According to a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, teens who cook are most likely to eat more nutritiously as adults.
Project EAT is a study that aims to find key nutritional eating habits in young people. Researchers from the University of Minnesota collected data from 2002 in which teenagers and young adults in their early 20s were given a survey on their cooking abilities. At the time, the participants were anywhere from 18 to 23 years old. In 2015 and 2016, all of those people were in their mid and late-30s and were given a follow-up on their current eating and cooking habits as adults. They were asked everything from how they perceive their own cooking skills to how much they eat vegetables, and how often they eat fast food.
What the study uncovered is that the people who perceived their cooking skills the strongest as teens now prepare more meals with vegetables, eat less fast food, and even eat meals more frequently with family. “One fourth of participants described their cooking skills as very adequate at 18–23 years, with no statistically significant differences by sociodemographic characteristics,” the report says. “Reports of very adequate cooking skills at age 18–23 years predicted better nutrition-related outcomes 10 years later, such as more frequent preparation of meals including vegetables (P < .001) and less frequent fast food consumption (P < .001).” Neither sex, ethnicity, levels of education, or age in either the initial survey or the new one were found to have an effect on the subjects’ perceptions of their cooking skills.
“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 Jennifer Utter, Ph.D., MPH, of the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, who was the lead author of the study. “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.”
"Families, health and nutrition professionals, educators, community agencies, and funders can continue to invest in home economics and cooking education knowing that the benefits may not be fully realized until young adults develop more autonomy and live independently," Utter added.
So for anybody wondering when and how to start teaching children or teens to cook, according to the BBC, it’s almost never too early. As toddlers, they point out that three to five-year-olds are in a stage of wanting to help, meaning if they take an interest at lending a hand when their parents are in the kitchen, it’s a good opportunity to accept their help with small tasks. Their curiosity can be fed with simple tasks like mixing ingredients, washing vegetables, or even just mashing potatoes. This type of familiarity around the kitchen can lead to a lifetime of healthier eating when they become adults, making the extra bit of attention given to them well worth it.