Want your teens to improve their diets and learn to make healthful choices when they leave your nest? One way to improve their chances is to involve them in food buying and dinner preparation.

A study published in the December 2006
issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that young adults (aged 18–23) benefit from learning simple food purchasing and preparation skills that will serve them well as they move into adulthood. The study participants who reported frequent food preparation also reported less frequent fast-food use and were more likely to meet dietary objectives for fat, calcium, fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

“In this study, young adults who more often purchased their own food and prepared meals at home had improved diet quality. More home food preparation was also associated with fewer fast-food meals, which are often high in fat and sodium,” wrote the study authors.

The article went on to say that health professionals should encourage young people to improve their kitchen skills while still living at home. “Young adults might benefit most from courses that teach skills for preparing quick and economical meals, as time constraints and cost were the main barriers [among the study participants] to preparation. Intervention research is needed to determine what kinds of programs, policies or environmental changes might increase the participation of young adults in preparing healthy foods,” the authors concluded.