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Cooking Classes with Elementary School Children

By Hannah Jastram, Communications Associate 

Extension Educator Laura Perdue knows how to review literature.

Last week an article on a literature review conducted by Laura and three colleagues was published in the November issue of Preventing Chronic Disease, a journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Laura was second author on the article titled "The Impact of Cooking Classes on Food-Related Preferences, Attitudes, and Behaviors of School-Aged Children: A Systematic Review of the Evidence, 2003-2014."

Laura and her colleagues did the literature review because of her involvement with a program called Food Explorers™ — a school-based cooking curriculum to encourage kindergarten and first grade students to eat more healthy foods. Food Explorers trains parent and graduate student volunteers to introduce new recipes featuring fruits and vegetables in classrooms in four Twin Cities-area schools.

The four study authors wanted to know what the evidence was in regard to best practices in cooking education for elementary school kids. They wanted to learn how factors like dose, frequency, and format affected health outcomes or behaviors in this population.

The literature review team looked at published findings about cooking programs offered across the country to children age 5-12 between 2003 and 2014 — focusing on outcomes related to children’s food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as food intake. They found only eight studies that met these criteria.

“Overall, the findings show that cooking programs may have a positive influence on the outcomes of interest,” Laura says. “However, with only eight studies that all looked at different outcomes, there isn't enough evidence to come to any strong conclusion. Our article calls for more research on cooking programs for kids to determine the best practices for reaching this audience.”

At the same time, Laura supports continuing to conduct cooking classes with elementary school-aged students, as the Food Explorers™ program does. Food Explorers™ was developed about two years ago by Laura’s previous employer, the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. Last May, FD’s Health and Nutrition Program staff collaborated with the foundation, as well as the University’s School of Public Health and School of Nursing to apply for an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant to expand the Food Explorers program and conduct a study to determine the impact of the program.

The article in the CDC journal also highlights the important role students and interns can play in the research and publication process. “I have to mention that we had an intern, Derek Hersch, who really did a lot of the work on this article,” Laura says. “He and I were the main reviewers and determined which articles met the inclusion criteria, and independently rated the strength of each article, [and] then compared scores. He did the majority of the writing, and this article would not have gotten done if it wasn't for him.” Read the full article here.

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