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Cooking Skills Blog 17: What are the benefits of running a structured cooking skills course?

Colin Clydesdale of the Ubiquitous Chip and chair of Real Food, Real Folk cooking demo at the Network Event

Colin Clydesdale of the Ubiquitous Chip and chair of Real Food, Real Folk gives a cooking demo at the Network Event

Earlier this week I attended the Community Cooking Network event at the Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre in Glasgow. It provided updates and ideas for those interested in, or delivering the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC) ‘eat better feel better’ cooking courses. This course was designed and piloted by the NHS’s Health Improvement Team and is currently undergoing evaluation by Ada Garcia and her colleagues at Glasgow University.

So far, this blog has discussed the benefits of cooking courses designed by course participants (blog 15) or that are tailored and adapted to their needs and wishes (blog 4). This Post discusses a few advantages of running a structured course.

When GGC planned their cooking course a few years ago, they were aware of the limited robust evidence of the impact of cooking courses on improving diets. They used evidence of known barriers to healthy eating and cooking to design a course to address these and make a difference. The barriers identified included:

  • time
  • costs
  • knowledge

One of the benefits of designing a more structured course is it may make it easier to include all the activities needed to address these barriers effectively when there’s only a short time to spend with participants.

For example, it addresses the barriers of time and costs by building the course around a costed 2- week menu (£76.16 per week for a family of four -less than the average UK spend). It uses readily available ingredients and focuses on:

  • bulk cooking – so meals can be frozen/ stored for later use
  • making multiple meals from a small selection of ingredients – to reduce waste and costs
  • ideas for pack lunches and home-made take aways – to remove the cost of buying these

One example is a lesson plan on the ‘saga of the chicken’. The practitioner demonstrates removing all the meat from one roast chicken to make up to 12 portions of meat. Each course group splits into three teams and prepares a different chicken based meal – i.e.: chicken and sweetcorn risotto, chicken fajitas. Everyone has the opportunity to taste each other’s food as well as take some home.

Although this course is structured, it is by no means a truly ‘universal’ course. It has been developed to suit a range of specific target groups – people who are overweight or obese, carers, or people with Type 2 diabetes, all living on a low-income. The lesson plans also include optional ‘bolt on’ sections for those working with groups of pregnant women, people of south-east Asian origin, older people or people with type 2 diabetes.

There is also flexibility for tailoring in each course session – the practitioner can provide recipes for participants to choose from, and those with fewer cooking skills will receive more support from the practitioner.

Finally, another benefit of running multiple structured courses is they are easier to evaluate – there are larger numbers of people participating, so it’s easier to measure any impact it is making.

What impact is it making? Lizzy Hammond, the Network’s co-ordinator, discussed the evaluation findings so far. All the barriers of time, costs and information are being addressed.

However, one of the biggest impacts has been the increase in participants’ knowledge about appropriate portion size. 35% participants had a good understanding of this at the beginning of the course, and this increased to 88% at the follow up evaluation three or four months later. This knowledge may help reduce food costs and waste, and may help address one of the course aims to support those who are overweight or obese.

The Network’s website provides lesson plans and hand-outs. These are suitable for those that have completed the GGC cooking course practitioner training or who are registered as GGC course providers, however, you may find the lesson plans useful. GGC lesson plans include recipes by the Children’s Food Trust and GGC has a license to use these. However, the recipes are available for individuals to use at home from the Trust’s Let’s Get Cooking at Home website. In the near future, GGC plans to re-structure the course to use the Scottish Government’s eat better, feel better recipes.

To find out about joining the network, or becoming a course provider in the area, contact Lizzy Hammond –




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