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Cooking skills blog 5: Does your group eat together at the end of a cooking skills session?

How do you decide what to do with the food that has been cooked? Should participants take the food home (to share with others, or eat later) or is it better to eat a meal together (prepared either together or separately) or a mixture of both of these? Does it matter?

Your choice might depend on who’s attending the cooking skills session/ course and what difference you hope to achieve. (As well as more practical issues such as timing, facilities, and the amount of food available.) Our cooking skills review showed that cooking skills course practitioners chose ‘eating together’ at the end of each session more often than ‘taking food home’.

‘Eating together’ practitioners:

  • Often ran courses for more ‘vulnerable’* groups (such as people experiencing homelessness or with mental health support needs).
  • They hoped that sharing and tasting each other’s food would enhance participants pride and self-esteem because they see others enjoying the food they have made.

‘Taking the food home’ practitioners:

  • Often worked with parents or carers.
  • They hoped participants would share the food with their families – who would try it, enjoy it, and this would encourage the parent to make the food again.

Both of these ideas might work because participants receive positive feedback from others about the food that has been made and this may encourage them to try and make the recipe they have learned again. However, the review also suggests that some people might not react as the practitioner had hoped:

  • Some (particularly vulnerable) people attending a cooking course might not be comfortable about eating in front of others. Giving participants choice about whether, when, or how much they eat in front of others will ensure they feel comfortable.
  • Participants (parents) in one small participant focus group reported they didn’t share the food with their children (as the practitioner had hoped), mostly because they didn’t think their child would like it. (But they did share it with other family members) Recipes need to be chosen very carefully – and even this might still not be enough to overcome ‘fussiness’. (See Blog 2 and 3 about research on cooking skills courses with children)

Our cooking skills study group members run cooking skills courses for both vulnerable participants and parents (or carers). We asked them to choose between ‘taking the food home’ or ‘eating together’ for each cooking skills course included in our study. But, as some members said they sometimes do mixture of both in each course session: ‘tasting the food and taking it home’ has been added. We hope that focusing in on ‘what happens to the food’ will give us more insight on what (if any) difference this makes to different participants.

*In the next blog, I’ll talk about how our cooking skills study group defined ‘vulnerable’ and the implications of supporting people with different vulnerabilities in cooking skills courses.

Kim Newstead

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