by Jeanne Petrucci, MS, RDN

Nutrition education is incomplete without experiential learning through interactions with food and cooking equipment. [Nelson, 2013]

I have always believed that a gap exists between what people know and what they practice.  Nutrition programs that have a culinary component can bridge this gap and allow individuals to apply their knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about nutrition to food preparation.  Lack of cooking skills, time constraints, and availability and relative low cost of prepared foods make it difficult for some to prepare healthy meals.  Could programs that develop cooking skills in addition to providing nutrition information improve eating habits and therefore have a lasting impact on health?  I believe so, but it is not my belief that we should rely on – research supports that culinary nutrition education is needed.

The general lack of cooking skills in today’s adult population is attributed to two factors.  First, there is a decline in transfer of cooking skills – if parents do not cook, children are not given the opportunity to observe and acquire those skills.  This transition away from cooking skill development has been identified in research as “deskilling” [Nelson et al, 2013]. Secondly, our population is increasingly engaging in time-saving behavior.  If prepared foods are readily available, convenient, and low-cost, making the choice to invest time in preparing our own meals becomes more difficult.  Available research suggests that an increase in cooking knowledge and skills can address these two factors and significantly improve healthful nutrient intake [Condrasky and Hegler, 2010].

If you’re looking to improve your health and the health of those around you, begin by assessing your cooking skills and nutrition knowledge.  Then, take action to improve yourself in these areas – take some cooking classes, read a nutrition-related book, purchase a good knife and cutting board, and find multiple sources for simple recipes.  Finally, practice, practice, practice! No need to be a Top Chef  – just keep it simple.  View these actions as an investment in your health and recognize that you are setting an example for future generations you touch everyday.