Cooking Groups

A community kitchen is a group of participants who meet regularly to cook meals to feed themselves and their families.

Everyone shares in the recipe selection, cooking and clean-up. You pay for the portion of food you take home. Each group decides how they will operate. Some groups meet to prepare a shared meal, others take home the meals they create.

New groups may be formed as the need arises. Find more information on starting your own group further down the page. 

Starting Your Own Group

Our experience in Nanaimo is that there is no one way to run a cooking group. Many people just want to gather to cook together and share a meal. 

The model below is adapted from the Fresh Choice Kitchens website and the "Many Hands" cookbook. There's no cookie cutter approach for starting a CK, but below are some basic steps people have used to create successful kitchens. Keep your group in mind as you read through this and make notes (mental or otherwise) as to how this outline can be revised or altered to suit your goals.

Create a Small Poster/Flyer

The poster should briefly describe the concept, encourage interest, and include contact information. Community centres, schools, and local gathering places are good spots to display your poster. Some people even advertise in local papers or newsletters. 

Word of mouth is one of the most effective forms of advertising. Tell everyone you know about what you want to do and you'll have enough cooks to get started in no time.

Plan a First Meeting

Once you have 4 or 5 interested people, call your first meeting. Host it in your home or in a public place. Most community schools will accommodate these types of meetings at no cost. You may want to present the community facility with general information explaining what a CK is. This will help them understand what your group is trying to achieve and they may even be interested in playing a supportive role.

Contact a community kitchen leader that lives in your area and invite them to your first meeting. It's always helpful to have someone with direct CK experience that will help your group discuss the more challenging issues surrounding communal cooking.

The First Meeting

The first meeting allows the group to make decisions about their time together in a community kitchen. It's suggested that you use this checklist [download pdf] as a general agenda to guide your group through this meeting. Consider printing it out for each participant so you can go through it together. It's also recommended that someone volunteer to record decisions made and questions that will require further discussion. Copies of these minutes should be made available to all members of the group.
After this, there will have been tasks delegated that include securing a place to cook. In Nanaimo, there are a variety of choices. Some of the sites to consider are:  Schools/community schools, Churches. Common kitchen areas,  the Foodshare Centre

The Second Meeting - Recipe Selection and Groceries

Recipe selection can be done a week in advance, a month in advance, or the day before cooking. Some established groups feel comfortable enough to choose recipes for the next cooking during the present cooking. What's important in recipe selection is that everyone bring recipes that meet the criteria discussed and agreed upon in the first meeting. Encourage group members to bring favourite recipes, recipe books, grocery store flyers, and information on food sales or seasonal foods. Remember that cost and seasonal availability will work hand in hand with each other. Keep in mind the length of time each recipe takes to prepare and cook. Make sure you don't overbook the stove top or oven.

The Shopping

Once your group has selected four or five recipes for the cooking session, decide whether you need to double or triple the recipes. This depends on how many portions each person requires. Once this is determined, you're ready to organize the shopping list and choose the shoppers. Here are a couple of methods that have worked well for other kitchens:

  • Create one master ingredient list for all the recipes. Divide the list so each shopper buys a portion, or have people take turns buying all the ingredients. The list can be divided by food group to make shopping simpler.
  • Create one list per recipe (some ingredients will overlap). One shopper will be responsible for the ingredients of one or two recipes. Many groups have one or two designated shoppers who sometimes take turns

Storage of perishable items is often an issue which makes shopping close to cooking time important. Please be sure that the ingredients for your community kitchen recipes are being stored safely and at the appropriate temperature (refrigerated if necessary) after their purchase. You may even find some ingredients are available from someone's garden or cupboard.

Save all your receipts to make life easier when it comes time to divide the cost of food or keep a general accounting of cost per portion.

  • Read recipes out loud. This might seem obvious but many people are in such a rush to get their hands dirty that they never actually go over what they are about to do.
  •  Divide up the tasks. Determine who will be working on what recipe.
  • Prepare work stations. Gather all the ingredients, utensils and cooking/baking equipment that will be needed for each recipe and set up an area to work in.
  •  Each participant should read over the recipe again in order to have the information fresh in their minds. Now don your aprons, wash your hands, and let the cooking begin!

Grocery Money

The group will need to make a decision on how they want to handle finances and it may take a few sessions to find the method that works best. Some groups working with a budget agree to bring a set amount of grocery money each time they recipe plan and hand this over in good faith to the grocery shopper(s). In some cases, contributing something other than money towards the cooking would be appropriate. For instance: garden produce, frozen meat, or child-minding. Other groups use a reimbursement method. Whether they use a per-person or per-portion budget, the cost is divided up once they meet to cook and all shoppers are reimbursed.

Some kitchens receive food support from their local food banks. Other kitchens receive donated food support from local retail or wholesale food distributors. These donations may reduce the food costs to an amount that's affordable to the group.

The Cooking

Groups cook together every week, every three weeks, or once a month. Since cooking together means menu planning and shopping, groups who are making 5meals to bring home often find it too much to cook once a week. They would rather cook a large number of meals and cook less often. The majority of groups who cook once a week share a fabulous meal together at that time. Little, if any, cooked meals are taken home.

Regardless of how many meals your group is cooking at any given time, meal preparation and sharing is a rewarding group activity. Your group is gathered in the kitchen and ready to go. Establishing a few basic steps will not only increase the group's effectiveness and success rate but will also increase the overall level of knowledge and skill within your kitchen.