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Cook It Up! A community-based cooking program for at-risk youth: overview of a food literacy intervention

Heather MC Thomas12* and Jennifer D Irwin2

  • * Corresponding author: Heather MC Thomas

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Middlesex-London Health Unit, 50 King Street, London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 5L7

2 The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 5B9

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:495  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-495

Published: 15 November 2011



In Canada, there are limited occasions for youth, and especially at-risk youth, to participate in cooking programs. The paucity of these programs creates an opportunity for youth-focused cooking programs to be developed, implemented, and evaluated with the goal of providing invaluable life skills and food literacy to this potentially vulnerable group. Thus, an 18-month community-based cooking program for at-risk youth was planned and implemented to improve the development and progression of cooking skills and food literacy.


This paper provides an overview of the rationale for and implementation of a cooking skills intervention for at-risk youth. The manuscript provides information about the process of planning and implementing the intervention as well as the evaluation plan. Results of the intervention will be presented elsewhere. Objectives of the intervention included the provision of applied food literacy and cooking skills education taught by local chefs and a Registered Dietitian, and augmented with fieldtrips to community farms to foster an appreciation and understanding of food, from 'gate to plate'. Eight at-risk youth (five girls and three boys, mean age = 14.6) completed the intervention as of November 2010. Pre-test cooking skills assessments were completed for all participants and post-test cooking skills assessments were completed for five of eight participants. Post intervention, five of eight participants completed in-depth interviews about their experience.


The Cook It Up! program can provide an effective template for other agencies and researchers to utilize for enhancing existing programs or to create new applied cooking programs for relevant vulnerable populations. There is also a continued need for applied research in this area to reverse the erosion of cooking skills in Canadian society.