Teens That Cook Eat More Nutritiously as Adults, Says Study
By: Julie Hand
Fewer people are cooking at home than in previous generations, turning instead to convenience options like fast food. But getting kids into the kitchen could change this. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that honing cooking skills as a teen has long-term health and nutrition benefits.
Cooking as a teen predicts nutritional well-being later in life
Researchers from the University of Minnesota collected data from Project EAT, a longitudinal study that aims to identify key eating patterns in young people.
The first survey in 2002 asked participants — young adults between the ages of 18 and 23 — about their cooking abilities. The follow-up questionnaire, more than a decade later, quizzed the participants, now in their early to mid-thirties, about their eating habits, including their perceived adequacy of cooking skills, how often their meals included vegetables, how frequently they ate meals as a family, and how often they ate fast food.
Most participants perceived their cooking skills to be adequate in their teens, while one quarter felt their skills improved by adulthood. Neither sex, ethnicity, educational attainment, nor age played a role in perceived cooking skills.
People with cooking skills eat more veggies, consume less fast food, and dine more with family
The study found that those who perceived their cooking skills as adequate when they were younger prepared more meals with vegetables most days and consumed fast food less frequently. As grown-ups, those with families ate more frequently with their family members, consumed fewer fast food meals, and were more adept in the kitchen.
“The impact of developing cooking skills early in life may not be apparent until later in adulthood when individuals have more opportunity and responsibility for meal preparation,” says lead author Jennifer Utter, PhD, MPH, of the University of Auckland, in New Zealand. “The strength of this study is the large, population-based sample size followed over a period of 10 years to explore the impact of perceived cooking skills on later nutritional well-being.”
How to get your children cooking savvy
Here are some ways to get your kids comfortable in the kitchen:
- Start them young. Get your toddler mixing and stirring, using their hands, and participating in what they will eat. Chances are they will eat more if they’ve participated in the cooking process.
- Allow kids to pick out food at the market. Having a say can get kids excited about food — even vegetables.
- Prep and cook dinners together. Bonding with your children in the kitchen is one way to bring a little love into the equation.
- Prepare their own lunches. Get your kids into the habit of food preparation and planning by packing their own food.
- Get your kids interested in tasty nutrition. Encourage them to learn about what they eat and how they fuel their bodies.
- Assign your children, especially teenagers, one night to cook a meal. With the right attitude, this will feel like a treat for kids.
There’s hope for adults who don’t cook
If you’re an adult who feels you’ve missed out because your cooking skills aren’t up to par, there’s hope yet:
Start with basic ingredients and simple recipes. It’s as easy as this:
- Buy a bag of frozen green beans (no prepping, no cutting).
- Douse with salt, lemon juice, and avocado oil (no measuring, no mixing).
- Go with an easy, delicious, and nutritious ground beef recipe.
- Voila! You have your first meal.
Cook with a skilled friend. Offer to buy groceries in exchange for cooking lessons. You’ll have a social, fun night together and bond over a meal in equal exchange.
Pick a few of your favorite recipes and cycle through them. This gets you into the habit of cooking and minimizes the number of decisions you have to make, which makes learning how to cook easier and more enjoyable.
Enroll in a cooking class. If you live in an urban area, it’ll likely be easy to find a class near you. Go with a friend or even with your children if you want to encourage their skills.
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