Childhood obesity continues to be a public health concern, with over 340 million children and youth ages 5 to 19 classified as overweight or obese in 20161. Taste and unfamiliarity with foods2 have been identified as barriers to children consuming a balanced diet. On the other hand, multiple cooking and tasting sessions can help increase fruit and vegetable consumption in the short term3 and improve attitudes towards food4.
Project CHEF: A Cooking and Tasting Program at schools
Project CHEF is a one-week cooking and tasting program delivered in Vancouver schools by trained chefs. Students learn in 4 to 5 sessions (2.5 hours each) basic food and kitchen safety rules, knife skills, and how to read and follow a recipe. They cook in small groups after watching recipe demonstrations. At the end of each session, students, parent volunteers, and teachers sit around the table to enjoy what they cooked together.
Study Design and Participants
Grade 4 and 5 students (9-11 years old) were recruited in an intervention group (n=68) and a comparison group (n= 32) to assess the effect of the program on their food preferences. Using a 4-point scale (3— like a lot, 2— like a bit, 1—don’t like, 0— don’t know), students reported in a survey adapted from previously published questionnaires5,6 on preferences at baseline and 2 weeks after taking Project CHEF for:
- 1 fruit (pear),
- 5 vegetables (sweet red peppers, broccoli, swiss chard, carrots),
- 1 grain (quinoa),
- 1 meat alternative (beans).
Parent surveys were sent home at the same time that students were completing their second survey.
Project CHEF improves students’ attitudes towards F&V
Students who participated in Project CHEF reported an increased familiarity and/or preference for the foods introduced through the program, compared to students in the comparison group. Increases were statistically significant (p ≤ 0.05) for broccoli (M=2.61 ±0.63 vs 2.25 ±0.62), swiss chard (M=1.96 ±0.99 vs 0.31 ±0.69), carrots (M=2.63 ±0.54 vs 2.31 ±0.69) and quinoa (M=1.67 ±1.22 vs 0.72 ±1.14).
A higher percentage of students in the intervention group also reported being very likely to try new foods, compared to students in the comparison group (47% vs. 28%). This change was confirmed by parents who observed at home that children were more willing to try new foods after participating in Project CHEF (41% after vs. 28% before exposure to the program).
Experiential School interventions: an important step to develop healthy food habits in students. The results suggest that involving students in hands-on cooking and tasting programs (such as Project CHEF) is a great way of introducing them to new foods and can positively influence their preferences (particularly for vegetables and whole grains), an important first step towards developing healthier food habits.
Based on: Zahr R, Sibeko L. Influence of a School-Based Cooking Course on Students’ Food Preferences, Cooking Skills, and Confidence. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2017;78:37–41. DOI: 10.3148/cjdpr-2016-030. Published at dcjournal.ca on 1 February 2017
- WHO. Obesity and Overweight. Updated October 2017. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/
- Nicklas TA, Jahns L, Bogle ML, et al. Barriers and facilitators for consumer adherence to the dietary guidelines for americans: The HEALTH study. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113(10):1317-1331. 3. de Sa, J. & Lock, K. (2007). School-based fruit and vegetable schemes: A review of the evidence. London: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
- de Sa, J. & Lock, K. (2007). School-based fruit and vegetable schemes: A review of the evidence. London: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
- Hersch D, Perdue L, Ambroz T, Boucher JL. The impact of cooking classes on food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviors of school-aged children: A systematic review of the evidence, 2003-2014. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11:140267. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd11.140267
- Liquori T, Koch PD, Contento IR, Castle J. The cookshop program: Outcome evaluation of a nutrition education program linking lunchroom food experiences with classroom cooking experiences. J Nutr Educ. 1998;30(5):302-313.
- Cunningham-Sabo L, Lohse B. Impact of a school-based cooking curriculum for fourth-grade students on attitudes and behaviours is influenced by gender and prior cooking experience. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2014; 46(2): 110-120.