ESRC Virtual Festival – Kids in the Kitchen: Now we’re cookin’

Childhood obesity has reached global epidemic rates and can have a detrimental impact on a child’s physical and mental wellbeing, with both dietary behaviours and physical activity levels being implicated in its rise. We have highlighted the importance of children and adolescents learning cooking skills for diet quality and cooking can be used as one method for changing children’s food behaviours.

From a physical perspective, children may not be developing their motor skills (coordination of their muscle movements) at a normal rate, which may be influencing their physical activity levels. Children’s motor capacities are an additional element that we have been considering in our cooking research. We, along with our international collaborators, have been conducting novel initial research integrating different disciplines to understand what age children should be able to conduct the different cooking skills. From this research, we are creating scientifically underpinned recommendations for age-appropriate cooking skills for children.

Last year we conducted the first of its kind multidisciplinary children’s cooking camp in Belfast. ‘Cook Like A Boss’ was designed using a co-creative process including Home Economists, health researchers, human movement scientists, a chef and children. All recipes were broken down and mapped to children’s developmental skills to ensure they were age-appropriate and achievable for the children.

The camp was extremely effective in improving children’s perceived cooking competence. This is an important factor as perceived competence has been shown to be a predictor for behaviour and increasing perceived competence may lead to an increase in the behaviour, i.e. cooking in this case. An additional indicator of the success of the camp was the children’s reaction to the camp, with 100% of children finding the camp enjoyable or extremely enjoyable and wanting to take part in a similar camp again. However, one interesting finding from the camp was that children who took part in the camp actually reduced their levels of agreement that one of their favourite parts of cooking was spending time with a parent.

In our adult research, we have found that parents are nervous about having children in the kitchen and that their busy schedules mean they have limited time to include their children in everyday meal preparation. We were not able to run our camps this year due to COVID-19 and funding.

COVID-19 has led to a lot more people working from home and looking for ways to entertain their children. So this could be a great opportunity to try some cooking with your children and we have just the event to get you started!

As part of the ESRC NI Festival of Social Science, we are providing access to a pre-recorded parent-child cooking class being led by Chef Jeffers from Forestside Cookery School. You and your child can be part of our investigation to see whether an online class can be used to increase children’s cooking competence. And your child has the chance to submit an entry to win a Children’s Cooking party for 12 children at Forestside Cookery School as well as lots of other prizes.

Sign up now to get access to the class and take part in this exciting study. The recording will be available from 7-15 November.

Dr Fiona Lavelle is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, leading international multidisciplinary research in children cooking. You can follow her on twitter.

Photo by severyanka is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

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