Read Esther’s story, one of our students who did one of the first Bags of Taste Mentored courses.

Sometimes the most effective solutions come in the most seemingly unlikely places. If someone had said to me that a cookery course via WhatsApp would have got me out of the “can’t cook, won’t cook” phase that I had been in for several years, (ok let’s be honest, for four years!!), I’m not sure I would have believed them. But somehow, three years later, once a regular visitor to the ready meal aisle, here I am continuing to prepare home-made food for nearly every meal… I shouldn’t really have been so surprised… my Master’s research had been on the barriers that prevent people accessing services, so I knew that the best way to reach people is to be flexible in your approach and that there is no one size fits all solution, but seeing really is believing…
I came across Bags of Taste when I attended a community event. One of the charities there told me about the mentored Whatsapp cookery course. I had just had an operation and the idea of not having to hobble back from the supermarket with the ingredients for 3 meals and having some peer support to get me cooking again sounded very appealing so I decided to give it a go.
The group was set up on WhatsApp and everyone introduced themselves and the ingredients arrived. The first recipe was the channa masala which was similar to something I had cooked before. By the time the second recipe – the pasta sauce – was due, old habits were dying hard and I needed a bit of a push to remember to cook it. I’m sure I mumbled something about not liking chopping, but the knife sharpener I got in my goody bag did make that easier.
I will never know what happened between recipes 2 and 3, it could have been because the chickpea and mushroom pilau was so delicious that it worked its magic, but somehow I had turned into someone who actually wanted to cook again. By the time I finished the course and got access to the many recipes available on graduation, I was a convert! The aubergine recipe and the pilau have become firm family favourites.
And of course instead of spending £4 on a one portion small ready meal, I was now making meals that were around £1 per portion. And because many of the meals are great for batch cooking, I learnt to make things that could just be reheated so when I’m too busy to cook, there is still an abundance of good food.
Had the course run in person, given that I had not long had surgery, it would have been difficult to find the time and energy to go along. I think that’s part of the beauty of the way Bags of Taste works. Because it is so flexible, it allows people to fit cooking three recipes into a two week period. There is peer support and encouragement in a comfortable environment and ingredients are adapted for learners with a range of dietary requirements.
Whilst there are lots of groups that provide face-to-face support, which definitely has its place, from the perspective of tackling the barriers that many people face when wanting to cook healthy, home-made, cost-effective meals, the way Bags of Taste delivers its programmes through WhatsApp is extremely effective at reaching a whole range of people who may otherwise miss out. From those who may have physical or mental health issues preventing them regularly attending a venue, to those whose with children or other caring responsibilities and, now more than ever, for those struggling with travel and childcare costs, this way of supporting people to cook really does reach the very people who otherwise would not be able to go along.
Bags of Taste courses are run by volunteer mentors, supported by a team of local co-ordinators. I am pleased to say that one of my own family members, who saw how much difference Bags of Taste made to me, is now a volunteer mentor leading their second course. The WhatsApp format means they have been able to fit in mentoring around a busy full-time job and are gaining valuable mentoring skills with Bags of Taste – a charity which really does make a sustainable difference.

Amy has been a Bags of Taste cooking mentor for the last 18 months.

Find out more about her experiences and how rewarding she finds it.

When I first applied to be a cooking mentor with Bags of Taste in 2021, I was looking for a virtual volunteering opportunity I could do around my full time job, and Bags of Taste mentoring seemed perfect! I love food – cooking it and eating it – and the mentoring was flexible around my job. I can easily send messages on my lunch break at work, or after work, as lots of the students cook at teatime.

Students receive a bag of food, recipes and some basic equipment, so my job for the first few days of the whats app group is building excitement around the bags arriving and what they’ll be cooking. They tend to have more questions in the first few days, so I can quickly send responses when I’m at work or other members of the group might respond. I post the recipes and top tips then the students are encouraged to post photos of their dishes with the group.

The opportunity to (virtually) meet new people and hear how the course has made a positive difference to their lives is one of my favourite things about Bags of Taste mentoring. Each time I’ve called a student to congratulate them on completing the course, they’ve shared lovely stories of how the Bags of Taste programme has changed the way they’ll cook in future, the amount of money they’ll save on food shopping each week or how they and their family have enjoyed cooking the recipes.

I also love the creativity students show when making the recipes. They sometimes add additional ingredients according to their tastes. One student created a video with background music for one of the recipes which was amazing!

I’ve mentored people from all walks of life – parents, people living on their own, people with mental health difficulties, people with disabilities and lots more. Everyone engages in the course slightly differently and it’s my job as a mentor to identify how to encourage each of them to succeed.

One of my favourite memories was a student who cooked in the early hours of the morning, sending photos of each stage of the recipe whilst having a cooking party in their kitchen, dancing to music. In all the photos they had a huge smile on their face – I loved the fact they made it so fun!

I’ve also had groups who have shared other recipe ideas in the group – it’s always nice to see everyone talking in the group and sharing their tips and ideas. I know I’m a very small cog in a much larger machine but seeing the difference Bags of Taste makes to people has been extremely satisfying, and something that encourages me to continue mentoring with Bags of Taste.

To find out more about how you can become a Bags of Taste cooking mentor, go to

10th October is World Mental Health Day and it’s a good opportunity to talk about the importance of mental health. Read our latest blog from Alicia Weston, Bags of Taste CEO.

