Given the rise in childhood obesity and known cultural shifts away from cooking, a review of cooking programs targeting elementary school children was conducted to understand program design and outcomes and to inform research gaps. This review assesses the evidence on childhood cooking programs and their association with changes in food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviors of school-aged children.

Researchers systematically searched PubMed, Ovid-Medline, and CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) databases. They included primary research articles that involved cooking education programs for children and searched reference lists for eligible articles. Studies considered for review contained a hands-on cooking intervention; had participants aged 5 to 12 years; were published in a peer-reviewed journal on or after January 1, 2003; and were written in English.

Findings suggest that cooking programs may positively influence children's food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviors. Researchers found that despite various differences in delivery, each program had a significant effect on one or more of its participants' food-related preferences, attitudes, and behaviors, although this finding could be attributed to publication bias. In studies that measured it, children's willingness to try fruits and vegetables significantly increased after the cooking intervention. Furthermore, participants' fruit and vegetable consumption, as reported by their parents, also significantly increased. In one case, these improvements were observed after only two cooking lessons. Although these short-term improvements are promising from a feasibility standpoint, repeated exposures are suggested to increase children's preference for fruits and vegetables. Longer programs can incorporate more cooking skills, provide in-depth nutrition education, and better incorporate a culture of wellness into the school, the community, or both.

The Impact of Cooking Classes on Food-Related Preferences, Attitudes, and Behaviors of School-Aged Children: A Systematic Review of the Evidence, 2003-2014, Derek Hersch, BS, Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, Preventing Chronic Disease, published 6 November 2014.