Cooking Confidence and Your Health

October 28, 2009

About 10% of those in the United Kingdom say that not knowing how to cook limits their food choices, and a new Australian study suggests that this lack of knowledge could contribute to socioeconomic dietary differences.

About 10% of those in the United Kingdom say that not knowing how to cook limits their food choices, and a new Australian study suggests that this lack of knowledge could contribute to socioeconomic dietary differences. 

Researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Herston, Australia interviewed 426 randomly selected households in Brisbane to examine the connection between confidence to cook, sociodemographic characteristics and household vegetable purchasing. They found that kitchen confidence was strongly linked to household purchasing habits of healthier foods.

The lack of cooking confidence was more common among less educated consumers. Lack of confidence in preparing vegetables was more prevalent among men and those with lower education and household income levels. In contrast, households with confident chefs tended to buy more vegetables. Confident chefs were also more likely to be older, and living with at least one other adult or at least one minor.

Interestingly, while similar studies in Ireland and the UK found an inverse association between cooking confidence and education level and income, some studies in the U.S. did not, perhaps owing to differences in populations and study measurements. In fact, one U.S. study found that young adults in a lower socioeconomic group actually help out more in the kitchen than those that are more well off. However, in this study, when vegetable purchasing and preparation was examined specifically, the results were more revealing.

Substantially fewer vegetables were purchased regularly in households where the person doing most of the cooking had less confidence to prepare vegetables. And households that purchased a greater variety of vegetables did so more frequently when the household chef was female, older and had greater confidence to prepare food. Educational differences were more pronounced than those differences based on income.

Study co-author Dr. Elisabeth Winkler, from the Centre for Health Research and Public Health at Queensland University, says that lower socioeconomic position (SEP) as measured by a number of markers, including education and income, has been associated with several poorer health behaviors. Therefore, she says, the relationships between SEP and cooking confidence could be a cycle, whereby a lack of exposure to a variety of vegetables could lead to the development of fewer skills and less confidence, which in turn affects food choices, and so on.

“It is possible that people with less education may have learned fewer nutrition and food skills through the education system, through self-directed learning, and from parents, which may explain the link between education, purchasing and confidence to cook,” says Winkler.
“The more education you have, the more confidence you have in general, about yourself and your abilities,” says Bethany Thayer, National Media Spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and a Registered Dietitian for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. “Confidence about past successes might make you more willing to try a new recipe or a new fruit or vegetable.”

Other studies have shown that men, those in lower socioeconomic groups and younger adults tend to have a lower intake of fruits and vegetables, as compared with their female, higher socioeconomic, older counterparts. Along those same lines, this study found that, in general, men and those with low socioeconomic status lacked the confidence to prepare vegetables. Interestingly, those living with minors were less likely to lack cooking confidence than those living alone.

“As a parent, you feel responsible for your children and you may be more willing to step out of your comfort zone to make sure that your kids are happy and healthy. That desire can translate into buying more fruits and vegetables,” says Thayer. “Also, when children learn about nutrition at school, they often talk about what they’ve learned with their parents. The goal here would be to inspire parents to then go out and buy a variety of fruits and vegetables to cook with.” 

Ultimately, says Thayer, cooking confidence is greatly influenced by general exposure to a food. Consumers that live in areas with limited access to a large variety of fruits and vegetables are more likely to lack the needed preparation knowledge, and lacking this knowledge can decrease kitchen confidence. Thankfully, though, retailers are in the perfect position to help.

“Retailers can make the shopping environment more conducive to increasing cooking confidence by having a variety of fruits and vegetables available in store, providing recipes and demonstrations, and allowing customers to sample items. Utilizing these different styles of learning can encourage customers to expand their menus and cooking styles,” says Thayer.

Winkler adds, “Food retailers and manufacturers have several opportunities to promote confidence in the kitchen – such as very simple point-of-purchase information, recipes and in-store demonstrations – and this might flow on to greater purchasing of a variety of vegetables. The moderate success of cooking skills interventions tends to suggest that helping people to become more confident and capable in the kitchen may improve their buying and eating habits.”


This article is from the most recent issue of Food, Nutrition & Science.

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