Can Home Ec Cure Obesity?

Experts argue that kids should be learning how to cook healthy, unprocessed food.

child in home ec class cooking
Can a home ec revival make a dent in our childhood obesity crises? (Photo: Echo/Getty Images)
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

The army of dieticians, politicians, pediatricians and everyone else who has been sounding the alarm on childhood obesity leans on an array of tools to make an impact. They’ve tried limits on marketing sugary foods to children, banning snacks and sweets at schools, revamping school lunch, or the most recent and controversial move by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, restricting soda sizes.

Everyone may not agree on the most efficient path to curb our nation’s serious and sobering childhood obesity epidemic, but many agree that an important link needed to fix the problem is related to our inability to cook for ourselves.

Despite the popularity of the Food Network and a slew of cooking shows, the most basic skills needed to create simple, healthful meals seem just beyond reach for too many adults and children.

But Torie Bosch over at Slate reminds us of a solution that’s been there all along: home ec.

“You could make the case that home ec is more valuable than ever in an age when junk food is everywhere, obesity is rampant, and few parents have time to cook for their children,” she writes. “Rather than training girls to be housewives, home ec today can teach students to cook for themselves after work once they reach adulthood. More immediately, kids can take what they learn and make easy, healthy meals when their parents are too busy working.”

We’re not the only ones who think the idea’s a winner. Robert Block, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told The Washington Post that he, too, would like to bring back home ec. Today, the class is usually labeled “family and consumer sciences,” but the premise is the same.

In the same way reading, writing and math are skills needed to maneuver through life, many would argue that there’s value in knowing how to dice an onion, mince garlic, shred zucchini, and realizing that oatmeal can be cooked on the stove and doesn’t always have to come out of a paper envelope premeasured and flavored.

This isn’t the first time that reviving home ec was raised as a solution. In a 2011 op-ed in The New York Times, author Helen Zoe Veit writes, “In the last decade, many cities and states have tried—and generally failed—to tax junk food or to ban the use of food stamps to buy soda. Clearly, many people are leery of any governmental steps to promote healthy eating.”

But what if we put the tools of obesity prevention into the hands of children, she asks.

The answer might just be nutritious vegetable soup, home-roasted chicken, or even just knowing how to assemble a salad and make homemade dressing—skills that offer a lifetime of sticking to ones ribs.

Should schools be responsible for teaching our kids to cook?

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