Confidence to cook: considerations in promoting fruit and vegetable consumption

In order to inform efforts to promote Fruit and Vegetable (F&V) consumption, and to do so equitably, a better understanding is needed of the determinants of their consumption, and particularly the determinants within socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, whose fruit and vegetable intake is particularly low.

Cooking skills and inadequate F&V intake

Cooking skills have been a focus of several small-scale nutrition interventions, typically in combination with other strategies, and one of the aims of the Australian National Nutrition Strategy is to “educate and skill our population to choose a healthy diet”. This strategy has been based on a rationale that a decline in cooking skills is one reason for the inadequate consumption of F&V. However, despite contemporary social trends that affect how food is prepared and consumed and concerns about deskilling, population nutrition monitoring typically focuses on food intake. Such monitoring does not typically focus on the skills that might affect food choice, with the most recent population-based study of this kind occurring in the early 1990s in the United Kingdom. Thus, there is very little evidence as to how skilled, or confident, the population of Australia, or other developed nations, actually are to cook foods that constitute healthy diet. There is also very little evidence on whether these skills truly are declining, which could be of concern in population health nutrition. Furthermore, evidence that cooking skills are linked with choosing to consume a healthier diet is limited to a few isolated studies, often focused on highly specific groups of the population, such as adolescents, or young adults.

Lack of confidence to cook vegetables…

A recently published cross-sectional study of the main food preparers of 426 households in Brisbane, Australia, found that lack of confidence to cook vegetables – and to do so using a variety of techniques – were both associated with less household purchasing of vegetables. Of the two measures, the one with strongest association with household vegetable purchase was the one that reflected how confident participants were (from ‘not at all confident’ to ‘very confident’) to prepare 21 different vegetables. Possibly, the degree to which people are confident to prepare specific foods has more relevance to their behavior than their general confidence in kitchen.

Confidence to cook vegetables (measured such that 21 is the lowest possible score and 126 the highest) was high on average (median 117) but varied across the full range of possible scores. This indicated that on the whole, most people who cook for their household are quite confident to cook vegetables, but importantly, that there are ‘household chefs’ with very little confidence to cook vegetables. In the study, lacking confidence to cook was most common among household chefs who were male, of low education, unwilling to disclose their income, not living with other adults, and not living with minors. Interestingly, these groups overlap to some degree with some of the population groups the scientific literature often show as having comparatively low F&V intake: men, low socio-economic status, and those living alone.

… a reason for inadequate consumption

While the study is by no means definitive, findings from this study and the literature in general are consistent with the notion that a lack of confidence to cook might form part of the reason for inadequate vegetable consumption, particularly among low socioeconomic groups. The findings also lend some credence to the possibility that increasing vegetable intake might require improving confidence to cook them, particularly among some of the groups who most could benefit from intervention.

Promoting skills and confidence to cook F&V

Major nutrition promotion efforts, such as Go for 2&5® in Australia, or the United States National Fruit and Vegetable Program, aim to promote F&L intake by targeting awareness. While such campaigns are sorely needed, and even make available tasty recipes high in vegetables, knowledge alone is not enough. It may well turn out that such efforts prove more effective in increasing F&L intake of those who already possess the relevant skills or confidence to cook vegetables, than those who do not. Efforts targeting skills and confidence to cook vegetables and other nutritious foods may also be needed in order for such campaigns to succeed, and to succeed equitably.

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