Test + Learn

Question: Can a hands-on cooking experience lead to healthier eating outcomes for children?


Problem: In 1998 Food Education was not secure in schools; not all children were being taught basic cooking techniques and nutrition. Food teaching was driven by the dogma of technology and the so-called ‘design’ process relating mainly to food processing, promotion and to commercial manufacturing.

Partners: The Campaign was originally founded in 1998 by Anita Cormac OBE in partnership with the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce).  Over the years Focus on Food worked with hundreds of partners including the Scottish Government.

Approach: Focus on Food explored ways of raising the profile and importance of Food Education and on the making and cooking of food as the key experience in learning about the social importance of food. The ‘Focus on Food’ initiative was developed to support schools and communities to run hands-on cooking training sessions, providing resources, equipment and inspirational Cooking Bus visits. To initiate change the organisation created Focus on Food’s Cooking Buses. These large bespoke, expandable, articulated vehicles opened out into a state-of-the-art full sized teaching kitchens.

The Cooking Buses enabled the Focus on Food ‘culture’ and inspiring teaching methods to be transported throughout the country. At the project’s height there were five Cooking Buses operating across England, Scotland and Wales.

The Healthier Scotland Cooking Bus programme was adopted predominantly by individuals who demonstrated problematic dietary lifestyle behaviours, which contribute to chronic health conditions and can place a substantial strain to NHS services. Adopters and Completers of the Cooking Bus programme were largely from low income, hard to reach segments of the population

Findings: Over the years the Focus on Food Campaign, through the Cooking Buses, partnerships and lobbying, made a great impact on the thinking and attitude of Government Ministers, MPs, educationalists, teachers and the general pubic towards the necessity of schools teaching young people to cook. Practical cooking is now on the primary curriculum.

Independent evaluation of the Healthier Scotland Cooking Bus programme by Leeds Metropolitan University concluded that delivering a practical cooking component into a nutrition programme can have a positive and powerful effect on increasing aspects of nutrition knowledge and raising confidence in cooking skills and abilities across all target populations. Evaluation suggested that participants from low income backgrounds benefited from the programme, it encouraged healthy food choices and provided steps towards moderating the health inequality gap in Scotland.

Researchers at the Universities of Reading, West of England, Bristol and Cardiff reported positive effects on the sustainability of the teaching model, the confidence and skills of both teachers and children and found that the programme had acted as a catalyst for change within schools.