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Cooking skills blog 16: practitioner guest blog –Gail Hutchison: reflecting on two very different approaches to managing and evaluating cooking courses

Gail is a member of the CFHS cooking skills study group on behalf of both NHS Forth Valley and Edinburgh Community Food. Her role at both is to manage and deliver cooking skills courses, but each organisation runs these differently. Gail explains the challenges and advantages for both her learning and as part of the study group:

“Taking part in the cooking skills study group as part of two organisations requires two different approaches which are proving to be both equally valuable and challenging experiences.

My experience of taking part on behalf of Edinburgh Community Food (ECF) has been different to the NHS in that I have a more proactive “hands on” role in delivering cooking groups. For the purpose of the study group, I have been concentrating on running courses for parents/carers’ living on a low income, attending Early Years Centres across Edinburgh.

As part of the study group we must decide what will happen to the food made at each course session, so that we can see if this makes any difference across the study group courses and for whom. I have chosen to encourage participants to taste some of the food whilst attending the course session with the remainder being taken home to share with family members.

Assessing the impact of this has been challenging in several respects, for example: some participants are reluctant to try the food. I’ve managed to overcome this by tailoring the recipes to family meals and foods which they think their children would like, and creating a good atmosphere to encourage parents to try dishes. There are also benefits to running courses within Early Years’ centres, including:

  • Support workers are able to identify parents who would benefit the most from attending the course.
  • Having the support of another early years’ worker has helped keep parents motivated throughout the sessions and we hope to find out if this ‘third party’/ (or ‘significant other’) role has any influence on whether or not parents try and recreate the dishes learned on the course again at home.

Within NHS Forth Valley, our role in the cooking skills study requires a more “hands off approach”, because it focuses on enabling organisations to deliver cooking groups for themselves. We provide support through training and resources. For the purpose of the study group we have taken on the role of observing courses run by other organisations, noting any changes which participants make over the course and compiling the evaluation material. This has been challenging in many ways:

  1. It has been logistically challenging to coordinate and organise enough cooking courses that meet the study group criteria, and
  2. Trying to unpick and understand other organisations’ teaching approaches: e.g. how and why they are tailoring recipes to participants;’ needs, and how they hope these will motivate participants

In spite of these challenges, it has been useful for me to be able to take a step back and learn from other practitioners and their methods of delivering cooking groups. It has allowed me to take note and observe changes, and pick up on participants’ comments which, usually engrossed in the cooking group I may not have normally noticed.

Working for two organisations being involved in the study has been a big learning curve and has developed my skills as a practitioner. It has also helped ensure that the outcomes for participants are strong and measurable and our evaluation materials are as robust as possible making evaluation an easier process. It has made me consider and question in more depth the reasons why I chose to run cooking groups the way I do, and also the importance in having a ‘third party’ (or significant other) figure that is able to support parents in between cooking sessions and provide positive reinforcement.


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