Virtual cooking classes build community and promote health during COVID-19

Jul 9, 2021

Virtual cooking classes build community and promote health during COVID-19

Jul 9, 2021

After participating in UCCE's virtual Family Cook Night series, 60% of parents reported intention to not offer a treat as a reward for eating other foods and 80% would try new strategies for picky eaters, promoting healthy people and communities.

The Issue

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of life, including family, work, and education. The pandemic has exacerbated social inequalities, affected access to education for adults and youth and magnified food insecurity for children and families. Two US COVID-19 Impact Surveys indicated that 34.5% of households with a child ≤ 18 years old and 34.4% of households with children ≤ 12 years old were food insecure by end of April 2020. [2] 

How UC Delivers

As schools remained in distance learning, CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE in Santa Barbara County worked closely with principals and partners at two elementary schools to find innovative ways to support the health of youth and families during these unprecedented times. Meeting virtually with partners and youth, UCCE educators realized a need for programming that involved the whole family.

UCCE educators hosted two 4-class series of evening classes via Zoom with school leadership to meet this need. Families signed up through their respective schools and got access to the virtual classrooms through school computers and district Zoom rooms. Using the Healthy, Happy Families curriculum, the families learned about topics that promote healthful behaviors. These included how to involve youth in cooking and meal preparation and using words instead of food to praise positive behavior. Families also learned basic nutrition, food safety, and the current USDA dietary guidelines. Throughout each lesson, UCCE educators encouraged families to include their children in the cooking process by demonstrating tasks appropriate for varying levels of child development.

UCCE educators continued to strengthen partnerships with Santa Barbara Food Bank (SBFB), extenders, youth, and families in Santa Barbara County. Families utilized resources available in their homes and supplemental materials provided by the SBFB and UCCE staff. Educators created dynamic lessons that provided families with the opportunity to openly share their experiences, thoughts, and welcomed participation from all family members, including fathers and male guardians. Participation from men in these classes promoted gender equality, an essential step towards addressing the double burden of unpaid caretaking work that disproportionately impacts the health and well-being of women. [4] 


The Impact

After attending the classes, adult participants shared that they changed their approach to feeding their children to promote healthful behaviors. Pre- and post-course survey (n=64) results indicated that the proportion of parents or guardians who would not offer a treat as a reward for eating other foods increased from 36% to 60%. Additionally, the proportion of parents or guardians who indicated that they would offer food to their child rejected more than once increased from 36% to 80%. Overall, the Family Cook Nights Series was impactful, educators and families practiced cooking healthy recipes, promoted gender equality, and changed feeding habits to encourage healthful behaviors.

According to Jensen (2020), “besides a direct relation with higher intake of unhealthy foods, frequent use of food as a reward may also increase the risk of being overweight through long-term effects on eating behavior”. [3] This intervention fostered healthy behaviors as part of the UC ANR's commitment to promoting healthy people and communities.

When asked about the class series, one school principal remarked: "Our families enjoyed it and had fun. Cooking is community building. We appreciate the thoughtfulness of the food bank and CalFresh." -Liberty Elementary School Principal

1. Nalita James, Virginie Thériault. (2021) Reimagining community and belonging amid COVID-19. Studies in the Education of Adults 53:1, pages 1-3.
2. Bauer L. The COVID-19 crisis has already left too many children hungry in America. 2020. Accessed June 18, 2021
3. Jansen PW, Derks IPM, Mou Y, et al.Associations of parents' use of food as reward with children's eating behaviour and BMI in a population-based cohort. Pediatric Obesity. 2020;15:e12662. of 10 JANSEN ET AL.
4. Kate Power (2020) The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the care burden of women and families, Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 16:1, 67-73,


By Rosa Vargas
Author - Community Education Supervisor I
By Miguel Diaz
Author - UC CalFresh NEP Community Education Specialist 2
By Emily Dimond
By Shannon Klisch
Author - Academic Coordinator II