Jenny Ridgwell Memoir

I Taught Them to Cook – my food memoir of teaching cookery in 1970s in an east London comprehensive school. It was a first time for many things – cooking spaghetti, recipes in metric, boys learning to cook, just like Nigel Slater might have done. It’s a story of a cookery year, as me made things through the seasons – pickling in the autumn, Christmas cakes in December, marmalade in January, rhubarb crumble in early spring, pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. The summer term is judgement time when my students take their 2 hour practical exam – much harder than the Great British Bakeoff. New foods like avocados arrive in London food markets and the diverse communities open restaurants with food from around the world.

Reviews from Amazon
Elle – This is such a wonderful memoir that reminds me of my food lessons at school, but also so much resonates today.

Lesley – You don’t have to be interested in food or education to enjoy Jenny Ridgwell’s page-turning account of teaching a disruptive and unwilling class of teenagers how to cook food in the 1970s

Jenny – Really good book that is easy to read and gives a fascinating insight into life in the early 70’s and the stereotypes that existed within the educational system especially in the subject of home economics.

Thompson – For those of us who went through this teaching era can completely identify with the outdated attitudes of the day. Jenny did something about it.

Caroline – I am a food teacher so I can relate to a lot of the content. Very inspiring!

Future for the Nutrition Program?

Many Nutrition Program users have been in touch as they love the Program and don’t want it to close.

We have conducted a small survey asking if users would subscribe if the program reopened. 90% said yes so we are pursuing ideas for its future.

This is part of an email from Carla Molinari shown with her permission.

Thankyou to Carla Molinari for this email

“I am very excited to hear that the Program may come back…we have really missed it this year!

The star diagrams, nutritional analysis and costing are all on one program and so accessible for students. I used to work in a school with an extremely high amount of EAL students (over 52 languages were spoken as a first language), I work in a very different school now.

In both schools I have been able to show students how to use the program once on the white board and students remember and then can navigate around it so well. This year students have used another program but it doesn’t have costing and so students have to spend more time (which we have very little of!) creating this from scratch whereas your program had this.

Students have noticed that your program had more ingredients to select from and are having to use a lot of ‘Best fit’ ingredients instead. This is also then creating more work for students as they need to explain this when the nutritional label doesn’t reflect the dish accurately.

In addition, it’s great for differentiation/personalised learning because lower ability/SEND students can use it to help them speed up the amount of time they can spend researching and creating charts/graphs. It also allows them to gain a basic understanding of the 5 main nutrients too. For More Able/G&T students it allows them to learn then apply knowledge & understanding of Macro/Micro nutrients- this is fantastic for higher marks and deeper learning.

I also have the booklet that goes with it and that works so well too. The program is suitable for KS3 and 4 and I used it for both. I haven’t found anything on the market that compares.

This is part of an email from Heather Sale, Teacher of Food and Nutrition of Cockermouth School.

We would be lost without The Nutrition Program at GCSE – our students find it easy to use and it has been invaluable in producing accurate & detailed nutritional profiles and star diagrams for NEA tasks. We have been commended by GCSE moderators on our students’ comprehensive nutritional analysis, using your program. PLEASE keep it going – it is such a useful resource!

Tasting word bank

The Nutrition Program has a Tasting word bank which you can use for sensory evaluation for NEA 1 and NEA 2 and make a Star Profile.

Find words for

  • Taste, flavour and smell

    Tasting word bank in Nutrition Program

  • Appearance
  • Nutrition

Click the words you want to use and add them to Descriptors for your Recipe.

This example shows how to make a Star Profile for a Fruit salad.

Choose the tasting words – the sensory descriptors – you want to use and give them a Rating mark.

So Fruit salad should be

  • colourful 5/5
  • crunchy 4/5
  • sweet 4/5
  • healthy 5/5
  • attractive 5/5

The Nutrition Program draws the Star for you. Download as JPG

Now add a Taster (Jenny in this example) to taste your fruit salad and get them to score their results.

Now you can Evaluate the results of the fruit salad and see if it needs improving.

Just fill in the spaces for Evaluation.

Download the JPG to present in your work.

You can annotate the Star with more comments.

The final Star Profile compares the results of fats in pastry to see how they taste. You can add several types of pastry to the star to compare results and annotate.

