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Cooking skills blog 33: Working with vulnerable groups: Supporting people affected by food insecurity: ideas from practitioners

Last year, Katy Gordon, a PhD student took part in an internship within CFHS. Katy ran an online survey and interviewed practitioners to find out how they supported people experiencing food insecurity on their cooking skills courses. Her full report ‘Just getting on with it’ is now available.  Meanwhile here are few examples of activities they said they did and ideas they had for supporting people. Many will be relevant for any cooking skills activity, not just those that include people experiencing food insecurity.

Being inclusive

  • Making changes to a recipe for the whole cooking group if you find out that planned recipe ingredients are unaffordable for one participant – helping to maintain their dignity

  ‘Changes made are given as alternatives to the whole group in order not to label or pinpoint an individual.’ survey respondent

Budgeting and shopping

  • Providing costings of recipes and discussing how to make these cheaper
  • Comparing costs between meals cooked from scratch and ready-made
  • Buying ingredients from shops that participants use
  • Shopping trips with participants to local low cost supermarkets to discuss prices and shopping tactics
  • Discussing the prices of food at different shops and shopping around
  • Discussing the real value of ‘Buy one get one free’ or other offers

We talk about cooking on a budget and we say “we’ve got £5 for a meal of 4”. When we introduce it as budgeting that’s when people start to say “Och, I don’t have that, I‘ve got this amount a day” and then we show them what they can do with that amount.’ Interviewee.

Recipes, shopping and planning

  • Basing recipes on what people say they like to eat or usually buy
  • Discussing ways of planning menus for a few days or a week
  • Having taste tests between branded and unbranded foods
  • Basing recipes on affordable ingredients (but that still taste good) such as frozen foods, pulses and beans, cheaper cuts of, or less meat
  • Using recipes that use minimal ingredients
  • If needed, discussing how to make meals using a food bank parcel ingredients, here’s a link to simple recipes based on food parcels
  • Preparing meals that can be the basis of another meal or stored safely in the freezer/ fridge to provide another portion– discussing how this might affect the taste or texture
  • Making enough food at the cooking course session for people to take home a family-sized meal
  • Providing left-over fresh ingredients or / and store cupboard ingredients

Here is a link to some affordable recipes used by community groups

Participant-led courses work well to gauge what people can afford to cook and buy ingredients for’ Survey respondent

Cooking methods and equipment

  • Having a microwave session for at least one session of the cooking course – here’s a link to a microwave cooking book
  • Making ‘one-pot’ meals
  • Discussing fuel saving ideas
  • Using minimal equipment and / or providing equipment that people might not have

Linking participants to other sources of help

A short cooking skills course can only provide limited support for someone experiencing food insecurity or poverty. Where else can participants get help?

  • Signposting people to income maximisation projects
  • Having other agencies who specialise on money advice introduce themselves to people on your course or provide an advice session
  • Signposting people to projects that provide equipment such as fridges or cookers


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