What Happens When Chef Lead Nutrition Education Programs in Schools?

2019-07-05

The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management

As the concern over children’s eating habits grows, research has suggested that hands-on food education programs are a promising strategy for encouraging a child’s interest in healthier eating. With their culinary education and passion for flavor, chefs can play an important role by leading classes and interventions.

One such initiative is the United Kingdom-based Chef’s Adopt a School (CAAS) evidence-focused education program, where a chef comes into the school to lead the sessions. The program was started in 1990. During these sessions, chefs follow a comprehensive lesson plan with the objectives of introducing children to fresh foods and cooking techniques—with an emphasis on a total-sensory experience.

So how effective are initiatives like CAAS? In the study “An Exploratory Case Study of a Food Education Program in the United Kingdom: Chefs Adopt a School,” published in the Spring 2019 edition of the Journal of Child Nutrition & Management, researchers investigated the underlying components that contributed to altering a child’s mindset toward healthy eating with a better understanding of how and why the program works.

By working with focus groups of children and analyzing one of the CAAS lessons “Taste and Sensory,” researchers were better able to understand the motivations of young children. Through observations and interviews with stakeholders, researchers identified three themes related to perceptions and experiences. These themes were Social Validity (the program was accepted); Pedagogies and Practices (learning is fun); and Championing Healthy Eating (harnessing whole school support). The children enjoyed the fruits and vegetables the most (especially radishes!) and wanted more lessons with the chef.

The researchers concluded that “specific components of the lesson were identified that contributed to achieving targeted program outcomes, thus encouraging children’s health eating attitudes and behaviors.” Programs like UK’s CAAS have been implemented across the globe. This small-scale study has wide applications in terms of understanding specific components of effective programs. “Food education programs like CAAS, delivered in school settings, can contribute to reducing an obesogenic environment,” the study states. “Nevertheless, such programs need to be delivered within a multi-system approach including the active involvement of individuals, families, and communities, as well as schools, to promote and embed nutritional literacy, encourage healthy food choices, and to avert the multiple health risks associated with poor dietary behaviors both current and long-term.”

To learn more about this study and others like it, and gain some ideas for your district, check out the Spring edition of JCN&M !

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