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Cooking skills programs for adults – why are they needed and are they effective?

Lack of cooking skills and poor cooking confi dence have been connected with poor food choices including inadequate fruit and vegetable intake1. Cooking skills are on the decline in modern western societies to the point that it is of public health concern2. This de skilling maybe the result of a number of factors – a reduction in the traditional pathways of learning to cook, technological advances in the production and availability of processed ready-made meals, changes to social norms around cooking and eating, and greater participation of women in the workforce3, amongst other hypotheses.

In response to this reported decline, recently there has been an increase internationally in the number of not- for-profit community cooking skills programs designed to improve individuals’ cooking skills and confidence. The question however remains: Are these programs effective in increasing cooking skills and confi dence and do they translate to an increase in healthier cooking and eating behaviours? To date, the evidence base is limited. In a recent systematic review of adult cooking skills programs, only one evaluation was identifi ed as suitably robust to provide reliable findings with respect to program effectiveness4.

Jamie’s Ministry of Food, Australia

Jamie’s Ministry of Food is arguably the most well-known community cooking skills program aimed at teaching basic cooking skills to non-cooks. The program usually consists of 10 weekly, 1.5 hour cooking skills classes that promote the preparation and cooking of simple, fresh food quickly and easily.

Established in the United Kingdom where there are currently six active sites, the program has been adapted for Australia. The fi rst Australian site opened in Ipswich, Queensland in 2011 co-funded by the state government and a cooking appliance retailer, The Good Guys. Ipswich was intentionally targeted due to its rising rates of overweight and obesity and a signifi cant proportion of residents of low socioeconomic status. Interestingly, recent Queensland state wide monitoring also identifi ed low vegetable and fruit intake in Ipswich5.

Evaluation methods

There has been substantial investment in the Jamie’s Ministry of Food program from both public and private sources in both the United Kingdom and in Australia, yet there is limited evidence about the program’s effectiveness. As a consequence, Deakin University has been commissioned to evaluate the program in Ipswich.

The evaluation of Jamie’s Ministry of Food Ipswich extends over the period November 2011 to mid-2014, and employs a longitudinal, mixed methods design to explore participant impacts, outcomes and experiences of the program. The quantitative component is a quasi-experimental design consisting of an intervention and a wait-list control group of adult participants. Repeated measures are collected via questionnaire, at baseline, program end and six months post completion. The targeted sample size is 142 participants in each group. Primary outcome measures are a change in cooking confi dence and in self-reported vegetable intake. Secondary outcomes include change in individual cooking and eating behaviours as well as changes in social connectedness and self-esteem. The latter measures were included as the program is expected to impact in a broad range of ways; testing will be undertaken to determine whether these factors work as potential moderators, facilitators or barriers to cooking and eating behaviour change.

A longitudinal qualitative study will further enhance understanding of how and why the program impacts on participants. It will draw on a sample of 15 participants and gather accounts of their experiences and behaviour change over the course of their journey through the program. Repeated semi-structured interviews have been conducted at program commencement, program completion and six months after completion.

Drawing on the strengths of both quantitative and qualitative research paradigms, this comprehensive evaluation of Jamie’s Ministry of Food Ipswich will represent a valuable contribution to the literature on the effectiveness of community-based cooking skills programs. It will provide evidence as to the program’s effectiveness in arresting declining cooking skills and confi dence. It will also demonstrate the capacity of the program to translate to healthier cooking and eating behaviours. The evaluation results, due for release in late 2014, will inform future investment in this and other equivalent cooking skills programs.

  1. Winkler E, Turrell G: Confi dence to Cook Vegetables and the Buying Habits of Australian Households. J Am Diet Assoc 2009, 109(10):1759–1768.
  2. Winkler E: Food Accessibility affordability, cooking skills, and socioeconomic differences in fruit and vegetable purchasing in Brisbane, Australia. Australia: Queensland University of Technology, Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation School of Public Health; 2008
  3. Caraher M, Lang T: Can’t cook, won’t cook: A review of cooking skills and their relevance to health promotion. Int J Health Promot Educ 1999, 37(3):89–100.
  4. Rees R, Hinds K, Dickson K, O’Mara-Eves A, Thomas J: Communities that cook. A systematic review of the effectiveness and appropriateness of interventions to introduce adults to home cooking. In EPPI-Centre report 2004. London: EPPI-Centre Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London; 2012.
  5. Queensland Health: Self- reported Health Status 2009-2010. Local government Area Summary Report. Brisbane; 2011
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