In less than a month, a nine-year-old girl has changed school lunches just by blogging about what she eats every day. It all began when the little Scottish girl, Martha Payne, decided on a creative way to explain to her father why she was so hungry when she got back from school.
She forgot to take her camera on day one, but her second post showed a picture of that day's school lunch — one square of pizza, one croquette, about a table spoon of sweet corn kernels and one small muffin. Under it she wrote, “The pizza was alright but I'd have enjoyed more than one croquet. I'm a growing kid and I need to concentrate all afternoon and I can't do it on one croquette. Do any of you think you could?” She also carefully worked out a set of parameters to describe the food proficiently for other children, and — it turns out — scores of adults.
An average post on her blog http://neverseconds.blogspot.com.es/: “Today I had vegetable soup and sausages with roast potatoes and salad… My soup tasted of mainly carrot but I am not sure. I had three wee roast potatoes which were a bit small and the sausages are very different to the ones I get at home. They are very crispy on the outside and the texture is like a baked potato. Food-o-meter- 8/10. Health Rating- 6/10. Price- £2. Pieces of hair- 1 (under the cucumber).”
With these focused, honest reviews, the blog went viral in just five posts, catching the attention of local and international media. Children from around the world started emailing Martha pictures of their lunches. It started a debate on their nutritional value and size. The first effects were felt at Martha's own school, where the school council decreed that children should be able to help themselves to unlimited salad, fruit and bread. She was interviewed on BBC radio. Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver tweeted about her “shocking but inspirational blog”. Today, she announced that the blog's has more than one million hits.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore, 11-year-old Eli Knauer is causing a stir in foodie circles with his blog ‘Adventures of a Koodie'. He describes himself as “11 years old and in 5th grade. I am the oldest. My brother Owen is 7 and my sister Olivia is 2. I live in Baltimore, Maryland, and I love to eat! I also love Pokemon and playing Wii.” His reviews are short and straightforward, judging restaurants on kid-friendliness, portion sizes and ‘yumminess.' His top post is on Pizza Hut's stuffed crust pizza. “At first I didn't know it was a stuffed crust, but when I got to it, my thoughts were yum. I asked daddy what the type of pizza it was, and he told me it was the stuffed crust pizza. I had two slices of pizza and I wished I had more, but there wasn't anymore pizza… Well, that's all. Bye.”
Everyone I speak to seems to be hooked to ‘Junior Master Chef' these days. Parents are looking pointedly at their own eight and 12 year olds, lounging slack-jawed on the sofa, and wondering why they aren't blessed with children who can whip up Italian ricotta gnocchi for dinner in 45 minutes. And perhaps follow that with a tropical fruit pavlova for dessert. While it's true that most adults will struggle to achieve the speed, efficiency and competence of the little master chefs, having children who cook is not an impossible dream. Provided you're prepared to spend time gradually teaching them how to cook and enjoy the kitchen. Alternatively, find them a suitable mentor. A willing aunt or grandmother, perhaps?
Jennifer Palencia, who runs a ‘home grown cooking academy for children' works with what she calls ‘apprentice chefs' and says there's nothing her kids can't do. Pictures on the school's Facebook page show them in cute polka dotted aprons and caps using sharp knives to deftly peel and chop vegetables. Pounding spices with pestle and mortars. Rubbing marinade into chicken. Sautéeing onions in a wok they can barely reach. Her youngest chefs are in the Baby Series, five and six year olds. Her apprentice chefs are between ages 10 and 12. They make everything from pizza to pannacotta. Cook French, Chinese, Japanese cuisine. More importantly they learn how to clean up, set the tables and handle kitchen implements.
Most Indian children don't cook because we underestimate them. We assume they're incapable of using knives, gas stoves and ovens. As a result many of them become spoilt little monsters who assume food magically appears at the table at breakfast, lunch and dinner time. Then they grow into adults who eat out, or order in, to avoid the kitchen.
As the mini Master Chefs prove everyday, there's no limit to what a child can achieve. Just because they're smaller, it doesn't mean they're any less able.