After attending a Teens Love Cooking summer series focused on nutrition and culinary skills, 83% of youth participants were more willing to try new foods and ask for them at home. The class helped reinforce their healthy eating habits and support their long-term health.
Collectively, Santa Maria-Bonita and Santa Maria Joint Union High school districts serve over 25,600 students, with more than half of the students qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals. While schools provide nutritious meals for students, teens, in particular, purchase fast food during non-mealtimes such as after school. Fast food meals are heavily targeted towards youth living in low-income neighborhoods and are typically high calorie foods that contain added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Furthermore, 52.1% of youth in Santa Barbara County reported eating fast food two or more times a week. Studies have indicated that children and adolescents who learn how to cook at a young age are more likely to adopt healthier eating practices that follow into adulthood. Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can help reduce the risk of diseases related to poor nutrition and weight management such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
How UC Delivers
To address this need, CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California Cooperative Extension in Santa Barbara County (UCCE) partnered with Santa Maria Recreation and Parks (SM R&P) to promote a Teens Love Cooking series to middle school and high school-aged youth throughout the city of Santa Maria. Additionally, SM R&P provided access to a full commercial kitchen, kitchenware, and storage space for program materials. With the support of a SM R&P staff member, UCCE staff met with students for two hours, twice a week over three weeks to teach various nutrition and cooking topics, including knife safety, how to follow a recipe, and how to cook a healthy meal using MyPlate as a guide. Additionally, participants put into practice what they learned by preparing recipes from the Cooking for Health Academy curriculum. As needed, recipes were modified to meet COVID-19 safety protocols when cooking in groups using Eat Fresh and Food Hero. Although some recipes needed to be simplified for COVID-19 safety, each participant was provided ample opportunities to practice and grow their food safety and culinary skills. Lastly, every student took home lesson and recipe information to reinforce the learning and to share with their families.
At the end of each session, youth were asked to complete the Teacher Tasting Tool, which measures how willing participants are to consume a particular target food again. After tasting a pizza on a whole wheat tortilla, eight (80%) out of 10 respondents reported that they were willing to eat it again. Additionally, after a separate session where participants tasted a fruit salad made with jicama, 15 (83%) of the 18 respondents reported they were both willing to eat it again and ask for it at home.
At the end of the class series, youth completed the “What Did You Learn” open-ended qualitative survey, which asks about changes in knowledge and behaviors. Ten youth responded to the survey, and for the question related to learning, the theme of improved knife skills and safety was reported most frequently, followed by reports related to increased nutrition knowledge, and increased knowledge of healthy food preparation. When asked about one thing that they do differently because of these classes, students responded with the theme of comfortability using a knife and preparing nutritious foods. When teens are confident in their culinary and nutrition skills, they are more likely to make healthier food choices. Overall, participants gained valuable life skills in culinary, food safety, and nutrition to support healthy choices to reduce the risk of diet related diseases which supports ANR's efforts to promote healthy people and communities.
“I really liked the Oatmeal Bites, so I made them at home for my family to taste”. - high school student