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.