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Cooking Together as a Family has Multiple Rewards

Cooking Together for Family Meals (CTFM) involves the whole family in childhood obesity prevention.  CTFM was initiated by CCE nutrition educators in the Finger Lakes Region based on observations they made about family needs. 

The CCE educators observed that:  
1) nutrition program participants lacked knowledge and skills in vegetable preparation 
2) parents’ food decision-making behaviors can affect their child’s dietary risk factors for obesity 
3) there were no CCE nutrition programs targeting parents  and their children together

Photo credit: CCE Onondaga Co.

   Lyrick gains confidence in measuring and following a recipe

CCE educators and Division of Nutritional Sciences faculty worked together to develop this unique pilot project. In describing CTFM, Dr. Ardyth Gillespie, Associate Professor, Division of Nutritional Sciences, explains, “Based on the pilot testing, this program holds great potential for transforming families’ ways of thinking about vegetables and the time it takes for cooking together at home. As children get more involved in family food decision-making including preparation, some parents reported that now they view cooking time as quality time with their children instead of opting to eat out. Cooking together is one way families can actually accomplish their goals for healthy eating as they nurture their children.”

 How does the program work?

CTFM is a series of six weekly classes designed to help middle-school age children and their parents work together to prepare quick, healthy and low-cost vegetable –rich meals and enjoy eating them together.  These hands-on classes focus on adding a variety of vegetables such as dark leafy greens, winter squashes, cruciferous vegetables and beans to family meals.  The children develop cooking and food safety skills and parents gain confidence in their child’s abilities to help with food preparation.

Over the past three years, 98 families participated in this pilot program which enabled children to take on new roles in family food decision-making and preparation and developed a more positive child-parent relationship involving food related activities.

What are some of the outcomes?

Developing new skills and confidence are very important outcomes of CTFM.  On the last class of this series, participating adults reported large confidence increases in their capacity to:
·         include vegetables in meals (67% before vs. 98% after) 
·         adapt recipes (59% before vs. 94% after) 
·         cook cooperatively with their child (35% before vs 94% after)

CTFM provides an opportunity for building quality parent–child experiences. By the end of this program, 98% of participating adults enjoyed cooking as a family (with children) and 90% of participating children showed a definite interest in cooking compared to only 48% of adults and 40% of children respectively before participating in the program. One parent reported, “My son actually got up early before school and helped me chop carrots, potatoes, onions and broccoli for a stew I was preparing for dinner. We talked, and it was really enjoyable.”  

All things considered, what parent wouldn’t be excited about their child being more interested in food, meal planning and preparation? 

Educators and faculty plan to pursue the Cooking Together for Family Meals project which integrates research and outreach through a process called collaborative engaged research. For more information, contact Dr. Ardyth Gillespie, Associate Professor, Division of Nutritional Sciences or Holly Gump, CCE Finger Lakes Region Nutrition Coordinator.