The Grain Chain

Global warming blamed for rising food prices
May 6th, 2011

An article in the Guardian on Friday 6 May highlighted a new study, published in the journal Science, which reported that rising temperatures are responsible for reduced crop yields of all major producer nations between 1980 and 2008. has developed a podcast looking at various factors, including supply and demand, that influence the cost of the food on our supermarket shelves.  The podcast can be accessed here.

St Patrick’s Day – soda bread and raising agents
March 14th, 2011

20110314 soda breadAs St Patrick’s Day approaches why not take this opportunity to look at a traditional Irish favourite – soda bread – and introduce your class to the concept and role of raising agents in baking.  Traditional bread of course uses yeast to create the carbon dioxide bubbles that make the dough rise.  Soda bread uses bicarbonate of soda.  Visit our section on the Science of Baking to find out more.  We also have a recipe plus accompanying video for you to make your own loaf of delicious soda bread.

Shrove Tuesday / Pancake Day / Mardi Gras; and Bread Bread Bread
February 25th, 2011

Shrove Tuesday AKA Pancake Day AKA Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday 8 March 2011 and is the last day before Lent.  Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving things up – so Shrove Tuesday is the final chance to indulge oneself and eat foods that aren’t allowed during Lent.  Pancakes are eaten on this day because they contain fat, butter and eggs which were forbidden.  Today Christians traditionally give up one thing, such as chocolate, for Lent.  In days gone by there was a whole week of celebrations and in other parts of the world the celebrations are still very extravagant.  The carnivals held in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro originate from the celebrations preceding Lent.  In fact the word carnival comes from the Latin meaning ‘removal of meat’ which refers to the early Christian Lentern diet.  

Why don’t you make a mask to wear in the Mardi Gras festival and/or  try out one of our pancake recipes.  The savoury and sweet mini pancake recipes even have an accompanying video. 

Savoury Pancakes

Sweet Mini Pancakes

Pancakes with Summer Berry Compote 


20110228 LeekStill related to feasts, 1 March is St David’s Day – the feast day of St David the patron saint of Wales.  St David’s Day is commemorated by the wearing of daffodils or leeks.  Both plants are traditionally regarded as national emblems.  There are many explanations of how the leek came to be adopted as the national emblem of Wales.  One is that St David advised the Welsh, on the eve of battle with the Saxons, to wear leeks in their caps to distinguish friend from the enemy.  Shakespeare mentions in Henry V, that the Welsh archers wore leeks at the battle of Agincourt in 1415.  


Try our crispy cheese and leek sausages.  They are a tasty and nutritious meat-free option for a main meal or snack.  They can even be frozen before cooking.  


After all this cooking why not visit our section Making and Baking: The Science and Technology  and discover what makes bread rise; how making bread at home differs from commercial bread making; some of the different types of bread available; and what the symbols and numbers on the label of a loaf of bread mean.


And don’t forget, before you begin any cooking session please make sure you are familiar with the health and safety checklist.

Breakfast Blog
January 21st, 2011

As bright sunny days smile down upon us it is difficult to believe that just a few weeks ago the footpaths and hills were covered in a white snowy blanket.  Or that it is indeed still January; the month of new beginnings, new resolutions and usually gloomy grey weather.  But onwards and upwards, what does the rest of January have to offer us …


Farmhouse Breakfast Week: Sunday 23 – Saturday 29 January 2011

20110121 ShakeupyourwakeupOnce again January plays host to Farmhouse Breakfast Week – an annual campaign run by HGCA and now in its 12th year.  The aims are to raise awareness of the benefits of eating a healthy breakfast; and demonstrate the variety on offer.

With one in four people regularly skipping breakfast, HGCA are challenging the nation to Shake Up Their Wake Up!

Everyone can get involved in the celebrations…

- Hold an event

- Try a quick and easy breakfast idea

- Offer a breakfast product promotion 


But why eat breakfast?  Wouldn’t one be better off spending more time in bed?  NO!  Research has found that:

- breakfast eaters tend to be slimmer than breakfast skippers.

- eating breakfast can aid concentration and mental performance at work and at school;

- breakfast provides you with the nutrients and energy needed for an active lifestyle;

- breakfast eaters are less depressed and have lower levels of stress than breakfast skippers.


On site…

Here on the site there are a variety of breakfast-based activities and resources.  For both 7-11 and 11-14 year olds there is the Design a Better Breakfast unit, which also boasts three helpful videos to support the work.  The aims are to encourage breakfast consumption by demonstrating that there is an almost infinite variety of options of what to eat to break your night-long fast.  Ideas for toast toppings and assorted cereal supplements should ensure that, with a little forethought and planning, everyone can design and prepare a nutritious healthy breakfast to suit their taste, timeframe and budget.


Alternatively you could try one of the delicious breakfast recipes on the site in our Best Breakfast section; eggs and berries feature heavily – even together.  (As pancakes!)


20110121 Breakfast poster

Also available is a classroom poster: Breakfast From Around the World, which is available free of charge.  Investigate whether breakfast meals differ in hot and cold countries; which nations eat out most at breakfast time; and which feast upon leftovers first thing.  To order your copy please email us at



Why not show younger children where their breakfast foods come from.  Bring the grain chain process to life using our From Wheat Seed to Table section which pictorially demonstrates the journey from tiny seed to slice of toast.  You could also investigate how cereal products feature in so many of the foods we associate with breakfast.


Elsewhere on the site …

20110121 HedgerowFor the 14-16 year old age group we have a range of case studies, including Wheat Farming and Sustainable Development.  New technology has made wheat farming in the UK more productive. However production has to be sustainable.  Productivity today cannot be enjoyed at the expense of production tomorrow.  Visit this unit to discover some of the considerations and initiatives facing wheat growers today, including integrated farm management; fertilisers; biodiversity and other environmental initiatives; and non-food uses for cereal crops.

News time!
December 30th, 2010

The start of a new school term can be slow to kick off, as children have got out of the school time routine, but if there is one way to ease them back in gently, it is by getting them to report on their news from the Christmas holidays.


There are lots of questions that you could ask your class and visual prompts that you could use to jog their memories, and as Christmas is the time of year when children may try new foods or travel to see friends or relatives, why not focus on this?


Start by engaging your class in a discussion about what they did during the holidays. You could use the following questions to get you started:


-          What did you have to eat on Christmas day? Did you try any foods that you hadn’t tasted before? What did you think of them? What was your favourite Christmas food and why?

-          Did you cook anything with your parents/guardians? What did you cook?

-          What was your least favourite Christmas food? What do you think you could do to it to make it more tasty?

-          Have you eaten any of the following over the holidays? – cheese straws, mince pies, Christmas pudding, sausage rolls, bread sauce, turkey sandwiches, crackers. What do all of these foods have in common? They are all made using flour.


Children should then find it easier to write their news as you’ve reminded them about what they’ve got up to!


Do you know…the origins of many popular foods which are eaten over the festive season?


Mince pies: Centuries ago the mince pie would have been a large oblong shaped dish filled with various meats such as chicken, partridge, pigeon, hare, capon, pheasant, rabbits, ox or lamb tongue, liver, and mutton meat mixed with fruits, peels and sugar. It was originally known as a Christmas Pye. It was only after the medieval era that meat was gradually replaced with the spices that the Crusaders brought with them. It is also thought that around this time, the pies changes to a smaller, round shape.

Bread Sauce: Bread sauce was first made in the medieval times when bread was plentiful. Flour was not historically used to thicken sauces so stale bread was the perfect alternative.

Christmas pudding: The Christmas pudding started life as a 14th Century ‘porridge’ called frumenty. This combined boiled beef and mutton with fruits, wines and spices and was more like a soup than a pudding. By 1595 it had evolved into the Christmas dessert that we eat today. It was thickened using eggs and bread crumbs, more dried fruit was included and the addition of ale and spirits gave it much more flavor. The puritans banned it in 1664 as a ‘lewd custom’. It was only in 1714 when George I developed a liking for plum pudding that it was re-introduced.

Cheese straws and sausage rolls: The origins of both of these flour based foods are not known but although they are now associated with the festive period, they were traditionally made at the start of Lent to use up any leftover meat and cheese before the fast.

Happy Christmas from the team
December 14th, 2010

Schools will be breaking up for Christmas soon and we realise that you might have more pressing matters on your mind… such as christmas shopping, the sudden realisation that the turkey won’t quite fit in your oven and how you’ll cope when your mother-in-law comes to stay for a couple of days.

That’s why we’ll be taking a short break over the festive period. But dont fear, we’ll be back after Christmas to help you with your lesson planning for the new year.

So for those of you who celebrate Christmas, have a good one!

Bake your own Christmas decorations!
December 8th, 2010

salt doughPrimary school activity

Christmas is coming and we know how excited your class will be getting! So instead of making paper decorations, why not bake them?

Salt dough is easy to make and non-toxic – plus it doesn’t taste very nice so younger children won’t want to eat it! When baked, it sets really hard and its high salt content prevents the dough from going mouldy.

Our basic recipe for salt dough, which can be baked either in an oven or hardened in a microwave for speed, can be found below. Because it involves using hot water, we recommend you make the dough before the lesson.

  • 4 cups of flour
  • One cup of table salt
  • One cup of hot water

Simply mix all of the ingredients in a bowl to form a dough. You’ll find that this recipe makes around 10 medium sized decorations.

If using a microwave, cook for two minute intervals, checking after each interval has been finished to ensure the dough doesn’t burn. If using an oven, bake for two hours on 250 degrees. Note that this temperature needs to be reduced slightly if using a fan oven.

