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Should we teach cooking in schools? A systematic review of the literature of school-based cooking interventions

Caraher, M., Wu, M. & Seeley, A. (2010). Should we teach cooking in schools? A systematic review of the literature of school-based cooking interventions. Journal of the Home Economics Institute of Australia, 17(1), pp. 10-19.


This paper reports the findings from a systematic review of the impact of practical cooking initiatives in schools. We draw out recommendations that could inform home economics interventions in schools and evaluations thereof. A systematic search was undertaken for articles published between 1995 and January 2008; this was supplemented by hand searches. Studies were reviewed and classified on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 = highest quality) according to reported methodological quality of evidence provided.

Four papers were found that met the criteria for inclusion as evidence. The only intervention to be ranked as level 1 was one that delivered a mix of food and environment lessons (theory-based), practical cooking sessions, parental involvement and provision of plant-based foods at school lunch. Three studies met the level 2 standard of the review. One of these, based in the United States of America (USA), was a randomised control trial of an intervention over 6–8 weeks for low-income youth consisting of food tasting, fruit and vegetable preparation as well as other activities. The second was a one-group cohort, ‘before and after’ intervention that targeted ‘gypsy’ children in Bilbao, Spain. This involved school teachers, nutritionists and catering staff. Following intervention, 95% had increased knowledge scores, 60% reported preparing dishes made in the sessions at home, and increases in cooking confidence and consumption of fruit, vegetables, dairy and fish were also reported. The final study was an interactive computer-based intervention where pupils virtually prepared a fruit juice or vegetable recipe on a computer program and then prepared recipes for homework in their home kitchen. The results demonstrated an increase in post-test consumption, although this was associated with baseline consumption.

All the studies were short-term and none included long-term follow up so outcomes are not known. There is some evidence for an association between teaching cooking skills and improved nutrition knowledge, changing food preferences, increased confidence in cooking skills and healthier eating habits. However, while cooking lessons per se may positively affect consumption and attitude in the short-term, there was no long-term follow up and the review found very limited evidence on which to base policy.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management > Food Policy
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