If most adults participated in making their own meals versus letting someone else take charge of the prep, would it influence diet quality? Surprisingly not, says a new study in the September 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

During 2004–2006, a sample of 2,814 Australian adults aged 26–36 completed a self-administered questionnaire on demographics, diet and lifestyle factors. Participants were asked to report who was usually responsible for preparing the main meal on working days. Researchers Kylie J. Smith, MSc, and colleagues found little evidence that those who typically helped prepare the main meal on a workday made more healthful dietary choices than those who let another household member take charge.

The investigators determined diet quality by calculating the mean number of daily servings for each food group. Analysis of variance was used to test for differences in means of dietary intake data. More women (65%) than men (29%) had sole responsibility for meal preparation. Shared meal preparation was reported by 23% of women and 27% of men.

Factors associated with greater involvement in meal preparation included marital status, education, occupation and physical activity. When adjusted for sociodemographic and lifestyle factors, the data showed that men who prepared the main meal themselves had a higher intake of lean meat and alternatives, whereas women who shared meal preparation had higher intakes of vegetables and dairy. However, differences in diet quality were small, at best. “These results suggest that strategies seeking to motivate greater involvement in meal preparation might not be sufficient to markedly improve diet quality in young Australian adults,” the authors stated.

While the outcome did not show a link between diet quality and who prepared the meal, you should not assume that people are better off leaving the cooking duties to someone else—especially if the alternate source is a fast-food outlet or the corner pizzeria. Informed choices, knowledge about nourishing, balanced ingredients and healthy preparation techniques are essential.