Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and self-efficacy among Canadian children

Given the rising prevalence of childhood obesity, an understanding of the influences driving food choices in children is essential. There is evidence in the literature to suggest that involving children in food-related activities can promote the development of healthier dietary habits. Incorporating a hands-on approach in health promotion offers an opportunity for children to try, and enjoy a variety of foods while fostering increased self-efficacy in the selection of healthier food options.

Currently, the complex mechanism behind the association of participation in meal preparation activities and dietary intake is not well described. As higher fruit and vegetable (F&V) preference and self-efficacy have previously been shown to be associated with higher F&V intake in children, these factors can be potential mediators in the relationship between involvement in meal preparation activities and F&V intake.

A survey conducted in Canada in a population of children in Grade 5

Raising healthy Eating and Active Living Kids in Alberta (REAL Kids Alberta) is a population-based survey of Grade 5 children (age 10-11 years). The REAL Kids Alberta evaluation aims to assess the impact of the provincial government’s Healthy Weights Initiative and to measure behavioral and health outcomes among Albertan children. We used data collected as a part of the survey in this analysis, where the purpose is to determine the associations between frequency of involvement in home meal preparation and 1) F&V preference, and 2) self-efficacy for selecting healthy foods. A total of 3,398 children participated in the survey.

An assessment of preferences for F&L and autonomy

F&V preferences were determined using aggregate scores calculated based on responses to a question where children were asked how much they liked a variety of F&V. Similarly, a self-efficacy score was calculated based on child responses to questions asking them how confident they were in selecting healthy foods in various situations. Multilevel regression models were used to test for associations between frequency of involvement in home meal preparation, F&V preference, and self-efficacy.

Strong involvement in the preparation of meals is associated with a strong preference for F&L

Among surveyed children, 30% reported helping with home meal preparation at least once daily, while 12.4% never helped. Higher frequency of helping with home meal preparation was associated with higher preferences for both F&V. This positive influence on F&V preference can lead to a subsequent increase in F&V intake. In addition, meal preparation activities allow for family interaction, and can present an important opportunity for healthy eating patterns and food preferences to be modeled and developed.

A Child involved in home meal preparation is more likely to select healthy foods

Children who reported higher frequency of involvement also had higher self-efficacy for selecting healthier foods. This finding is consistent with previous research indicating that involving children in food-related tasks could lead to skill building while increasing a child’s confidence in their ability to perform these tasks.

To increase the confidence and independence

The results of this analysis suggest that encouraging children to be involved in food preparation activities could be a viable approach in health promotion programs where such activities can be used to enhance the effectiveness of nutrition education. For example, providing parents with practical advice on ways to involve their children in meal preparation activities could be included as a part of efforts to promote healthy dietary behaviors at home.

BASED ON: Chu YL, Farmer A, Fung C, Kuhle S, Storey KE and Veugelers PJ. Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and
self-efficacy among Canadian children. Public Health Nutrition 2012 May 11:1-5 [epub ahead of print]