Canny Cooking: Good Nutrition Needn’t Cost The Earth


By Tracy Moynihan

NHS Ayrshire and Arran Health Promotion Dietitian

Cropped Toolkit 2

In 2008 NHS Ayrshire and Arran’s Health Promotion Dietetic Team received funding from Community Food and Health Scotland (CFHS) to produce the CAN (Cheap and Nutritious) Toolkit. The Toolkit began as a way of engaging low income groups in practical cooking classes which produced healthy and quick one-pot meals using fresh ingredients.

With thCAN Toolkit Recipee increase in foodbanks our team recognised there was a need to devise simple meal ideas using common store cupboard/food bank ingredients. This led to phase two of our project which aimed to produce a range of tasty, nutritious meals based around the Eatwell plate, which could be made quickly and easily with the ingredients on offer. To ensure success each meal idea was tried and tested by our team and piloted with local community projects and foodbanks. Where necessary, tips were added to improve flavour, meaning the finalised meal ideas were all rated as “tasty”, and costs ranged from as little as 50p to a maximum of 92p per portion. These simple meal ideas are now incorporated into the CAN Toolkit and its associated training.

Evaluation of the CAN Toolkit and the newly incorporated meal ideas, has been extremely positive. Users report improved confidence when cooking with many surprised at how easy it is to make affordable food that appeals to the whole family. This illustrates how the Toolkit overcomes traditional barriers and challenges common misconceptions that a healthy diet is unaffordable and unachievable for those with low incomes and limited cooking facilities or equipment. Other service users state they are now able to incorporate more fruit and vegetables into their diets, and reduce their meat intake without sacrificing protein. This is key for future health, as these changes are associated with reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

Recent developments have led us to produce posters which display the simple meal ideas. They are being displayed at foodbank collection points in NHS Ayrshire and Arran premises, supermarkets, and in foodbanks themselves. This encourages the public to donate the items required to produce a simple meal and subsequently helps foodbank users to receive a balanced meal.

In East Ayrshire some Council for Voluntary Services (CVO) volunteers have been trained on the CAN Toolkit and they deliver sessions to food bank users. Following these sessions it has become apparaent to both the Health Promotion Dietetic Team and the CVO Team that fuel poverty has become a major barrier and it is preventing service users from utilising their new cooking skills at home. In response to this we have worked together to secure funding which is enabling us to produce and trial heat retention cookery (HRC) and incorporate it in our CAN Toolkit training sessions.

WonderbagFor those unfamiliar with a heat retention cooker; it works in the following way. A user heats a pot of food to boiling on the hob; they then remove it from the heat and place it in an insulated container (the HRC), leaving the pot to cook through using only the retained heat.The poster opposite shows one commercial product which is available and re-iterates how it works.

As we are producing our own HRC we needed to design and brand it. Through consultation with users, our local group have decided to name our cooker ‘The Canny Cooker’. This illustrates its links to the CAN Toolkit and the simple meal ideas made from canned foods; it also makes reference to the Scottish word ‘Canny’ meaning shrewd or clever.

Despite being in the early stages of the HRC phase of the project, we believe it could help to address fuel poverty, relieve financial pressures, address this financial barrier to good nutrition, and improve overall quality-of-life. One trial of HRC carried out with a service user in a neighbouring Healthboard supports this theory; it demonstrated a 30% reduction in fuel costs. A reduction in fuel usage also has a positive environmental effect and it was this factor, alongside the potential for cost savings and our planned partnership with GRAFT to use recycled materials that led us to our strapline: Good Nutrition Needn’t Cost the Earth.

GRAFT (Gain Respect and Foster Trust) is a furniture re-use, re-cycle centre which helps to furnish new tenancies for people who’ve experienced homelessness. The project is partially staffed by volunteers and occassionally they also supervises people undertaking community payback orders. GRAFT have agreed to make and supply our “Canny Cookers”, and in future they hope to make them from donated materials and launch a social enterprise.

It was hoped that the CAN toolkit would be used by those teaching cooking skills to low-income groups, and that as a result it would support local people to eat well on a limited budget. This goal has been achieved and the impact of the toolkit has surpassed all expectations. The toolkit and Simple Meal Ideas are now used throughout Scotland by a range of individuals, groups and services, including learning disability services, children and young people, and those with limited cooking skills and/or low literacy. This illustrates the project’s transferability and by making a number of the training resources available via our online resource library, others can adopt our approach and roll-out the programme. Click here to view it.

Our Canny Cooker is already receiving interest from far and wide, including foodbank users, low income groups, those with learning disabilities/mental health issues and older people relying on home carers who have limited time to cook. In future we plan to make the pattern for the Canny Cooker and the cooking times associated with each of the CAN Toolkit meal ideas available to anyone interested in developing this service in their area.

For more information follow the link to the resource library above or contact Tracy Moynihan at



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