A new project started this year in Bristol

We really are what we eat – wherever we are when we eat it. This highly practical course has been running at Horfield Prison since January 2011 and aims to improve food choice both in prison and on release.

It has been developed and organised by Nutritionist Sue Baic and Bev Campbell, a Food Technology teacher in a Bristol school. Sue delivers the theory component of the 4 session course and Bev the practical cooking element. The programme runs for 6 months and will accommodate 120 participants in total. Mark Haddow, catering manager at the prison, provides the ingredients for the course, by using the prisoners’ lunch allowance for that day. Mark says “It helps the prisoners realise how easy healthy cooking is and how to make positive changes to their eating habits”.

This initiative was inspired by research showing that diet affects not only physical health but also mental health, including behaviour, mood and concentration. Research on young adult prisoners has shown they often choose poor diets which could adversely affect behaviour both in prison and on the outside.

pastaThe sessions explore the basic principles of a healthy diet and how to put that learning into practice in real life. Participants – ten per course – learn in groups how to prepare straightforward, healthy meals using basic equipment and affordable ingredients. The recipes provide alternatives to high fat & high salt dishes, ready meals and takeaways, which many of the prisoners report buying. They are designed for easy replication at home, increasing the chances that knowledge and skills gained are cascaded down to other family members. The nutritionally analysed and costed recipes are included in a resource pack for each participant along with a copy of the Eatwell Plate, tips for healthy eating and shopping, and a certificate of attendance.

Each course consists of two sessions on healthy eating and shopping, based around the Food Standards Agency Eatwell plate and two practical cooking sessions designed to apply the theory learned in the previous healthy eating session. At the end of the cooking session participants share the food they have cooked and discuss with the group any points raised during session.

Empowering and motivating prisoners to improve their food choices while inside, and when they leave (many are not serving long sentences), provides the foundation for dietary behaviour change and better health.
So far the course has been very well received by the prisoners who report enjoying it, gaining new knowledge and skills and making many beneficial changes to their diets in prison which they hope to continue on the outside.

FFI liz.fox@bristol.nhs.uk

This article first appeared in the first appeared in Bristol’s local food update, May-June 2011.