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Older adults’ cooking trajectories: shifting skills and strategies

Stephanie Marie Bostic (Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA)
Amanda C. McClain (Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore how the cooking experiences of older adults living in the USA contributed to cooking skill development and cooking practices over their life course.


In total, 17 adults aged 60 and older living in two rural counties, who prepared at least three basic meals per week, were purposefully recruited to represent different living situations, perceived income level, and education level. Two retrospective in-depth interviews with each person collected biographical cooking narratives, analyzed using a life course perspective. Life course perspective concepts and emergent themes were identified. Timelines for each participant were prepared.


All participants expressed interest and pleasure in eating but they described different patterns of skills, behaviors, and feelings regarding cooking. Four cooking trajectories emerged: resilient, expanding, contracting interest, and contracting capability. Cooking skills evolved for some only during older adulthood, and supported both contracting and expanding food preparation. When cooking declined, it decreased due to shifts in personal priorities or in physical capability to carry out cooking tasks.

Practical implications

Recognizing the different patterns of cooking trajectories may help health care providers and the food industry better serve the diverse nutritional needs of older adults, including those not traditionally served: individuals who are actively seeking information as they increase their cooking and those who are avoiding cooking due to lack of interest.


Trajectories are a useful tool for analyzing skills and practices over time, which can facilitate understanding of food choice activities. Trajectories have not been previously used to explicitly examine cooking skills.



Bostic, S.M. and McClain, A.C. (2017), "Older adults’ cooking trajectories: shifting skills and strategies", British Food Journal, Vol. 119 No. 5, pp. 1102-1115.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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