RaVE After-School Cooking Programs Boost Produce Consumption

We all know that eating more fruits and veggies is good for us and RaVE after-school programs are working to make this happen.

  • In this last quarter 77 students at five schools participated in weekly after school cooking clubs or semester long weekly cooking classes during the school day.
  • 629 fresh and tasty balanced meals were prepared and eaten
  • A diverse group of students participated in with 39 percent indicating they were Black or African American, 19 percent Asian, and 10 percent Pacific Islander.

Program learning objectives focused on increasing skills useful in preparing fresh vegetables.  Students showed increases in these skills with the greatest increase in safely using a knife.

A big goal of the cooking program is to promote long term increases in students’ intake of fresh vegetables and whole grains. Over a three day period an individual typically might eat green vegetables or a salad or both at 1 -2 meals a day, usually lunch or dinner.  After participating in the classes students reported a 16 percent increase in eating a green salad once each day.

Other results in comparing what the students reported eating at the end of the cooking club compared to the start of cooking club were:

  • A 19% increase in eating vegetables such as carrots, squash, or broccoli at least once a day in the past three days
  • An 18% increase in drinking water at meals more than once a day

A program coordinator observed that students in the cooking program more often selected fresh vegetables at lunch or snack time than did non-particpating students.

One student said she learned “vegetables aren’t that gross.”  Another said they “like being independent in learning how to cook their own food”.  Other students thought the freedom and creativity was the best part of the class.

In the coming school year we will be continuing to evaluate how these programs promote healthy habits; stay tuned!

There is some support for the view that the middle school students might be more likely to accept and share ideas about preparing and eating healthy food with their families. This comes from the result in the January- March analysis when more middle school students completed the post-participation questionnaires and the result was that 86 percent reported they were eating a balanced meal at home at least three times a week which increased from 66 percent before participating in cooking club.

Another interpretation is that the teens may not exert input into their families’ patterns of preparing food, so they were being honest in reporting that their families were not fixing and eating a balanced meal for dinner or cooking food that is baked or steamed more often. The related implication is that if the RaVE program continues to engage the youth in healthy ways to cook food along with introducing green and root vegetables for the youth to take home, then the participants may be more likely to prepare and healthy balanced meals more often and to report this positive behavior change.

Limitation in analysis– Despite efforts taken to try to increase the numbers of participants completing a post-questionnaire, no final class questionnaire responses were obtained from one group of middle school students and another group of high school students who were regular attendees in cooking classes. This reduced the total number of participants included in the analysis and also highlighted that the attendance pattern among some of the after school participants is variable. Some students chose not to attend for weeks and then attended in the last 2-3 weeks of the after school sessions.  This suggests that some of the respondents answering the post-questionnaires might have had a brief time in cooking class and their responses did not represent attendance for a sufficient duration and exposure to the healthy eating content so as to elicit a change in behavior.