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Cooking skills blog 13: How can ‘significant others’ help (or hinder) the aims of your cooking skills course?

Our cooking skills study group recently met together and shared ideas about running effective cooking skills courses. One topic they discussed was the role of ‘significant others’ attending courses. That is (for example), family members attending with their child, or support workers attending alongside the person they support. Significant others can help (or hinder) the aims of your course both whilst attending your course and outside it.

Whilst attending your course, significant others can be a great source of help. They could:

  • provide one-to-one support, tailoring support to the participant’s needs
  • boost the participant’s confidence by providing positive feedback to them
  • be a positive role model, such as trying new foods alongside them and trying other people’s food (if this is what you do on the course) and being positive about these activities
  • support your evaluation activities (see cooking skills blog 12 for more information on this)

After the course, or between course sessions, the role of significant others is crucial, as they may spend more time with the participant than you do. They could:

  • remind participants to attend the course
  • carefully reiterate key messages from the course, e.g. about food safety, or eating better
  • reinforce learning by supporting or encouraging participants with shopping, menu planning, or preparing and adapting recipes from the course
  • boost the participant’s confidence and pride when cooking
  • consider encouraging them to prepare food for others or contribute to other food-related activities they might enjoy

Members of our cooking skills study group had various experiences of ‘significant others’ attending cooking courses. Less positive experiences included support workers discouraging participants and parents disagreeing with nutrition messages or suggesting their child won’t like certain foods (within the hearing of the child). Getting significant others on-board with the aims of the course or agreeing ground rules before it begins may help avoid these challenges – people may not always be aware of the impact of their behaviour.

Our cooking skills review carried out by Avril Blamey and Jacki Gordon in 2014 confirms the importance of the role of ‘significant others’, or anyone else who can positively ‘reinforce’ learning, skills and messages (see page 69) They also confirm that social norms (such as descriptive and subjective norms) may have a role to play in encouraging participants, for example:

  • Having peers/significant others provide positive feedback by tasting food and sharing meals made by the participant – i.e being a positive role model and encouraging others to be also.
  • Providing the participant with a certificate (or formal accreditation) for completing the course. (Thus providing further social approval from others).

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