Culinary efficacy: An exploratory study of skills, confidence, and healthy cooking competencies among university students

Douglas W. Murray, Meena Mahadevan, Kelsey Gatto, Kaitlyn O'Connor, Alexis Fissinger, Dylan Bailey, Eric Cassara

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Aims: This study was conducted to determine whether a group of college-age students in New Jersey, USA, had the requisite culinary skills, knowledge, and confidence to take personal control of their meal planning and production. The long-term threat to the public health systems posed by high rates of obesity among young adults in higher education institutions has garnered widespread attention across the world. Studies have shown that assuming personal responsibility over preparing and consuming food can play a key role in addressing the problem of poor nutrient intakes. Methods: Focus groups were conducted with students (N = 24) who fit the eligibility criteria of not having a university meal plan, and living independently at the time of the study (not with family members). The sessions were recorded, transcribed, and then coded into themes. Two trained research assistants tested the results and inter-rater reliability was confirmed. Results: Content analysis revealed three major themes: Health Perceptions, Life influences, and Barriers to Cooking and Eating Healthy. The students' comments indicated that while they had a basic knowledge of the key principles of eating a balanced diet, it may not have necessarily translated into actual food choices and cooking practices. Several students reported an overreliance on processed and prepared foods, and they consumed few fruits and vegetables. Conclusions: Factors such as lack of culinary knowledge and skill, financial instability, inadequate access to healthy food options, and other time/lifestyle constraints may have played a significant role in limiting their ability to prepare and consume healthy meals. The findings of this study highlight the importance of designing programmes with effective strategies to motivate and encourage college students to improve their food behaviours and practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-151
Number of pages9
JournalPerspectives in Public Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2016


  • culinary confidence
  • culinary skill
  • nutrition
  • public health
  • university students


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