COOK IT PROJECT
The community nutrition service in the HSE Mid Western Area has been running the Cook it! programme since 2006. ‘Cook it!’ is a six week nutrition education programme which aims to provide practical information on healthy eating and improve skills by showing participants ways to provide healthy, nutritious, low cost meals and snacks for their families.
The Cook it! Programme was developed by the Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland following research which showed that low income groups tended to eat less fresh fruit and vegetables, more processed meat products and more chips and roast potatoes than those on higher incomes.
Research has shown that poor nutrition in early childhood increases the risk of developing both coronary heart disease and obesity. Positively influencing the eating patterns of children has both short and long-term benefits for them and may also influence the eating patterns of the household in which they live. Research carried out in Northern Ireland identified the main barriers to healthy eating as being the cost of healthier foods, the length of time required to cook healthy meals, lack of will power and concern about a partner’s willingness to change. Other UK research has shown that food is often the only item with which families can balance their budgets. ‘Healthier’ food products (i.e. those which are higher in fibre, lower in fat, sugar and salt) are often more expensive than ‘less healthy’ alternatives; for example, wholemeal varieties of bread, pasta and rice cost more than their white counterparts and lean meats are more expensive than higher fat varieties.
Another important factor in food choice was whether the family would eat it. Partners and children have an important influence on the foods bought into a household. Those on lower incomes were reluctant to experiment with new foods and recipes in case they were not accepted by the family. If food was rejected and there was no back-up in the cupboard, the family would go hungry. Parents avoided variety and experimentation because of this, preferring to keep to ‘familiar’ foods which were guaranteed to ‘fill up’. For this reason, manufactured convenience foods were often seen as a good choice, because they were predictable, the number of servings was known and there was less wastage. Pre-packaged foods also tended to need less cooking and so saved on electricity and gas bills.
Research in Northern Ireland carried out with people living on low incomes also indicated that recipe information would help those who wished to make changes to their eating patterns. People wanted recipes for low cost, easily prepared dishes, which were based on easily accessible ingredients. They preferred variations to dishes already eaten by their children.
WHAT IS COOK IT!
‘Cook it!’ is a six week nutrition education programme which aims to provide practical information on healthy eating and improve skills by showing participants ways to provide healthy, nutritious, low cost meals and snacks for their families. It also puts the healthy eating guidelines into practice in an easy, relaxed and fun way. The healthy eating message to eat more fibre, eat less fat, sugar and salt is incorporated into all the dishes prepared and sampled during the course. Those taking part in ‘Cook It!’ learn from each other and get the chance to experiment with dishes that are quick and easy to prepare. At the end of a session food prepared may be eaten and enjoyed by adults and children alike.
The ‘Cook it!’ programme is suitable for use with a wide range of groups in the community, including the following:
- Women’s groups and men’s groups
- Older people in day care groups
- Residents in homeless hostels;
- Mother and toddler groups
- Young/ single parents;
- Teenagers and Youth clubs
- Young people leaving residential care