Once hardened, leave the decorations to cool.

To colour the decorations you can either add colourings to the dough before it is baked or they can easily be painted once they have cooled. You could then add glitter, sequins or beads to add a bit of Christmas sparkle.

Encouraging your class to shape the decorations themselves enables them to be more creative but you could always use some festive cookie cutters if you are short on time. Some ideas for decorations could include snowmen, Christmas trees, stars, snowflakes and presents but you could always opt for more traditional symbols of Christmas.

Remember to make holes in all of the decorations so that they can be hung on a tree or around the classroom!

Activities for older students

There are only so many cold turkey sandwiches you can eat before you get fed up with them! Why not plan a lesson based around using up leftovers during the festive season? You could give students a choice of five of our recipes and ask them to pick two to modify. The only rule is that they have to use leftovers from a Christmas (or roast) dinner. We reckon the following recipes would be good choices for this activity, but as our regular readers will know, we have loads of recipes on our database so feel free to take your pick!

Tuna wrap – examples of modifications could include turkey and cranberry, or sausage meat and caramelised red onion.

Mini meatballs in tomato sauce – students could substitute the minced beef for minced leftover turkey and blend leftover vegetables into the tomato sauce.

Crispy leek and cheese sausages – these could be made using leftover vegetables.

 Apple muffins – the apple in this recipe could be swapped for fresh cranberries and candied orange peel could also be added.

Dinner rolls – these could be served with “Christmas dinner soup”, a soup made with all of the leftover vegetable.
Fun classroom gamesenergenie

 If you are winding down for Christmas, why not try some of our games and fun quizzes? Children won’t even realise they are learning!

 For 5 to 7 year olds: Fun Quiz

 For 7 to 11 year olds: Energenie Game (we love this one in the office- the best thing since sliced bread!)

 For 11 to 14 year olds: Fun quiz

 For 14 to 16 year olds: It’s not a game or a quiz as such but our podcasts are not too taxing for students and will provide some food for thought.

More free resources for our readers!
November 23rd, 2010

Smiley Wheat Character Aug10Take your class on a Taste Adventure

As our regular blog readers will know, we’ve teamed up with Slow Food UK to offer children across the country the chance to take part in a fantastic Taste Adventure. Children set off on a journey across five different activity stations, each with an activity aimed at engaging one of the five senses. After taking part in The Taste Adventure, students should have a greater understanding of the following:

    how to appreciate food using each sense individually

    how each sense affects the others

    the basic elements of taste

    the difference between taste and flavour

The Grain Chain team will be at the BBC Good Food show in Birmingham on Sunday 28 November, so if you live nearby, why not pop along and say hello?

The Taste Adventure can be carried out in schools and is completely free! If you are interested, take a look at

Top tips – lesson ideas

Have you checked out our additional worksheets, courtesy of Licence to Cook? Learn about everything from how grain is grown, harvested and milled to the role of the ingredients in bread there will be something for everyone. Furthermore, each worksheet is set up in a Microsoft Word format, enabling you to adapt them to best suit your class.

Have you got a class full of teenage chatterboxes? Tap into their love of talking by looking at sensory vocabulary to describe foods. By sensory vocabulary, you may want to point out that you mean “proper” words such as “tasty” rather than “sick” (for those of you who don’t know, this bizarrely means “really good”). Encourage them to talk about the smell, taste, texture and appearance of different bread and other foodstuffs rather than last night’s episode of Hollyoaks. See our sensory vocabulary poster which you can use to start your lesson.

National Curry Week curry

Did you know that this week is National Curry Week?

National Curry Week was established in 1998 to raise money for those struck by poverty and malnutrition in South Asia. Restaurants all over the country are raising money by selling special dishes and raffle tickets and asking customers to add just one pound to their bills, which is exactly the amount that half of the world’s population lives off per day. They are also running competitions like “Currybard of the Year“ (for the best curry-related poem), the Samosa Speed Record (for the most samosas prepared in 10 minutes) and the World Poppadom Tower Challenge! This year, money raised through National Curry Week activities will be going to the Pakistan Flood Disaster Appeal.

Why not raise awareness amongst your students and teach them to make a delicious, home-made version of the Nation’s favourite food? Our Rogan Josh recipe uses oil (try vegetable oil to get additional benefits) rather than ghee, which means it is therefore lower in saturated fat than most takeaways. Surprise students with our recipe for naan bread – which is made with yoghurt! Or have a go at making our chapattis- the perfect accompaniment to an Indian meal.

Don’t forget…

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Not so horrible histories…
November 1st, 2010

Following on from the history of baking feature in our last blog, we thought you might like to find out more about the early history of bread. It might not be anywhere near as exciting as horrible histories of course…but we reckon it’s definitely getting there!


