What happens on a Bags of Taste Mentored Course?

Each course participant receives a free bag of pre-measured groceries and three easy-to-follow recipe cards. This is everything they need to make three delicious and nutritious dishes. It’s a bit like Gousto or Hello Fresh food boxes. Participants are divided into small groups (usually three participants) and each group is given a dedicated cooking mentor who uses WhatsApp, phone, email or Facebook Messenger to share the course material and provide ongoing support.

Each course is two weeks long. The goal is to pass on basic cooking skills and build confidence in cooking from scratch on a very low budget. This will benefit participants’ finances as well as improving their mental and physical wellbeing. 

Who joins Bags of Taste Mentored Courses?

People sign up for many reasons. They may need an emergency food package or want to save money on their food bills. Often, they’re looking to improve their diets; they may need to learn to cook from scratch, or seeking inspiration. Some people use the opportunity to teach their children how to cook. Others find it relieves loneliness and boredom.

What do our cooking mentors actually do?

Bags of Taste provide mentors with everything they need to successfully mentor their students through the course.   You don’t actually need to teach the course – we provide those teaching materials such as technique and recipe videos and suggested dialogues – but you are their guide and friend on their cooking journey, helping cajole, encourage and inspire them.

Mentors share course information at a pace that suits their students while offering loads of encouragement and praise to keep them motivated, especially when students post photos of what they’ve cooked!  

At the end of the two weeks, mentors can enjoy the rewards of having provided their graduates with useful cooking skills and some new recipes that will start them off on their culinary journeys.

Each mentor has a personal coordinator from Bags of Taste who is on hand throughout the entire course, ready to assist them should the need arise. 

What are we looking for in a cooking mentor volunteer?

You don’t need any specific experience as Bags of Taste will provide each mentor with all the information, teaching materials and support you need. 

It’s great if you like cooking but not essential; but you must like people, and be a good communicator. You should also possess the empathy needed to encourage students as they face the challenges involved in learning something new. Their biggest barrier is confidence, so building a supportive relationship with the students is paramount.

We use either phone, email, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to talk to our students so you need to be comfortable with at least one of these communication methods.

The courses are 100% remote learning, and we welcome volunteers from anywhere in the UK. 

How much time does it take?

It takes a mentor about three hours spread over a two-week period to complete a mentored course but you are welcome to interact with students more than that if you wish.

Interactions with students are typically only a few minutes long, so we ask that you respond to messages within a few hours and are available primarily in the evenings and weekends, even if it’s just to check in for a brief period.

Commitment is flexible. You can sign up for as many or as few two-week courses as you like and take a break between them if you want.

I work full time. Can I still do this? Yes! Many mentors fit this in around their work. Most students tend to cook in the evening, and that’s when you need to be more available, and just check their WhatsApp messages in breaks in the daytime. Many mentors also use WhatsApp on their laptops which also makes things much easier.

Do I need to be a good cook to be a mentor? No, not really. We provide all the teaching materials the students require, so you don’t actually need to teach the cooking part. What’s more important is being empathetic and supportive of your students. Don’t forget that the course co-ordinator will always be in the group with you, and there are always people you can ask if you don’t know the answer to anything.

Will I get calls at 3am?
Whilst we always encourage mentors to set the “do not disturb” functions on their phones at night, the answer is usually no! People don’t cook at 3am generally . However, excitement can remove inhibitions – check out the time this message was sent!

Will someone call me in a panic when their recipe is going wrong and I
ll have to drop everything to sort them out?
This almost never happens. Our recipes are really well written and things just don’t go wrong! Also, we provide videos so people understand what it should look like at every step. Mentoring is much more about encouragement and pacing.

How long will it take?
Typically it takes about an hour a week; slightly more in the first week and less in the second. It shouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks. It depends how much engagement you and your students want to have with each other, though.

Can I go away for a weekend?
As this is online, you can do it from anywhere! Generally it’s not ideal to take on mentees if you know you’ll be unavailable for part of the time – you can tell your coordinator and they can schedule around your availability as there are lots of choices of start date.

What happens if I
m ill? Don’t worry there is always a coordinator in the group who can take over in emergencies. Please just let them know what the situation is and they can cover for you or back you up

“Volunteering with Bags of Taste was very rewarding”

– one of our Mentored Home Cooking Course mentors shares her experience

Purnima has always had a passion for cooking, so she decided to take advantage of her flexible working hours during the pandemic and grabbed the opportunity to volunteer with Bags of Taste. She told us about her role as a Mentored Home Cooking Course mentor

I love cooking, I cook every day for my family. I am Indian by ethnicity, so I make a lot of Indian dishes; I have also been exposed to oriental cuisine and get inspiration from TV shows and various sources. I am quite adventurous in the kitchen; I like to experiment and try new dishes.

I look at cooking holistically – there is more to it than just recipes.  I believe in adapting these according to what you have in your larder, fridge or freezer and using the ingredients in a budget-friendly way to create balanced meals. I want to put that across to people and encourage them to cook at home instead of getting takeaways or eating out, where you often don’t get enough value for your money.

I am an office manager, but I always wanted to volunteer with food-related services when I retire. My working hours have changed due to the coronavirus, and I thought, ‘why not get the ball rolling?’.

I wouldn’t have been able to do it when I was working full-time, but the online course is fantastic. You don’t need to go anywhere physically; everyone can do it at home at their own pace.

I mentored two teams. The students messaged me every day via WhatsApp, and I could give them tips on anything from cooking to food storage. They would post pictures of their dishes in our group chat and send supportive and humorous comments to each other.

They were such a jokey bunch! It was good to have a very laidback atmosphere where nobody felt pressured. Although I was firm in a sense, I tried to create a friendly and encouraging environment.

Everyone signed up for the course for different reasons, but they were all very keen. Some wanted to cook with more veg for their family or lived alone and wanted to be more comfortable in the kitchen. There were people with health issues looking to improve their diet or learn a new skill whilst furloughed or unemployed. They gained a solid foundation to build on with the course and the follow-on recipes. It was incredibly rewarding to hear from their feedback that they have all achieved their goals.

Bags of Taste offer a wonderful service. They have invested a lot of thought and time in the course.  It was clear from the students’ feedback that they were gratified and satisfied from start to end.

If you are thinking about volunteering, I wouldn’t hesitate. It is well structured, it doesn’t take up much of your time, and you are supported by the organisers. You cannot go wrong, there’s help at hand if you get stuck.

It was great to connect with people from different backgrounds. All students faced challenges in their lives, especially in the pandemic, and being able to help others was very fulfilling.

The whole experience was really rewarding. I felt that I was part of the students’ journey throughout the course. It was amazing to see someone learning to cook and being inspired to carry on cooking in the future. Those were the most memorable moments – that’s what my passion is all about.