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Identifying the recipe for success: Can a new cooking class in a community health center increase participation in existing center programs and build core skills to decrease food insecurity among low-income patients?

The project: Evidence suggests that teaching cooking skills can help people better manage food insecurity by teaching them how to better reduce food waste, budget and plan meals, and cook healthy meals with inexpensive ingredients. In this research partnership between Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS) in Detroit, the University of Michigan Medical School and the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, team members collaboratively developed and piloted a new cooking skills intervention. The project aimed to:

  • Understand financial barriers, skill deficits, and preferences associated with cooking meals at home among CHASS patients living in poverty.
  • Develop a new cooking skills intervention to address food insecurity.
  • Implement and evaluate the pilot cooking class.

The process: The research team held four focus groups with CHASS patients before the cooking class pilot, and those findings helped determine the content and structure of the cooking skills intervention. The team hosted six cooking classes at CHASS, with a total of 45 participants, and they conducted 12 follow-up interviews with participants a few months after the cooking class to gather feedback on the experience.

Results: Focus group results described challenges that CHASS patients face when it comes to food procurement and preparation, clear differences in food practices based on different demographics CHASS serves, and strong interest from participants in cooking classes and food-related support groups offered by CHASS. Initial results from the pre/post surveys of the cooking class show participants had significant improvement in cooking confidence, cooking with new ingredients, and managing food waste. Initial findings from the follow-up interviews indicate that participants enjoyed the classes, particularly the hands-on participation; felt that they learned new skills that would help them both eat healthfully and better utilize food resources; and that they were cooking the recipes and using the incentives at home.

Julia A. Wolfson, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Caroline Richardson, Dept. of Family Medicine, U-M Medical School
Richard Bryce, Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS)
Denise Pike, Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS)