of the Children’s Food Trust’s let get cooking campaign, said the summer courses for children in three different age categories had proved hugely successful.
“The children have loved it,” she said. “They are trying food they have never experienced before and learning about ingredients.
“The whole idea is that you can cook anywhere, we don’t use ovens in the courses, and we are teaching vital cookery skills that children will use all their lives.”
For further information about the courses or to download recipes visit www.letsgetcookingathome.org.uk