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Needs Assessment: Sacramento Natural Foods Cooperative

Summary of the Effectiveness of the Sacramento Natural Foods Cooperative’s Community Kitchen Program on its Participants’ Knowledge of and Ability to Prepare Healthy, Low-Cost Meals at Home

Original Research by Ifunanya Onyima, MS, RD

Nutrition Problem/Issue: The lifestyle of many adults living in Sacramento is similar to other adults in big cities all over the country – extremely fast-paced, where often times there seems as if there are not enough minutes in the day to complete all of the tasks that one wishes to complete. This shift towards an instantaneous style of living is spilling over into our society’s eating habits. Many people find it very difficult to make time for purchasing wholesome, raw, healthier foods and learning to cook with them in ways that suites them.

There are plenty of studies that show the health benefits of cooking more at home, including a study done at Cambridge(1), which showed that people who cook 6-7 times a week consumed considerably less total calories, fat and sugar compared to those who cooked 0-1 time a week. A study at UCLA(2) observed 32 households and found that, even though most of the meals prepared were composed of “convenience foods” (e.g. pre-packaged, ready-prepared, just add water), the time it took to prepare that meal versus a meal made from scratch was not significantly different. The experiment suggests that the time saved by purchasing and preparing processed foods is not a good enough reason to choose those kinds of foods over raw, minimally-processed food choices.

Based on my experience as a nutrition educator for the community kitchen program, many adults have very limited knowledgeable about the basics of good nutrition (e.g. what fiber is, why whole grains are important in the diet, etc). The main goal of the Community Kitchen Program is to combat these issues – educate the adults in the Sacramento area on the components of a healthy diet and how to purchase and prepare wholesome, low-cost foods. There is currently no compilation of data that displays the effectiveness of the Program on its participant’s knowledge and skills of healthy eating.

Target Audience/Community Setting: This analysis focuses on the adult population in the Sacramento area. The Co-Op Community Kitchen Program operates at many different sites in the Sacramento region, so they are able to reach a diverse population of adults - rich and poor, young and old, educated and otherwise.

“Based on the findings, the Community Kitchen Program has a very positive impact on its participants eating patterns”


  • Determine how effective the Community Kitchen Program was to the participant’s knowledge of healthy eating, shopping and cooking

  • Identify any reasons (if any) that the Program was not helpful for its participants

Types of Data Collected:

  • Post-class evaluations: At the end of each 4-week nutrition/cooking course, participants fill out an “exit survey” that tests their knowledge and skills of healthy eating and cooking, and gives them a chance to provide feedback on their overall experience. These evaluations come from the many different sites that the program is operated at.

  • Questions asked in-person: As participants progress through the Program, the educators asked them how they incorporated the things learned from the previous lesson into their everyday lives, how the topics covered did or did not enhance their eating habits, and their experience with cooking with the ingredients given at the previous course. This data was collected at the Colonial Heights Library site.


  • Evaluations (based on a random sample of 11 evaluations)

    • 54% of the evaluators claimed that half of their meals contained fruits and vegetables more often than it did before they took the course. The other 46% claimed that their fruit/vegetable content in their meals did not change, but their eating habits were already okay to begin with (9% almost always had half their plate consisting of fruits and vegetables, 9% most of the time and 18% some of the time).

    • 81% of participants said their meals consisted of at least 25% whole grains more often than it did before they took the course. The other 19% said that the whole grain content of their meals did not change, but they were already incorporating whole grains into their meals at least some of the time on a daily basis (9% most of the time, 9% some of the time)

    • 63% of participants claimed that they incorporated plant based protein in their daily meals more often than they did before they took the course. The other 37% claimed that their plant-based protein consumption did not change (18% consumed it most of the time, while 18% consumed it some of the time)

    • 72% of participants said that they tried to limit unhealthy fats, added sugars and sodium from their diet more often than they did before they took the course. The other 28% claimed that their consumption of these foods did not change, but their awareness about these foods was already adequate to begin with (18% limited these foods most of the time, while 9% was almost always trying to limit these foods in their diet).

    • 45% of participants said that they cooked healthy meals from scratch more often than before they took the course. 45% of participants said that their cooking habits at home did not change (9% cooked healthy meals from scratch sometimes, 27% most of the time and 9% all of the time). 9% of participants claimed that they prepared healthy meals from scratch less than they did before they took the course (went from making this type of meal almost always to most of the time).

    • When asked which foods was an example of whole grains (white bread, barley, bagel, oat meal, white rice and/or whole wheat bread), 63% of participants answered this question correctly, while the other 37% knew at least 2 out of the 3 correct answers

    • When asked how much sodium one should aim to consume each day, 81% of the participants answered correctly (~3/4 of a teaspoon, or 1500mg)

    • When asked how their cooking skills have changed as a result of taking the course, 36% said that their skills improved a lot, 36% said that their skills improved a little, and 27% said that their cooking skill remained the same.

    • All participants said that they would recommend this class to another.

Visual Breakdown of Evaluations: The following graphs represent the student’s change in cooking and eating habits before and after taking the course, based on the post-class evaluations. Notice the positive shift in healthy food choices as a result of taking the class. The total number of evaluations is different for each graph because some evaluations did not have a valid response for the question (response was left blank or was completed incorrectly). The last graph shows the age breakdown of the participants to successfully completed an evaluation survey.

  • Questions asked in-person

    • We were told each week that our participants were successful with incorporating healthy, wholesome foods into their daily life. One older woman told us about how she added her bulgur into a stir-fry that her husband would find more appetizing – he was not even aware that he wasn’t eating white rice because the dish was still palatable and visually appealing. Another woman told us that she was successful with replacing the ham in her stew with tofu, saving her money and unnecessary calories, sugar and fat. Many of the participants went home and made the recipe that we cooked in class and the recipes were well-received by their family and friends. Each week, we would all set goals related to our eating habits (drinking at least 2 liters of water each day, eating out less than 3 times a week, etc) and each week, our participants seemed to be meeting those goals and becoming more aware of their eating patterns, as a result of taking our course.

Plan of Action: Based on the findings, the Community Kitchen Program has a very positive impact on its participants eating patterns. Unfortunately, funding and staffing for this program is under threat, which could result in less classes held each year, participation fees, or no more classes at all. I believe that it is in the interest of the Sacramento Community to provide more financial support to this program so that it can expand, instead of fizzle out. Sacramento is a farm-to-form capitol, but this title is almost useless if the people that live here do not know the basics about the foods they are eating, and how to prepare them in a healthy and palatable way. Furthermore, expanding the program would also result in more feedback, giving the educators an opportunity to enhance their teaching methods so that the information is better received.


1 - Wolfson, J., Bleich, S. (2015, June). Is Cooking at Home Associated with Better Diet Quality or Weight-Loss Intention? Retrieved from

2 - Sullivan, M. (2007, August 7). Working Families Rely Heavily on “Convenience” Foods for Dinner, But Save Little Time, Finds UCLA Study. Retrieved from

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