Graduate story

Katharine Tate on how a career in education evolved into a business that aims to nurture in children a passion for food, cooking and healthy eating

What drew you to nutritional therapy?

“I’ve always been interested in the power of food as medicine. I’m a qualified primary school teacher and worked in primary schools for a number of years before becoming an education consultant. But it was the opportunity to go back and retrain that interested me, so when my daughter was young I thought it was a great time to do it.”

How was it juggling life and studies?

“It was really hard and stressful. I was working part-time as an education consultant, bringing up a youngster and studying. I think as a mature student you can put a lot of pressure on yourself to succeed and do well too, which makes it even harder.”

Did you always plan on combining nutrition with teaching?

“Initially, it was just for my own knowledge and to be able to support my family, but then as I got into it I started to think about how it would look going forward. I had this great skillset from being a teacher and I could combine that with nutrition — that’s how my business evolved.”

How did your career change after ION?

“I set up The Food Teacher, which combines education with nutrition. The very first thing I got involved with was supporting a local primary school where food and nutrition was part of their curriculum, but they had no facilities so didn’t know how to deliver it. I developed a load of recipes and a lesson plan called No Kitchen Cookery.

“I realised that there are so many schools in the country that need this, so I wrote my first book. It won ‘Best Cookbook for Professionals’ at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, and because of that and the evolving work I was doing for schools, I won an Inspiring Hertfordshire ‘Most Promising New Business’ Award.

“There’s a primary school in Greenwich called Charlton Manor Primary. They deliver their whole curriculum through food. They hired a full time chef as part of their teaching staff and converted a classroom into a full catering kitchen. Every class does cooking every week and they build it into the way that they teach the curriculum. The chef asked us if we could write a book to share his good practices, so we developed Now We’re Cooking. We won a ‘Best in the World’ award for that and got to go to China.

“Alongside all of that, I went to a conference and sat next to a GP from Fleetwood in Lancashire. The social deprivation in Fleetwood is really bad — chronic health diseases happen at least 10 years before the national average. They were developing a social prescribing enterprise, so my two colleagues and I developed the Fleetwood Young Chef of the Year Award. It’s a six-week programme and we give the teachers and schools absolutely everything they need to deliver it. It’s completely mapped to the national curriculum, but we also build in the social skills of eating and quite a bit of nutrition. Schools deliver the programme with the idea that children produce a three course meal at the end, within a budget of £10. Every school chooses their winner and we hold a grand finale. They’re now in their fourth year and have had 2,000 children go through the programme.

“Last year we launched it nationally and had over 4,000 children involved. We have the Younger Chef Award for six to seven year olds too. There’s no heat involved with that; it’s about building nutrition knowledge. This year, we launched the Youngest Chef Award, which is for nursery school children. That’s all built around the very hungry caterpillar; educating children about the whole [food] rainbow, trying to increase their awareness around fruit and vegetables, and then building this progression in to develop lifelong skills.”

What’s next for The Food Teacher?

“The potential for it to have a bigger impact is huge. There’s no need for a government think tank on this either because [the programme] is ready. They could give it to every school in the country and everyone could be doing it now. What we would love is, like in Fleetwood, to have clusters of schools doing the award [with] a grand finale.”

What are your career highlights?

“The opportunity to go to China and receive an award was really special. But I also love hosting a Young Chef final; just seeing the pride in the children’s faces when they’ve made this amazing dish and they’re bringing it over to the judges is magic.”

What does a typical day look like?

“[It] might be writing an article, sending emails, seeing a client, speaking to schools, or advertising and marketing to schools — it’s really varied. When I started the business it took me quite a long time to find the balance between putting too much pressure on myself and actually thinking, ‘it doesn’t matter if I don’t do that today, I’ve got plenty of time’.”

What advice would you give to those considering a career in nutritional therapy?

“Think about what your skill set is and what experience you can bring to the table, and then try and build that in. There are obviously things that you are really good at, so that can help to develop your business.”

Visit Katharine's website or follow her @thefoodteacher

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