There are many different ways to start a community kitchen.
Start a Kitchen
How to Start a Community Kitchen:
There is no cookie-cutter approach to starting a community kitchen. Although every one shares similar benefits, the participation, start up and maintenance procedures of a kitchen can differ. These steps can lead to the successful start-up of a community kitchen. Please consider how they can be revised or altered to better reach and accommodate your particular group.
Advertise – Find like-minded people to get involved in your Community Kitchen
- Create an electronic and/or printed poster or flyer with a brief description of your plans for a community kitchen.
Display your poster in neighbourhood houses, community centres, local gathering places and use all the social media outlets that you feel will reach your potential participants. .
- Word of mouth is a very effective form of advertising. Tell all your friends and acquaintances to spread the word.
- If you work for a community agency, tell your colleagues about your community kitchen plans. They may know of an existing program or group who would be interested in adding a community kitchen component.
- Let your external community partners, donors and supporters know of your community kitchen plans and encourage them to refer participants.
Call the First Meeting
- When you have four or five interested people, call your first meeting. Host it in a public place in the community.
During the First Meeting – Plan and Organize
- Set your agenda and ask for input once everyone arrives. Agenda topics will guide your group through this important meeting.
Recommendation: Have someone record the decisions made and any questions requiring further discussion.
Check out our First Meeting Checklist.
- If you are arranging childcare during your community kitchen sessions and need some ideas, take a look at how other community kitchens have managed childcare.
- Create your community kitchen guidelines. These will outline tasks and behaviours expected from all participants, and will help to create a harmonious atmosphere in the kitchen. Review the guidelines regularly, especially if your group members frequently change.
Check out our Considerations for Group Guidelines.
Find a Location
Securing a location for your community kitchen may be a task that comes out of your first meeting. In Vancouver, there are many different organizations that will host community kitchens. Some of these sites include:
- community centres
- neighbourhood houses
- church kitchens
- apartment or co-op common kitchen areas
- common kitchen areas
Get Your Kitchen Ready to Operate
- Organize initial cooking equipment, but plan to expand with needs, experience and time. To give you an idea, here is how we set up our Vancouver Food Bank training kitchen:
- We started with the equipment necessary for our first cooking session.
- With each subsequent session, equipment was slowly added as needed. Now it is fully stocked.
- This gradual approach has given us more time to accept donations or to find the best prices on equipment.
- Please keep in mind cross-cultural cooking that requires different tools and equipment.
- See what we recommend for basic equipment on our Getting Equipment and Food page.
- Check out some ideas on Kitchen Layout.
- Take a look at our Maintaining a Kitchen page once your kitchen is up and running.
During the Second Meeting – Organize Recipes, Finances and Photos
- Encourage group members to bring favourite recipes, grocery store flyers and relevant information on food sales or seasonal foods. Select the recipes. This can be done a number of ways: weekly, monthly, even the day before cooking, or by choosing recipes for the next session during the current session.
- Consider the time and equipment each recipe takes to prepare and cook/bake. Don’t overbook the stove top or oven space.
- Ensure recipes meet the needs (dietary and cultural) and desires of the group.
- Consult the CPMA Fruit and Vegetable Availability Guide for a list of Canadian produce availability.
- See our Recipes page for other ideas.
- Determine how to handle the finances. It may take a few cooking sessions to find the payment method that works best for your group. Here are two possible options:
- Pre-Pay Shoppers: Each member provides grocery money during recipe planning. Depending on the group guidelines, the amount paid by each participant could be the same each time or could vary depending on the recipes chosen. The participants’ money is handed over in good faith to the grocery shopper(s). At the cooking session, the grocery shoppers provide receipts along with the food. Any unspent money goes back into a pooled communal fund (a kitty) which is kept by the community kitchen facilitator. If necessary, the shopper(s) are reimbursed from the kitty. It is important to establish the kitty prior to starting your community kitchen – this could be done during your first meeting when establishing the group guidelines.
- Reimburse Shoppers: Groceries are purchased on behalf of the group by 2 or 3 members, using their own money. At the cooking session, the grocery shoppers provide receipts along with the food. The community kitchen facilitator adds up the total cost for the cooking session. The cost is then divided among the participants and the shoppers are reimbursed.
