It’s a Saturday morning in Merton College’s training kitchen. Like a scene from a TV cookery show, seven pairs of amateur cooks are ready at their gleaming workstations, watching a live cookery demo at the front of the class.
The event is the second of three Cook Smart sessions for adults with learning disabilities and autism and their carers. Relaxed and fun, the sessions are led by a Merton Mencap team, many of whom work at the charity’s Community Café in Wimbledon town centre. As well as the cooking tutorial, the sessions provide families with an enjoyable Saturday morning activity to do together.
The sessions have been great, really engaging and a lot of fun.”
On the menu is a noodle broth with tofu and vegetables followed by low-sugar apple crumble bites, which the cooks take home to sample later. All ingredients are provided. It’s delicious, according to the group, and proof that, in spite of the rising cost of fresh ingredients, it is possible to make fresh nutritious food on a budget.
The project was developed by Morden GP practices, together with leading local charity Merton Mencap, which supports people with learning disabilities and autism and their families. According to chief executive of Merton Mencap, Andrew Whittington: “The sessions have been great, really engaging and a lot of fun.”
As well as demonstrating that cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be tricky or time-consuming, the sessions are about encouraging healthy eating with an emphasis on diabetes prevention.
Says Andrew: “We know that diabetes is a problem for the general population’s health, and that people with learning disabilities and autism are more likely to experience inequalities leading to poorer health. Put those two factors together and diabetes is a real risk for this group.
“However, cooking from scratch, rather than eating processed foods, can help prevent diabetes. We know that can be difficult, given the rising cost of ingredients, so we also wanted to give tips on being healthy without breaking the bank – by batch cooking, for example.”
The project is a partnership between Merton Mencap, Morden Primary Care Network (PCN) which is made up of local GP practices, NHS South West London and better health campaign, One You Merton, with funding from NHS Charities Together.
Said Andrew: “It was wonderful to have local GPs come along to the Cook Smart sessions to give their input. It really shows what can be achieved when agencies come together.”
According to participant, Jehangir: “The session has helped me learn more about healthy eating and about using healthy and good ingredients in preparing a meal which is quick, easy and delicious.”
For another, Annie: “Cook Smart was an enjoyable and therapeutic experience for my son and it encouraged healthy eating,”
It has been really rewarding to see participants enjoy cooking healthy meals together and learning new skills.”
Dr Elizabeth Higham, joint clinical director of Morden PCN, said: “Our initial community engagement activity highlighted the need for accessible healthy cooking sessions for people with a learning disability. We were delighted that Merton Mencap and One You Merton joined with us on this venture.
“A nutritionist from One You Merton worked with the Mencap team to help design the menu and the Mencap team did an incredible job of leading the cooking sessions. It has been really rewarding to see participants enjoy cooking healthy meals together and learning new skills.”
Morden PCN is made up of the GP practices, Central Medical Centre, Morden Hall Medical Centre, Stonecot Surgery and Ravensbury Park Medical Centre.
For details of future Cook Smart sessions, visit the Merton Mencap website.