Recently asked this question, I’d reframe the debate a bit. Much has been said about the diets of students for decades (this is not a new problem, students have never really been known for their healthful food decisions); more recently, I hear classmates debate the merits of meal-delivery services, grocery-delivery, and other time-saving measures that still (hopefully) leave room for healthy food choices.
What I don’t hear is, why don’t students cook? Though I occasionally will talk to a classmate who has finally transitioned to some light meal preparation after avoiding the subject during the undergraduate years, I more often hear that med students simply don’t like to cook. I would venture to guess that much of this is simply because students don’t know how to cook, or never ventured to try.
An informal survey of undergraduate students in the UK seems to back this general sentiment up, claiming that “one in three students arriving for their higher education are unable to even boil an egg.” Another survey that extending the question to the general public found that 28% of Americans don’t know how to cook. Putting the point bluntly, “said ignorance was the second most cited reason for not cooking regularly.” My own informal surveying of classmates and friends would make it seem very few cook regularly, whether they are medical students or out in the job market.
Admittedly, I grew up cooking, and for me the act serves as a stress reliever after a long day studying or at the hospital. However, I think that teaching students to cook offers a number of benefits, from budgetary to the simply act of choosing (and learning about) fresh ingredients; for some, the experimentation pieces becomes a hook for a lifetime of cooking exploration.
Some of the recently-spawned meal delivery services also include an element of meal preparation and cooking technique education, which I applaud. Hopefully this will encourage people to discover that cooking doesn’t have to be a daunting task, and incremental progress is the name of the game for most.
I think that medical schools are taking the hint as well. Many have started either formal or informal cooking courses, workshops, or booths at student fairs. I think this is a great first step, but often the problem is getting students into the door — thinking that they have much more important things to be doing. However, if learning for the future is the goal, I’d argue a cooking class can do wonders for work-life balance, wellbeing, health, and prevention of burnout. It’s a lot of bang for your buck, which is the same thing I’d say about cooking in general.