Review of Cooking Literacy in New Zealand

Vegetables.co.nz commissioned Delvina Gorton to undertake a review of the cooking literacy in New Zealand. The Executive Summary follows: To read the full report click here

There are many indicators that cooking literacy is on the decline in New Zealand and internationally. Cooking was once part of the school curriculum and this, along with parental instruction, were the main ways children learned to cook. Cooking literacy is no longer part of the curriculum, and family structures have changed resulting in less opportunity for acquiring cooking literacy. As youth transition into adulthood, they often lack the essential and basic life skill of cooking their own meals.

A lack of cooking literacy in a household lessens food choices and creates reliance on ready-prepared and fast food. This is associated with poor nutrition and has adverse immediate and long-term health effects. For children, poor nutrition limits their ‘opportunity to learn’, increases their risk of overweight and obesity, and places them at higher risk of long-term adverse health outcomes. This in turn impacts on educational attainment, quality of life, income, and productivity and places a strain on our health system.

Although the evidence on cooking literacy programmes is not high quality, it has consistently suggested the efficacy of such programmes to improve cooking ability and cooking confidence in children and youth. This in turn has been associated with better diet quality. When assessed, most cooking literacy interventions seem to improve some aspect of diet, such as preference or intake of vegetables. Longer-term health outcomes have rarely been assessed, although there is some indication of a positive benefit on body weight. Furthermore, improved cooking skills may lessen the impact of food poverty, which is experienced by one in five New Zealand households. Taken together, evidence supports the potential of cooking literacy to influence factors that impact on health, educational outcomes, and obesity. Creating change in the underlying factors could potentially minimise burden on the health system and support a productive and engaged workforce.

In essence, if we are going to ask people to learn about healthy eating and make healthy choices then we must ensure they have the skills and ability to follow through. Developing the ability to prepare healthy meals will empower our children and youth to be able to access and enjoy a nutritious diet within their own budgetary, cultural, social and time constraints over their lifetime. The school curriculum is the most appropriate place to teach and develop cooking literacy skills as it reaches all children and provides cross-curricular learning. The New Zealand Medical Association has called for it to be a statutory requirement that all schools provide food skills including cooking and growing food.