Star profile fruit salad


Star profile with Evaluation filled in


Star profile with completed tasting and Evaluation.


Star Profile with annotation


Star profile for fats in pastry with evaluation


Star profile of fats in pastry with annotation.

This video shows how to do it

Sensory analysis video

Closing the Nutrition Program

During lockdown use of the Nutrition Program by food teachers and students has dropped to 30% usage compared with March and April in 2019 and 2018. Schools have not renewed subscriptions during this time, so it is no longer financially viable to run the Program and offer renewal subscriptions. Those schools with subscriptions will be able to use the Program until their subscription ends but renewals are not possible and new customers cannot subscribe.

What is the history of the Program?

Many years ago I was involved with developing a nutritional analysis program using a CD-ROM. Then my son, Simon Ridgwell began a career in web design and he decided we should develop an online program for schools to use to analyse recipes, meals and diets. At the time many schools had poor internet use and food rooms were often among those with the poorest wifi provision. But he persuaded me that an online program was the future and we began developing the Nutrition Program. Simon had worked on cutting edge websites including Jamie Oliver’s. He wanted the Nutrition Program to have a streamlined look and insisted there would be no instructions for its use. Just like the ipad, students can explore and find their own way round it.

It became an immediate success and many of the schools that joined in the beginning still subscribe. During the development time I visited schools, took lessons with students using the Program and listened to issues that they did not understand and tried to find solutions. For example a year 7 boy was analysing his breakfast and got fed up that he couldn’t find bread in the listing. He was spelling it bred. So we introduced predictive testing and this way he might have learnt how to spell the ingredient he was searching for.

Over the years food labelling regulations have changed and we’ve introduced the traffic light system and then GDAs. Things changed again and GDAs became RIs and then ALLERGENS came on the scene. With over 4000 ingredients I had to go through each one and allocate allergens to them if needed. The GCSEs demanded costings of recipes, so we added the price per 100g to the expanding 4000+ ingredients. Students would challenge these prices and I had to check with the excellent Sainsburys database. To date I have found no mistakes but in 2020 I predict prices will rise and recipe costs increase.

At a later date we introduced the Star Profile to help with critical analysis of recipes and diets and provide students with a method to evaluate their work for the GCSE.

When Food Technology changed to Food and Nutrition GCSE it seemed like nutrition would play a major part in the new exams. But only one exam board wanted the nutritional analysis of dishes. Hospitality and Catering often required nothing at all. And that despite the food and catering industry making legal requirements for allergens to be listed and probably in the future requiring menus to be calorie counted. The new GCSE required less use of the Program and teachers found that many of the free nutritional analysis programs available online were perfectly adequate for these exams.

I’ve been teaching food since 1970. You can check on my blog where I am writing a title called I taught them to cook about teaching cooking in an east London comprehensive school in the 1970s. We did no nutritional analysis then and cooked loads of fatty pastries and sugary cakes to meet the needs of the high skills required for the CSEs and O levels.

Now things are changing again. COVID-19 has seen Boris Johnson taken to intensive care and discoveries made that the virus is more dangerous for people suffering with diabetes and overweight. Lockdown is bringing an end to my business and teaching budgets have been cut so schools that do teach food probably can’t afford my Program. But the good news it that there is a free nutritional analysis program Explore Food and The Food Teachers Centre has masses of free resources for food teachers to use. And teachers need free things.

Of course free resources affect the viability of any business. There have been suggestions that I get a sponsor or take adverts but I want to be in control of the way the Program is presented and to me it doesn’t seem right for students to be bombarded with advertising material during their school work. I believe food education has been poorly valued for all of my time in teaching and well done Louise Davies for creating The Food Teachers Centre to support this work.

When I wanted to study Domestic Science at school my parents were told by my headmistress that I must learn Latin and Chemistry instead. That I’d never get a job. That it was a subject for the lower streams in the school. I persisted and joined the joyous group making gorgeous smelling dishes that I struggled home to show to my family. And learnt Latin and Chemistry at the same time. Which was useful as the university didn’t consider A level Domestic Science to be a proper A level. The 3 hour practical cooking exam was the hardest that I took.

And a thankyou to Marguerite Patten who signed my Cookery Book that I used for my school recipes.

Perhaps someone, some day will recognise the value of cooking and food education in the UK. After all cooking in lockdown has been a major occupation of all ages.