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Strengthening adult community-based cooking skills interventions using realist principles

Avril Blamey (Avril Blamey & Associates, Glasgow, UK)
Jacki Gordon (Jacki Gordon & Associates, Glasgow, UK)
Kim Newstead (Department of Community Food and Health, NHS Health Scotland, Glasgow, UK)
Jacqueline McDowell (Department of Community Food and Health, NHS Health Scotland, Glasgow, UK)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to present learning on the strategies used by cooking skills practitioners and the programme theories, behaviour change mechanisms/contexts and intended outcomes associated with these in varied contexts.


Grey literature from Scottish cooking skills courses were reviewed using realist principles. Intervention implementation variables were identified and iteratively coded to uncover intended intervention strategies and programme theories. The lack of robust evaluation processes and outcome data in the grey literature prevented the testing of intended programme theories against outcomes. Alternatively, implementation strategies were aligned against behavioural-theory constructs contained in national guidance. Prioritised theories were further clarified/refined using practitioner and participant focus group data. Learning was used to inform future practice/evaluation.


Courses targeted and reached vulnerable individuals. Practitioners articulated multiple theories and assumptions about how strategies may work. Numerous strategies and behaviour constructs were used to target, tailor and reinforce cooking/food and wider social outcomes. Mechanisms were assumed to be triggered by different contexts and lead to varied outcomes. Strategies used were consistent with evidenced behaviour change constructs and guidelines. Interventions aimed to achieve non-cooking/social outcomes as well as cooking ones – including potential mediators of cooking behaviour, e.g. self-confidence. Contexts facilitated/limited the use of certain strategies. Limitations in course design, reporting and self-evaluation need to be addressed.

Practical implications

Recommendations for improving intervention commissioning, design and evaluation using realist principles are provided.


Learning addresses gaps in knowledge about the implementation of cooking skills interventions identified from systematic reviews and can improve course design and evaluation.



Independent researchers AB/JG received £19,240 from Community Food and Health Scotland (CFHS)/NHS Health Scotland (NHS HS) to conduct this research. CFHS work to improve access, availability, affordability to and uptake of a healthy diet within low-income communities in Scotland. CFHS selected the grey literature for review, prioritised the review focus, informed recommendations and are contributory authors of this paper. CFHS (in part) funded many of the cooking skills programmes reviewed. Thanks to the cooking skills agencies, practitioners, participants, CFHS and the research advisory group for their contributions.


Blamey, A., Gordon, J., Newstead, K. and McDowell, J. (2017), "Strengthening adult community-based cooking skills interventions using realist principles", British Food Journal, Vol. 119 No. 5, pp. 1130-1146.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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