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

Extract from the Food Foundation report:  “Broken Plate”, July 2021


I was discussing crutches the other day.  In my old life, when I was working in finance, I occasionally saw crutches, usually associated with someone who’d come back from a skiing holiday.  This was maybe once every two years.

When I started teaching with Bags of Taste, we used to have collections of crutches, propped up in the corner of the room.  I have never seen so many crutches in my life, and I often gazed at them in alarm.  Every so often, they would all fall over at once, and there would be an almighty clatter that would disrupt the lesson.  These crutches often came from people who had suffered amputated toes or other parts of their feet – due to diabetes.

I also noticed an awful lot of hospital appointments and doctors’ appointments.  I remember thinking “these people are really sick – or maybe they don’t want to come to my classes?”.  But the following week they would be back, keen to engage and try the new recipes, full of stories of what they had cooked with the ingredients bag from a couple of weeks ago and how the family had liked it.

really sick” is the reality of life for many of our participants.  People in poverty get sicker younger and die earlier than the rest of the population.  For the poorest, it’s hard to get past 50 without a chronic, long term illness, such as diabetes, which can cause blindness, amputations and many other awful things.  The poorest women are twice as likely to be obese than the richest – leading to a wide variety of other health conditions.  These people are then struggling day to day – mobility is affected, and so therefore your ability to leave the house.

One of the great things about our Mentored Course is that we are accessible to people whose lives are limited to their home.  These may be people with disabilities and mobility issues; it may be people that have caring responsibilities and cannot get away; they may have mental health issues and be uncomfortable in large groups, and currently, they may just be very, very scared of COVID.  This fear, for some, will take a long time to dissipate. We deliver them a bag of ingredients and equipment and from there they can engage with other participants, their mentor and staff over the phone or WhatsApp.  So many people talk about how the sense of community was important to them, despite the fact that it looks remote to us, they are making connections and feeling the love.

Just yesterday I was speaking to a past participant who is now volunteering with us. She said that she would never have walked into a room with loads of people in, due to her social anxiety.  She also said that she nearly died in shame when she was told by her work coach to go to the food bank – she would never have gone.  But she joined our course.  When I asked her why, she hesitated.  She talked about dignity, and that it felt more like community support than charity, when Jo rocked up at her door with our signature Red Bag.  And most of all, she talked about how it felt like an adventure.  She was excited to join our course and what she might learn and find out.  She loved it.

To find out more about our courses, go to



Volunteering with Bags of Taste was one of the best decisions I made during lockdown, and I would really encourage anyone with an interest in food or healthy eating to get involved!


I have been volunteering as a Mentor, guiding groups of students from all over London through the Mentored home cooking Bags of Taste course. It only takes a few hours of your time a month, but it is very flexible and I can tell you it is well-worth the small commitment. It has been an extremely rewarding journey, and it has been amazing to see how someones eating habits, and whole life, can change in just a few weeks!


I have also loved meeting so many new interesting people, and I am so proud to be part of an organisation that is making a difference.
Bags of Taste cooking statistics

Well, the results are in…

An independent evaluation on our Bags of Taste Mentored home cooking courses has just been completed and it was great to see the difference that the course has made to our students.

The evaluation

60 students who took part in our Mentored course were interviewed by telephone six months later and the data was analysed.

They were asked eight questions which centred around evaluating the impact of the course on their cooking and eating habits, their finances and their health. Quantitative analysis was conducted on answers for certain questions, and a thematic analysis was conducted of the entire data set.

So the top line results found

  • 65% were cooking more frequently.
  • Students were cooking more from scratch and trying new cooking – 68% had gone on to try new recipes.
  • There was a significant increase in healthy eating and they were all eating more fruit and vegetables.
  • 45% of students had saved money by eating less takeaways and ready meals.
  • Many reported a range of improvements to their physical, social and emotional health and enjoyed interacting with other each during lockdown.

Please get in touch with [email protected] if you’d like to see the full evaluation and report.

‘I feel healthier, I feel like the course helped me get better control of my diabetes.’

‘After doing the course, I really calculate what I need. If I don’t need anything I won’t buy it.’

Huge thanks to the authors who generously supported us by doing this review.

Claire Norris, Jennifer O’Mara BSc, MSc, Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) and Shaye McLeish BSc, Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr)