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Cooking skills blog 28: How do cooking course practitioners support people experiencing food insecurity?

Katy Gordon, a PhD student took part in an internship within the CFHS programme late last year. She focused on a project on food insecurity and cooking courses and carried out an online survey and interviewed practitioners from six organisations.

Here are the main findings from a report (which will be available in May). Six case studies are also available.


The survey cited the food insecurity definition:

‘the inability to acquire or consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so” (Dowler, 2003).

As an indicator of food insecurity the survey asked practitioners about their experience of people on their courses: ‘who are struggling to have enough food to get them/ their family through the week.’

What the survey found

How often is this an issue for practitioners and how do they know?

  • 42 practitioners (71 people visited the survey website) running cooking courses had experience of ‘one or more participants on their cooking courses are struggling to have enough food to get them/ their families through the week’
  • 60% experienced this regularly, 36% experienced this sometimes, and 5% experienced this rarely
  • Practitioners found out if people on their courses experienced food insecurity by: being aware of what people were saying during the course, finding out from referral agencies (if used), and some practitioners already knew participants.

What do practitioners do about it?

  • Practitioners used a range of methods to try and ensure their courses were useful for people experiencing food insecurity, such as asking participants what recipes they wanted to learn, having discussions on budgeting and shopping, fuel saving ideas, using left overs/ freezing food and signposting people to other organisations that may provide kitchen equipment and income maximisation projects.
  • If practitioners had to adapt their course activities because these seemed less suitable for any participant experiencing food insecurity, they all adapted the recipes to the whole participant group, but sometimes tailored use of methods or equipment to individuals (such as explaining how recipes could be made using a microwave)
  • They adapted recipes by using: cheaper cuts of, or less meat, frozen and own-brand foods, by bulking out meals with vegetables or pulses, and minimising the number of ingredients used.

Challenges / conclusions

The survey results showed that trying to run courses that are relevant to people experiencing food insecurity is a fundamental part of what many practitioners do already.

Practitioners responded to the needs of individuals in a pragmatic way. They aimed to use affordable ingredients that meet nutritional guidelines to improve diet, and some referred participants to other organisations for both food and non-food related help. They aimed to run cooking courses in an a way that avoids people feeling stigmatised, by for example, adapting recipes for all those attend a course rather than singling people out (if the whole group follows one recipe).

However, this short survey did not seek the views of course participants. These views about food insecurity and the impact of cooking courses are based on the experiences of practitioners. Although course practitioners are doing a good job at trying to make their courses useful for people experiencing food insecurity, a short course can only be one small part of a range of wider responses to this problem.





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