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- New Report Sheds Light on the Abilities and Barriers That Youth Face to Preparing Healthy Foods -

There is plenty to digest in a new Health Unit report that looks at how young people can improve their ‘food literacy’ skills so they are better able to prepare healthy meals.

The newly-released Making Something Out of Nothing: Food Literacy for Life report finds many local youth, and others across Ontario, have a good understanding of food basics and an appetite to learn more skills. However, the report notes that a youth’s knowledge, experience, planning, time, income, housing and access to cooking facilities can affect their skills in the kitchen and the types of food they prepare for meals.

The report also provides recommendations on how health units, schools and community groups can help youth improve their food literacy skills in order to overcome the appeal of eating processed ‘convenience’ foods that are readily available, more expensive and often unhealthy.

“We often think of literacy skills in school, but literacy in the kitchen is just as important,” says Elsie Azevedo, co-author of the report and a Registered Dietitian with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit. “Food literacy boils down to young people having the skills, understanding, confidence and supports in place to make healthy and tasty meals for themselves and their families. Food literacy can include understanding food labels, following recipes, or having the time, income and motivation to make healthy meals.”

Through funding from Public Health Ontario, the HKPR District Health Unit partnered with seven other Ontario health units to conduct the research. In-depth interviews were conducted with 85 young people in Northumberland County, City of Kawartha Lakes, Chatham-Kent, Sudbury, London, Windsor, Hamilton and the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Participants were either teens aged 16 to 19, or young parents and pregnant women aged 16 to 25 years. All were at risk of poor health or faced potential barriers to healthy eating.

Researchers were impressed by the basic skills that many youth had for preparing healthy foods, says Azevedo, and their resilience to “make something out of nothing,” a catchphrase that became the title of the food literacy report. “We were quite pleased to see many youth possessed basic food knowledge, but that outside factors often held them back from preparing healthy foods,” she notes.

Other key findings in the Making Something Out of Nothing food literacy report include:

  • Youth want to learn hands-on food skills at school or community-based cooking programs. Online learning was less popular.
  • “Knowing what’s in it” was the most common reason cited by youth for making their own meals.
  • Preparing food for others, or for their children, was a great a source of pride and satisfaction.
  • Confidence in the kitchen was higher among those who learned earlier in life.
  • Many young people never used recipes and valued the ability to improvise

In its recommendations, the report suggests: health units do more to build and coordinate food literacy programs, schools incorporate food literacy into classroom curriculum, and agencies provide more cooking programs in communities. There is also a call to advocate for more affordable housing and community kitchen facilities to break down barriers to healthy eating. The report’s contents are now finalized, and participating health units plan to share the results with their community partners as well as incorporate the recommendations into their own programs and services.

To access the information, click on the full report or summary document.


For media inquiries, contact:

Elsie Azevedo, Registered Dietitian, HKPR District Health Unit, (905) 885-9100, or toll-free: 1-866-888-4577.

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«January 2019»