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Cooking in School has an Impact

Mature Couple Bicycling



Chefs Adopt a School is a program founded in 1990 by a UK culinary association, the Academy of Culinary Arts. In this program, professional chefs visit local primary schools to present a brief series of cooking-related classes. The idea behind the program is to improve future generations' health by teaching basic food preparation skills along with healthy eating and nutrition. The program reaches about 21,000 schoolchildren each year.

It's a fantastic idea, but in this age of limited resources it's important to make sure the money spent on such programs such as these is truly effective. A team of researchers at the Centre for Food Policy at the City University London noted that cooking initiatives like this one cost over 30 million pounds between 2008 and 2011 and were performed "without any rigorous evaluation" (Appetite 2013;62:50-59), which is like teaching math classes without ever administering a test - there's no evidence that the children have learned anything.

To help correct this lack of analysis, the researchers designed a questionnaire to be administered to students before and after a chef's visit. Children between the ages of 9 and 11 at eight different schools participated in the study, with half of the schools being the control group (receiving no visit from a chef or cooking class) and the other half receiving two visits from a chef.

For each school the first visit from the chef included instruction on the importance of hand washing, healthy eating, and experiencing foods through the various senses, including taste testing different foods. In the second session the chefs led the classes in making a pasta salad that included five different vegetables.

One week before the first chef visit, then two to four weeks afterward, the children responded to questionnaires asking about confidence in their cooking skills, how many vegetables they ate, and whether they felt comfortable asking their parents or caregivers for specific vegetables or other foods.

The outcomes were mixed and difficult to interpret. For example, more of the children who took the class reported feeling confident in their ability to make pasta salad after taking the class: 58% of the children felt confident before the class and 82% felt confident after the class. However, similar results applied to those who did not take the class: 65% felt confident before the specified date and 81% afterward.

On the other hand, those who participated in the classes did report eating more vegetables in the weeks after class, and they also reported more confidence in asking their parents or caregivers for specific vegetables to eat. The children also stated in general feedback that they enjoyed tasting new foods and having the chef visit even if they also said that they did not enjoy cooking.

What this means for you

It's clear that more and more rigorous evaluations are worth doing. Just two sessions per year appear to have at least a short-term impact on what children eat - imagine what effects there could be in a more regular class.

First posted: April 10, 2013