Cooking skills are increasingly included in strategies to prevent and reduce chronic diet-related diseases and obesity. While cooking interventions target all age groups (Child, Teen and Adult), the optimal age for learning these skills on: 1) skills retention, 2) cooking practices, 3) cooking attitudes, 4) diet quality and 5) health is unknown. Similarly, although the source of learning cooking skills has been previously studied, the differences in learning from these different sources has not been considered. This research investigated the associations of the age and source of learning with the aforementioned five factors.
A nationally representative (Northern/Republic of Ireland) cross-sectional survey was undertaken with 1049 adults aged between 20-60 years. The survey included both measures developed and tested by the researchers as well as validated measures of cooking (e.g. chopping) and food skills (e.g. budgeting), cooking practices (e.g. food safety), cooking attitudes, diet quality and health. Respondents also stated when they learnt the majority of their skills and their sources of learning. The data was analysed using ANOVAs with post-hoc analysis and Chi(2) crosstabs with a significance level of 0.05.
Results showed that child (<12 years) and/or teen (13-18 years) learners had significantly greater numbers of, and confidence in, their cooking and food skills, cooking practices, cooking attitudes, diet quality (with the exception of fibre intake where adult learners were higher) and health. Mother was the primary source of learning and those who learnt only from this source had significantly better outcomes on 12 of the 23 measures.
This research highlights the importance of learning cooking skills at an early age for skill retention, confidence, cooking practices, cooking attitude and diet quality. Mother remained the primary source of learning, however, as there is a reported deskilling of domestic cooks, mothers may no longer have the ability to teach cooking skills to the next generation. A focus on alternative sources including practical cooking skills education starting at an early age is required. This study also highlights the need for further longitudinal research on the impact of age and source of learning on cooking skills.