UC CalFresh & 4-H Cooking Academy in Yolo County

The Issue

Thirty three percent of children eat from a fast food restaurant daily, even though research has shown that food prepared at home is usually healthier, more economical and lower calorie. With more than one third of children overweight in the United States, healthy eating habits lower the risk of developing related chronic diseases which impact the physical, social, emotional and financial health of individuals and the country. Lack of cooking education in schools and homes are cited as a major factor for selecting fast food over home cooked meals. Thus, teaching students how to choose, prepare, and cook healthy foods is a priority for the UC CalFresh and 4-H Program in Yolo County. Cooking is a life skill that also increases self-efficacy in children and promotes independence, problem solving, family cohesion, and comprehension of abstract math, science and language skills.

What Has ANR Done?

The UC-CalFresh Nutrition Education Program in Yolo County has coordinated with 4-H to lead a new project, Cooking Academy, using the 4-H Cooking 101 series curriculum with elementary students from six different, ethnically diverse, low-income sites in Yolo County, California. The hands-on, experiential, skill-based program includes seven weeks of cooking and food safety instruction. Students learn basic nutrition information to plan meals, safely prepare and enjoy food, and try new foods like tofu, whole-wheat tortillas, and zucchini. Cooking Academy promotes the three pillars of dietary behavior change; skills, attitudes and knowledge. Students try new foods in delicious ways (attitudes), learn the skills needed to prepare fruits, vegetables, and other healthy items (skills) and increase food literacy around recipe reading and food preparation concepts (knowledge). This further shapes their eating behaviors by creating a healthy food environment at home for each student and their family. Overall, the program is on track to successfully graduate over 120 students by the end of spring 2016.

The Payoff

Young Chefs learn how to cook new and healthy foods

While learning to follow a recipe, there are opportunities to try foods from each MyPlate food group, such as zucchini (with 97% of students stating that they would eat it again). Among the various new foods prepared, students stated a willingness to ask for the food at home, (73% of students enjoyed whole wheat pasta and 94% enjoying blackberries). By introducing students to new foods like tofu, students increased the likability by 35% with willingness to eat the food at school. Formative testing showed increases in cooking at home, self-efficacy in trying new foods, washing hands before food preparation, and eating more than one fruit or vegetable at dinner. Further research is being planned.

Clientele Testimonial

“Because of this experience I love trying new things now”, “[I] use MyPlate to pick healthy meals”, “I learned how to cook new foods,” and “we become chefs!”


Supporting Unit: Capitol Corridor MCP

Yolo County
Bailey Rose, CE Nutrition Educator, barose@ucanr.edu
Angela Asch, CE Nutrition Educator, alasch@ucanr.edu
Marcel Horowitz, CE Youth Development & Nutrition, Family Consumer Science Advisor, mhorowitz@ucanr.edu