Our cooking skills study group realist evaluation (2016-2018), gathered information from 29 community cooking skills courses (attended by 75 adults -all of whom were managing on low-incomes and the majority were ‘vulnerable’*).
The results showed that:
- 79% improved their cooking skills (a further 16% could already cook)
- 68% made steps to improve their diet
As part of our realist evaluation, we wanted to find out more about ‘why’ we got these positive results. Including the different ways the courses were run. However, the practitioners who took part in our evaluation study group tended to run their courses in similar ways to each other. So although we couldn’t compare different course activities as much as we wanted to, the results above were from courses that all:
- ran flexibly, led by experienced practitioners, with people attending the course helping to shape it, and practitioners adapting to people’s needs.
- planned activities that were targeted to suit the participant groups attending them.
- asked participant groups what recipes they would like to learn.
- ran for small groups – the ratio of staff to participants was three participants or fewer to each member of staff.
- used recipes that made generous amounts of food – enough to eat a meal at the end of the course and often enough to take a family-sized meal home too.
What course activities made a difference and how can you do these?
There were just two course activities that only some of the practitioners offered and that seemed to make a positive difference for all those who took part in them. These were:
- offering (and people taking up) food-related activities after the course had finished (e.g. attending an additional course, such as a food hygiene course, or taking up volunteering opportunities at lunch clubs or cafes).
- providing ‘give aways’ during or at the end of the course e.g.recipe ingredients or cooking equipment.
Offering and taking up additional activities made a positive difference across a range of outcomes, but had the biggest impact on improving people’s diet.
It’s not surprising that people having an opportunity to reinforce what they have learned on a course improves their outcomes. But this might be difficult for some practitioners to arrange, particularly if you are not part of a community or team that continues to have contact with people and/or can signpost them to other opportunities. If you work alone, maybe you could do this by asking referral agencies (if that’s how you recruit people to your course) how they can help ensure people continue to have opportunities to practice their skills, or work with partner agencies who can help ensure this happens.
Providing ‘give aways’ just had a slight impact on the outcomes we looked at – it particularly made a difference to making sure people replicated a recipe they had learnt on the course again at home. Not a surprising result, but again this can help people reinforce their skills beyond the course. However, it is obviously an additional cost to running a cooking skills course.
In later blogs I will look at the what difference it makes if a cooking course included interactive activities about healthy eating and what difference people’s motivation has on what outcomes they achieve. I’ll also discuss some of the things we would have liked to learned about but didn’t– such as whether it’s better for people on the course to eat together at the end, or take food home to share with others.
Check out our Chopping and Changing report for further information about what seems to work in cooking skills courses, why and who for.
*(for example: they had mental health support needs; a learning disability or were on the austistic spectrum; had experienced homelessness or were in recovery from addiction or a combination of issues)