Most people could be forgiven for thinking that history was driven by great scientists and ambitious people, but if you look closer, you’ll find that many of our inventions were actually driven by food availability, production and delivery. In other words, bread! Many kings and queens throughout history put a strong emphasis on feeding the people – they knew that the more hungry their populations were, the more insecure their rule over them was.

 bread egypt

In prehistoric times, cereal was ground between two stones to make a coarse flour like substance. This would have been moulded into course, flat cakes and cooked on an open fire. At around the same time in Egypt where their civilisation was more advanced, bread was commonplace. Paintings on the walls of tombs depict bread being offered to the gods. It is likely that all of these breads were leavened because the water in the Nile contains the same strain of yeast that is used in baking today!


Elsewhere the leavening of bread was beginning to become more common.  Initially this is thought to have come about by accident – the natural environment contains yeast in the air and a paste of flour and water will begin to ferment if left for a couple of hours. Some sourdough breads to this day are still made using this method.


So have cereals always been grown and milled in Britain? The answer is no. The Romans brought wheat, oats and rye over to Britain along with many of their bread making techniques. However, this new found skill of baking didn’t last long once the Romans left and during the Dark Ages, the process was very hit and miss.

 wheat harvesting 1800s

By the Middle Ages however, people had begun to use horses for ploughing. The watermill and windmill were invented and society began to get itself more organised. The loaves produced during this time were normally huge, around 4.5kg and were expected to feed a family for a week.


In Tudor times, for the poor, bread was made from a mixture of grains whilst peasant bread was made from peas and beans. Meanwhile the rich were acquiring a liking for white bread.  White bread was considered superior for two reasons, it was expensive and it implied prestige. The church used a white bread called Pandemain as the sacramental bread and people took this to mean better.


Bread in England continued to be made of mixed grains until well into the Victorian era. Imported wheat became plentiful and was milled in the ports for distribution to the growing urban population. Most breads after this time were made solely using the wheat grain.


What happens now? How is bread made?


Resources on cover the entire process from growing the crops, to harvesting, milling and baking.


For age specific resources, click on the following links:


Growing and harvesting – age 5 to 7, 7 to 11, 11 to 14 and 14-16


Milling - age 5 to 7, 7 to 11, 11 to 14 and 14-16


Baking – age 5 to 7, 7 to 11, 11 to 14 and 14-16

Ready, steady…bake!
October 15th, 2010

victoria spongeIt’s National Baking Week from 18 to 24 October so why not get your mixing bowls and spoons ready, your aprons on and get your class baking!


Most of us may remember baking with our parents or grandparents and impatiently waiting for the final products to cool so that we could ice and decorate them. Or the overwhelming sense of happiness we felt when presented with a large birthday cake, complete with candles to be blown out and wishes to be made. Maybe it’s this nostalgia and familiarity which has seen baking rise in popularity throughout the recession with 28% of home cooks now baking their favourite childhood treats at least once a week.


Of course, the word “baking” conjures up images of cakes, biscuits and buns but lots of tasty main meals can also be baked. Our recipe for tuna pasta bake makes a great main course for children to try in the classroom. You could reduce the fat content by using skimmed milk instead of semi skimmed milk and an olive or vegetable based spread instead of butter. You could also increase the vitamin and fibre content by adding more vegetables.


Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a sweet treat now and again – in fact the team are quite partial to a wedge of our delicious honey cake with our cuppas. It’ll go down really well in your staff room… and just as well with your class when they give it a go!


Baking links for lesson planning


We have ready-made lesson plans focussed on baking and we’ve highlighted them under the relevant age groups below so you can head directly to the relevant section… leaving you with more time to sit down, relax and eat that cake you’ve just baked!


If baking with children aged 5 to 7 sounds just too messy for first thing on a Monday morning, why not challenge them to virtually become the baker instead!step6


Can your class of 7 to 11 year olds complete the Freddy Flourbags challenge? This interactive quiz will not only encourage them to think about baking, but the whole of the grain chain too!


Teach your 11 to 14 class about the science behind baking.


For 14 to 16 year olds, why not encourage them to learn more about the industrial baking process


Do you know…about the history of baking?


In ancient history, the first evidence of baking occurred when humans picked wild grass grains, soaked them in water and mashed the mixture into a paste. The paste was cooked by pouring it onto a flat, hot rock, resulting in a very primitive flat bread.


Around 2500 B.C., records show that the Egyptians baked bread, through a process which they may have learnt from the Babylonians.


Baking flourished in the Roman Empire. In about 300 B.C., the pastry cook became an occupation for Romans (known as the pastillarium). Around 1 A.D., it is thought that there were more than three hundred pastry chefs in Rome.


Eventually, because of what was happening in Rome, the art of baking became known throughout Europe, and eventually spread to the eastern parts of Asia.