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Fife Health and Social Care – a pragmatic approach to cooking skills

Lyndsay Clark from Fife Health and Social Care Partnership was a member of the CFHS cooking skills evaluation study group. In this case study, Lyndsay tells us what learning inspired her most and what changes she has since made to her own work to use  a more pragmatic approach to cooking skills.

Lyndsay has made changes to her work in two main areas:

  • Changes to how she runs cooking skills courses herself; and
  • Changes to the Fife Food Champion Training


The study group

CFHS Cooking Skills Evaluation Study involved eight organisations running community cooking skills courses: Dundee Healthy Living Initiative, Edinburgh Community Food, Fife Health and Social Care Partnership, Healthy Valleys, Lanarkshire Community Food and Health Partnership, NHS Grampian, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Forth Valley.

The group met several times over two years to plan their evaluation project. They discussed what difference they believe their cooking courses make, and agreed what outcomes they would evaluate over the next year.

View the project report here

Lyndsay’s cooking skills courses

Lyndsay used to regularly run cooking skills courses herself. Once she developed her confidence and experience to run these, Lyndsay used to plan her recipes and shopping for the class and then (in her own words) just ‘rock up’ and deliver the session. After being involved in the study group, she was inspired to make three main changes to how she plans cooking skills courses, these were:

  • Spending more time getting to know the needs and wishes of groups and individuals who will attend the course
  • Tailoring the course to meet the needs and wishes of groups (targeting) and individuals (tailoring)
  • Generally using a more pragmatic approach when planning the aims of the course

What has changed and why?

When Lyndsay runs a course now, she meets with each group (if the course is being run for a group) before it begins in order to get know them and find out what they want to learn. She then plans what the outcomes of the course should be based on this and plans what activities need to take place.

Previously, Lyndsay had focused on planning cooking skills courses that aimed to encourage people to ‘cook from scratch’ and develop their cooking skills – such as by using fresh vegetables to prepare a meal. After being involved in the study group and from experience of working with people with a range of physical disabilities she realised this aim was not always relevant: if the aim of the course is to support and encourage people to eat a healthy and varied diet, then a more pragmatic approach to what skills people actually need is required. Here’s a couple of examples:

On one of the cooking skills courses that Lyndsay ran, one man could only concentrate for a short time and he also had mobility and dexterity issues and limited cooking skills. Lyndsay realised there was no point in encouraging him to spend much time chopping vegetables so she brought frozen veg and pre-prepared soup packs to the course so he could use these instead. This was successful: the man was able to make a range of dishes using these products and at the end of the course would remind his support worker to make sure he included these ingredients on his shopping list so he could make the recipes again at home. Since the course ended Lyndsay has heard from the man’s support worker – the man continues to make soup and other dishes for himself.

Another man attending a course had no kitchen facilities but had a toaster. Initially, Lyndsay worked with him to discuss ways that he could use his toaster to make toasties, and then bought “Toastie bags” to the group so that he could try them for himself. Meanwhile she also worked with his support worker and his family to find out if he could get access to a microwave. Once he received a microwave, she discussed different ways of using ready-made ingredients to make meals using it. The microwave banana pudding was a great hit!

Fife Food Champion Training

Fife Council has supported a small community food worker team since 2006, and since then their work has included running community cooking courses as well as other food related activities. As the cooking courses became more popular, it was evident the team would struggle to keep up with demand. So, in 2015, Lyndsay and the community food worker team worked together to develop a Food Champions training course: a three-day course that aimed to give volunteers or staff the confidence and skills to run cooking skills activities within their own organisations or for the groups they worked with. Over 150 people have completed the Food Champion training since 2015. The three-day course consists of completing three Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS) courses: Elementary Food Hygiene, Elementary Food and Health and the ‘How to run a cooking skills group’.

Within the ‘How to run a cooking skills group’ session, Lyndsay has tried to embed some of the ideas learned from being involved in the study group. The key ideas are:

  • Thinking about what difference you hope to make- or what outcomes you hope to achieve. And then planning:
    • What needs to happen on the course to meet these outcomes?
    • How will you know you have achieved these outcomes – what tools can you use to measure these? And
  • Making sure your planned outcomes and how you run the course are tailored (to the needs of individuals) or targeted (adapted to the needs of groups)

Lyndsay also provides ideas for evaluating cooking skills courses, including a simple check list that can be filled in by someone running a course to demonstrate how participants’ cooking skills are developing over time. This Cooking Class Observation Sheet is available to use and adapt.

Future Plans

Lyndsay is currently working with NHS Forth Valley to put together a handbook for cooking course facilitators that have completed the ‘How to run a cooking group’ in each area. As well as providing a check list of what’s needed to run a safe, successful cooking skills course, the handbook will include some of the ideas learnt from the CFHS cooking skills study group realist evaluation.

Published: March 16, 2020