This year’s theme set by the World Federation for Mental Health is ‘Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority’. Read more at

Statistics show one in four adults in the UK have at least one diagnosable mental health problem in a given year. This is 3x higher if people are on benefits than if they’re not, and 5x higher if they’re on a disability allowance.

Since 2010, evidence has emerged that quality of diet is linked to clinical depressive and anxiety disorders (Felice Jacka), and also that poor quality diets increased the risk of developing these conditions over time. In the following 10 years a large, consistent and comprehensive evidence base has accumulated supporting these observations.

If people have a healthier diet quality, their risk of developing depression seems to be reduced by about 30%. This was confirmed by the SMILES trial which showed that a third of participants with severe depression went into complete remission as a result of changing their diet, and that this was ‘dose-dependent’, i.e. the amount they improved their diet was closely related to their mental health improvement. This was within 3 months!

Evidence is now emerging also about the gut microbiome and the gut-brain axis. We already know that gut disorders like IBS are closely related to depression and anxiety and we also know that ultra-processed foods are linked with these disorders.

Bags of Taste’s dietary change course is proven to improve the diets of people on low incomes, which is very closely linked to poor mental health.

One of our key outcomes is that we significantly improve diets and reduce consumption of ultra-processed foods. This has been independently assessed by nutritionists in a long term follow up study. In addition, our courses are designed for those most at risk of mental health conditions – those on very low incomes facing numerous other challenges (e.g. debt) in their lives – itself a risk factor for poor mental health.

If you are an organisation supporting people with mental health problems working in one of our areas (see our locations under Join a Course),  get in touch and let’s see how  we can work together.

You can read more about this in Felice Jacka’s paper on the SMILES trial research.

Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing?

How diet can affect your mental well-being

Bags of Taste mentored cooking course

Read our recent blog from our CEO, Alicia Weston on what we’re doing at Bags of Taste to support people during the cost of living crisis.

Bags of Taste have been commissioned by Newham Public Health to deliver their weight management initiative in the borough. The course is specifically for people who have a long term condition, a mental health condition, a learning disability or those who are carers.

Channa Masala

Boosting confidence and well-being and connecting across the community

We caught up with Caroline, our Area Head for Hackney who told us what she gets up to and why it’s so rewarding.

Tell us about a day in the life of a Bags of Taste Area Head?

No two days are the same which I like, but the week has a pattern to it.

When there’s a course coming up, I’ll start by contacting referrers, many of whom I have built up a relationship with over the past couple of years. And I’m always adding to my network of valued referrers too! Some I’ve been lucky enough to meet – by visiting the Job Centre and talking to the Work Coaches about what we do, dropping in to doctor’s surgeries to leave leaflets with the receptionist, taking a sample bag to a Food Hub to show potential participants what we offer.

bags of taste delivered ingredients

I’m so grateful to the many wonderful referrers who spread the word about what we do – making me feel welcome when we visit, encouraging their service users or clients to join the course.  There are so many people doing fantastic work in the community and what we offer often complements what they do.

Through online outreach work – with local organisations, charities and community groups, social prescribers, community connectors and mental health services, schools and food banks – I’ve got to know many others and feel I’ve met them!

I also meet referrers – and potential students – at community events.

Recruiting and training volunteers is another key part of the job. I have a fantastic team of regular Hackney volunteer mentors who guide the students through the course with added local knowledge, and cyclists who help deliver the bags – especially big shout out to Nick who goes out rain or shine!  I am so impressed by all their dedication and enthusiasm. They are at the very heart of what we do and their help is essential to us. We wouldn’t be able to run the courses without them. I only wish we’d been able to get together for some volunteer socials – maybe soon…

And then there are our fabulous students. Being Area Head means I follow the students’ journey from registration to graduation. Before joining the course I chat to every student. We’ll choose a day to start with the delivery of ingredients, and I’ll allocate them a mentor. I shop and prepare their ingredients bags, oversee the deliveries – taking less hilly routes for myself, and sometimes persuade family members to help!

Delivery day is exciting, and it’s great when students let us know their bag has arrived, the mentor starts providing the instructions for cooking and the students set off on their cooking adventure. I monitor their progress, supporting mentors where needed and celebrate students’ achievements. There’s nothing better than seeing the beautiful food photos.

Finally, when students graduate, receiving their feedback and posting their graduation packs is the best part of the job. We write certificates for graduates, and if they’ve cooked with a child, make out a certificate for them too.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Meeting and talking to people who want to join the course,  connecting with the local community, and seeing and hearing how the participants get on – from their comments and photographs. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the impact of Bags of Taste and how the course boosts the participants’ confidence and well-being.

What’s your favourite Bags of Taste recipe?

Channa MasalaIn the past, I made channa masala to another recipe but now I make it the Bags of Taste way –  so much simpler and just as delicious. Still can’t get enough of those spices!

Also, the pilaf is a revelation. The way the rice turns out so fragrant and fluffy without you even looking at it – it all goes on under the pan lid!


Any top food tips that you’d like to share?

Love your leftovers! And sometimes food tastes better the day after it’s cooked, so make more, and enjoy it even more second time round. But store it safely!

Ladies in Maldon

As 2021 is nearly over, we wanted to let you know what we’ve been up to at Bags of Taste.

graphic of man running through a door

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that every cloud has a silver lining. I had always wondered what happened to the people that didn’t show up to our in-person classes when we used to run them pre-pandemic.


BOT Impact Report 2020