Cooking interventions have the potential to improve child diet quality because cooking involvement is associated with positive changes in dietary behavior. Researchers at the University of Illinois and Colorado State University recently led a study looking at how accurate certain measures are in predicting the overall diet quality in kids who were participating in a cooking program. The results are published in BMC Nutrition.

The researchers collected information using 24-hr food recalls, in which 101 fourth-grade students recalled over the phone—twice over a 2–4-week period—what they had eaten over that 24-hr period. They also completed surveys about their food preferences and their cooking attitudes and cooking self-efficacy (i.e., how confident individuals are in their ability to cook).

Typically, this information is collected before and after the course of the intervention program. For this study, however, the researchers only collected information before to see how valid the measures were in predicting Healthy Eating Index (HEI) scores in the children who would be participating in a cooking program. For the study, they focused on four parts of the HEI: the whole fruit component, the total vegetables component, the greens and beans component, and the empty calories component.

The researchers found that valid, low-cost, and easy-to-administer measures of kids’ vegetable preferences and cooking attitudes did predict diet quality. The results also provide further evidence that cooking is associated with better dietary behavior, and of the importance of cooking intervention programs for kids. They found that the vegetable preference scores in particular were related to target outcomes in terms of the HEI. 

Overall, the researchers say the study emphasizes the importance of shaping children’s food preferences, especially when it comes to vegetable preferences because those are predictive of diet quality. “We should use cooking as way of doing that, because cooking independent of vegetable preference, also appears to play a role in promoting diet quality,” said Melissa Plugh Prescott, assistant professor of school and childhood foods and nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at University of Illinois.


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