Vegetarian for Life

Keep your cookery demonstrations inclusive and achievable

Posted by Alex on 03/06/24 in Recipes

Ahead of Carers Week (10 to 16 June), Vegetarian for Life Roving Chef (North) Alex Connell shares some tips on how to plan and deliver a cookery class. And if you're not confident about holding a group session, don't worry – Vegetarian for Life can offer bespoke training to boost your own confidence.

As we come to Carers Week, we are reminded of the important role of carers. The work you do either as a paid carer or looking after a loved one can be rewarding, hard work and frustrating at times. Cookery has a vital role to play – it gives us a great opportunity to get creative, share quality time and do something practical.

Food preparation is a great opportunity to talk about preferences, healthy eating habits and budgeting. Cooking also allows us to work as a team, divide responsibilities, collectively solve problems, elicit conversations, promote reminiscence and to be part of a bigger project.

You might want to hold a cookery class themed around a birthday party, Christmas, a BBQ or picnic, or a celebration day such as St David’s Day, Diwali or Earth Day. For some further top tips, you might also want to refer to our 27-page resource, Celebrating Vegetarianism and Veganism, which Vegetarian for Life co-developed with the National Activity Providers Association to support the well-being of vegetarians and vegans using care services.

Not everyone is a confident cook. But if you're wondering if you can lead a cookery group, don't worry – find a dish you're comfortable with, or learn a few simple recipes. Alternatively, invite an outside speaker or chef. At Vegetarian for Life, we deliver cookery demonstrations and classes every week in a wide range of settings. Our courses offer something for every level of ability; from chefs to cooks, and head chefs to front of house staff. Contact us for more information. There is a charge, but we keep this to a minimum.

How to use cookery as an activity

Plan your menu and recipes to suit the people you will be working with. Always check ahead of time, but if you are delivering a cookery demonstration and you are unsure about the group's dietary requirements, then vegan or vegetarian recipes will suit a larger number of people. Whatever you choose to make, recipes should always be inclusive.

Consider the abilities of the people you care for. Some may not be able to stand for long, or have difficulty chopping vegetables. Simple steps ahead of the session will help it to run a lot smoother. For example, butternut squash can be hard to peel – so why not swap it for sweet potato instead; they have a similar colour and may provide a potential discussion point.

Your group might have different health and safety considerations, which could be easily overlooked. Consider the session from the position of the people you are caring for, as well as your own safety. You might want to consider sharp knives or hot stoves. And do any of the participants have food allergies? Some of the ingredients may present specific challenges to your group. Depending on your role, you may need to take a short course on food safety. Remember, food safety protects both the people you cook for, and yourself.

How long will your activity take?

This really is up to you and what you decide to make. Activities around cooking can be as long as you want them to be, particularly if you include the planning and shopping stages. My own cookery demonstrations generally take 30 minutes to set up, with an hour of cooking, then another 30 minutes to eat and tidy up. The activity should not feel rushed, but keep it short enough to keep people engaged.

What equipment will you need?

This depends on what you plan to make.

Salads and no-bake dishes don’t require an oven, but you will need bowls, chopping boards and knives.

For simple hob dishes, consider buying a portable induction hob. These are a lot safer than open flame gas cookers, although both will work well, and the induction hob cools quickly. Remember that you will require pans that are suitable for an induction hob.

If you need a cooker, and your kitchen is in regular use, do check with the chef when it’s available.

Ideas for dishes

Soup is an easy dish to make and is a good way to use what's available at the time. It is also easy to make in a large pan and you can give out plenty of samples. Adjust the portion size up or down to make it go further. Also, you may want to add bread or toast, again giving flexibility to the portion size but also to create a dish that can be eaten as finger food.

Here are two ideas for soups from our Vegetarian for Life recipe pages:

Butternut squash soup

Sweetcorn chowder

Main courses

Cottage pie

This is an old favourite of mine – I have delivered this many times with groups, and it is always popular. Cottage pie can be made to suit dietary requirements such as using a gluten-free mince – for this, try Meatless Farm Plant-Based Mince. If your group requires gluten-free dishes, remember to also use a gluten-free stock cube, gravy powder, and margarine for the mashed potato. I bring along pickled cabbage and beetroot to brighten up the dish.

Lancashire hotpot

Another favourite – with the bonus that this recipe can be made without an oven. Precook the potatoes, slice and gently fry them, and place them on top of each serving. I even make this one at home just for my partner and myself.

Pasta with roasted vegetables and lentils

Despite this recipe requiring you to roast the vegetables, which is great and really tasty, it is also possible to cook the vegetables in a large frying pan. When cooked, simply add precooked spaghetti. Easy!

Vegan sausage casserole

This was my go-to recipe when I began delivering cookery demonstrations. In those days, I held cookery classes for teenagers, but the recipe stayed with me and is proving to be equally popular with adults.

Chef's tip: Cook the sausages separately to the vegetables, and wait until the vegetables are done before you add them to the casserole. You only need to heat the sausages through – if you add them too early, they will overcook.

What about cakes?

Yes, we all like cake! I often don’t have access to an oven with my demonstrations, so I pre-bake my cakes. I talk my group through the process of how to make them with the ingredients in front of me. Then, as if by magic, I produce one I made earlier. Depending on the cake, I may also make an accompanying caramel sauce or a custard.

Chef’s tip: Custard is always a good idea.

Follow these links to some delicious and very popular cakes:

Sticky toffee pudding

Apple cake


Foods to avoid

No foods are completely off the menu. However, certain foods are simply not appropriate – obviously, meat and dairy products if your group requires a vegan dish. Some foods may be too complicated or require too many ingredients or steps. Some require chilling, and of course bread would require time for the dough to rise. Fried foods can create smoke and trigger fire alarms. Some dishes can’t be made in the required scale. The list goes on...

As a rule, keep it simple. What you choose to make, either as a group activity or simply a demonstration, should be relatively easy to make and inclusive for your audience.

And finally...

Eat your food together at the end of the demonstration. Feel free to include support workers. By eating together you will all be sharing the experience and bonding. And make sure you've allowed time for your meal together on top of the time you devote to the recipe. You also need to allow time for setting up, eating and tidying up.

Whatever you decide to make, have fun with it.

Chef Alex

Find out more: Vegetarian for Life training courses:

The Vegetarian for Life Cookery School offers courses that will put every learner on the right path to becoming a successful cook with an all-round plant-based repertoire. A practical, professional approach will give learners the knowledge and skills to cook plant-based options with confidence.

Learners will be given access to a range of resources to support their continued development.

All courses give learners the opportunity to ask any questions they have about vegan and vegetarian diets.

We can also give your team access to our online training series, Care Catering for Vegetarians and Vegans. And if you’d like to be known as the very best, we can heavily subsidise full-day care caterer training courses.


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