What difference does learning food and cooking skills make? A mixed-methods study evaluating a community food and cooking skills programme

Anne Larvin

ABSTRACT

Background:

This study evaluated a cooking skills project in a city with high health deprivation. Increased convenience food availability, and changing lifestyles have led to a loss of cooking skills, with potentially poorer dietary choices linked to obesity and chronic diseases. Against this background, Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food course ran as an outreach pilot programme, aiming to attract high-risk groups. Evaluation of the effectiveness of such projects has previously been inconsistent.

Aim:

To determine whether, and to what extent, changes occurred in participants’ knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes to cooking ‘from scratch’ together with dietary implications following a 10-week cooking skills course.

Methodology:

Using mixed methodology, quantitative data was obtained from two questionnaires: Q1 at course commencement, and Q2 at course completion. Enquiry was made regarding socioeconomic background. Responses were coded and entered into a statistical programme SPSS– 19 for subsequent analysis. Qualitative data, from Q2 and interviews 10-12 weeks post-course, were thematically analysed and triangulated with quantitative results.

Results:

88/138 baseline participants completed both questionnaires and 25/88 attended for interview. Sociodemographic profiles demonstrated that courses attracted low-income people living in health-deprived areas. A higher proportion of participants reported knowing how to follow a healthy, balanced diet at course completion (p<0.05). Increased/new cooking skills enabled greater dietary variety and vegetable consumption with benefits extending to family meals. Increased cooking from scratch (p<0.0001), reduced ready-meal consumption (p<0.05) and greater frequency of cooking with fresh ingredients (p<0.05) were reported. Perceived barriers including time, cost, food access, ability to follow a recipe, lack of cooking confidence were significantly reduced. The cost of ‘healthy’ food remained a barrier to a significant minority of participants.

Conclusion:

This evaluation demonstrated that this cooking skills course contributed to reducing dietary behaviour-induced health deprivation through significant, identifiable changes to knowledge, behaviour and attitudes to cooking ‘from scratch’.