- Consider alternative forms of contributions. Not everyone can afford to contribute money, but they may be able to help out by:
- Providing food from their garden or cupboard.
- Offering other skills, e.g. child minding, etc.
- Assisting in getting equipment and food.
Distribute a Photo Release Form during this second meeting to allow photographing of participants. These photographs can be used for a number of reasons, including publicity and to show funders and supporters (e.g., board members) how their contributions are being used. Remember to provide a photo release to each new participant.
Purchase the Groceries
Once your group has selected recipes for the next cooking session, decide whether you need to double or triple the recipes.. Here are suggested ways to organize the shopping:
- Create one master list of ingredients needed for all recipes. You might want to use or adapt this Shopping List.
- Divide the grocery list among the shoppers. Here are a few ideas:
- Have each shopper in the group buy a portion. The entire grocery list may be divided among the shoppers, or each shopper can purchase the ingredients for one recipe.
- Or, designate one or two shoppers to buy all the ingredients. Other group members can also take turns.
- Shop as close to the cooking time as possible to allow proper storage of perishable items.
- Store your ingredients safely and at the appropriate temperature (refrigerate if necessary). See our Kitchen Safety & Hygiene page for more information.
- Save all your receipts so when it comes time to divide the cost of food it is very clear.
Every community kitchen group has its own starting point. Some groups may be able to arrive and get cooking right away. Others will require considerable support and organization prior to the actual cooking session. Establishing a few basic steps will not only increase the group’s effectiveness and success rate but will also increase the overall knowledge and skill level within your kitchen.
Considerations for the Community Kitchen Facilitator:
- Prepare the workstations before the community kitchen starts and the group comes in.
- Gather all the ingredients, utensils and cooking/baking equipment that will be needed for each recipe and set up each station.
- Pre-wash all the fruits and vegetables so that you don’t have a crowd around the sink.
- Organize work spaces, e.g., if a recipe requires use of the stove, it might be convenient to work on the counter space next to the stove.
- When the group arrives, have them read the recipes aloud. Point out the important tasks. Familiarizing the entire group with each recipe will allow you to anticipate and prevent problems.
- Divide the tasks. If you have not done so already in your recipe planning meeting, determine who will be working on what recipe. Use a Division of Chores form to clarify roles.
- Lastly, urge participants to re-read the recipe so the information is fresh in their minds. Don your aprons, wash your hands and let the cooking begin!
Evaluate Your Kitchen
After a few cooking sessions, it’s a good idea to have your participants share their perspectives. What do they like? What do they think isn’t working? The results will provide you with helpful information for your future community kitchen activities. Consider distributing a pre-questionnaire before an event. It would include similar questions to the evaluation form you give at the end – this way you have an idea of what knowledge people gained.
- Conduct a verbal evaluation (i.e., speaking with the participants directly). If you use this method, you may want to have focus groups or record the evaluation session.
- Collect written evaluations (i.e., participants fill out a form). When creating an evaluation form, consider the following:
- Keep it short and simple, preferably one page
- Think about questions you can ask to discover if you have fulfilled your goals, e.g., Did you want the program to provide a social benefit or improve health and nutrition? Or both? Did you want people to learn cooking skills that they would use at home?
- Try our Creating an Evaluation Form or take a look at a Sample Evaluation Form.
Get Funding and Support
See our Funding Sources page for some suggestions.
For More Assistance & Ideas
Here are some Community Kitchen Manuals that you can download:
- Winnipeg Cooks Together – A Handbook for Community Kitchens – Along with advice and instruction on how to organize and operate a community kitchen, it also includes favourite recipes contributed by various community kitchens
- Cowichan Community Kitchen Manual– A detailed manual from Duncan, BC including examples of forms.
- Community Kitchen Manual – A Guide for Community Organizations in Cape Breton
- Guelph-Wellington Food Roundtable’s Collective Kitchen Manual
- Community Kitchen Best Practices Toolkit: A Guide for Community Organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador