The Business of Teaching Gen Z to Cook

By Kelly Kirkendoll

When we talk about teaching today’s kids how to cook, we have to throw out much of the traditional rule book. Today’s young home chefs are part of Generation Z, and they have already been called “disrupters” by many in the food industry.

Gen Z – A Unique Generation

The offspring of Millennials and Gen Xers, Gen Zers were born roughly between 1995 and 2015 (as it’s defined today) and now make up 25 percent of the population. Similar to other generations, they run the gamut in terms of eating habits, largely based on their parents’ socio-economic conditions and food habits.

However, while parents still hold significant sway, this youngest generations’ food influences (to a greater degree than any others at their age) are not limited to those at home or at friends’ or family members’ homes. They are significantly impacted by content they choose to consume on Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat, streaming video programs and, to a declining degree, traditional TV cooking networks.

Another important trend to note: this generation doesn’t see cooking as primarily a “girl thing.” In The Hartman Group’s Gen Z 2018 Report, they wrote:

“Girls still tend to be socialized to cook more than boys, but cooking is no longer seen as a feminine task.”

Of those surveyed (age 12-20), 26% cook for themselves, and this number is equal for both males and females. Seventy-one percent said they would love to cook more (76% girls and 67% boys).

Additionally, this generation is the most diverse in the United States yet, with only 54 percent of them identifying as Caucasian.

Gen Z – Cooking and Influencing

According to a recent Fogelson & Co study, 40% of Gen Z youth say they like to cook together with their family, and over half (54%) say they influence food purchases at home, even if they’re not directly responsible for buying it. And while they are just as concerned about where their food comes from as the general population, they are almost three times as likely to look at food pictures on Instagram, and they use mobile apps to order food 25% more often.

"Busy household schedules mean that teens do much of their own food prep and often eat alone for every meal except dinner (and occasionally at dinner, too)," according to The Hartman Group’s Gen Z 2018 report.

But what are they cooking, primarily? According to the same Gen Z report, the top five answers were: 1) fry or scramble eggs, 2) make boxed pasta or rice, 3) cut or chop vegetables, 4) bake cookies or brownies (from scratch or box) and 5) make pancakes, waffles or French toast.

Interestingly, the percentage who eat plant-based meals nearly doubles from junior high students to high school grads, pointing to continued growth for the plant-based trend.

Teaching Gen Z to Cook

Food companies are taking notice of this generation's influence and their need and desire to cook. And those who aren't, should be.

One example of a company catering to today's youth is Raddish Kids. It's a cooking club for kids that includes a kit mailed to their home each month. Each month’s kit features a unique theme that embeds math, science, geography, culture, and history into a culinary lesson plus a grocery list, recipe guides, activity cards, collectible kitchen tools and dinnertime conversation starters. New cooking techniques are introduced each month, and kids earn a new apron patch with each new skill. A similar company, KidStir, offers Happy Cooking Kits.

Another company, The Produce Moms, is helping kids and families consume more produce. A community of passionate fresh produce advocates, The Produce Moms educates consumers about fresh produce, introduces them to produce brands, engages the produce industry with consumers, and promotes public policy to protect and increase the availability of fresh produce at American schools.

Nonprofits: Minding the Gaps and Partnering with Businesses

Nonprofit organizations around the country are teaching kids about healthy food and how to cook – and many are partnering with restaurants and other businesses to do so.

Sprouts Cooking Club is one example. Their mission is to empower youth from all backgrounds to eat and live sustainably by teaching them how to cook healthy meals for themselves and their families. Launched in the Bay Area in 2006, it has expanded since then to New York City and Paris. Its three core programs are: 1) Sprouts’ CIT Program, a 6-month culinary vocational training program for underprivileged youth ages 16-24, 2) In-Restaurant Cooking Classes and Camps, which offer subsidized and free classes for a diverse range of children ages 7-12 and 3) After School Cooking Classes, which teaches public and Title 1 elementary school students in the Bay Area about nutritional basics, sugar awareness and cooking skills.

In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, a Medical City Children’s Hospital program called Kids Teach Kids engages kids and families in better nutrition. They partner with the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association and high school students participating in the TexasProStart high school culinary program to create recipe books aimed at getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables and try new ones. Additionally, they have partnered with local restaurants and food industry sponsors to create a special Kids Fit Menu, with kid-friendly meals that feature fruits and vegetables.

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