by Sherry Gilkin

When I graduated from the Institute for Humane Education’s M.Ed. program, I knew that I wanted to work with adults and thought that facilitating a vegan cooking class would be a great way to gain teaching experience in an adult setting, while also teaching something I was passionate and knowledgeable about.

Recently I’ve taught my first few classes, and they have been really successful. Comments have been very positive, including:

“Great class and even better instructor!”

“We have the best class!”

Below are a few tips that can help you plan your own vegan cooking class. (Note: Although my class is tailored to adults, much of the information can be adapted for teaching teenagers and children.)

  • Research local adult education programs. Look at the current course offerings. If the school currently offers any kind of cooking program, that means they are equipped with a kitchen. Having a kitchen is helpful but not essential, depending on what kind of program you want to teach. Ask if the school has course proposal forms, or make up your own. Churches can also be useful venues, as they often rent space with kitchens.
  • Decide what type of class you would like to offer. Will you be demonstrating? Will the students be doing the cooking? Will you do a combination of both? My Independent Learning Project at IHE was to complete a handbook for adult educators entitled “Teaching for Transformation: How Adults Learn Best.” As a result of my project, I discovered that although there are many different learning styles (auditory, visual, etc.), research shows that no matter what your learning preference is, most people learn best by doing. You may even want to sign up for a class, if you have the time. It’s a great way to observe other teachers. Think about what format you would like to offer. I decided to offer a completely hands on class and to have the students prepare a full meal each class – appetizer, entrée, side dish, and dessert.
  • Create your course description. Search online for descriptions of other vegan cooking classes to use as inspiration. Decide on the dates and times. The coordinator of the school’s adult program might be able to tell you if a certain weeknight or timeframe is more popular with students. Ask the coordinator about including a budget for food and whether you will be responsible for collecting the course fees (ideally, you want students to pay the school). The school at which I taught collected the tuition from students and then gave me the amount agreed upon for the food budget.Submit your course proposal form to local schools. Ask friends if they have any contacts at local schools or venues. Be cognizant of the course title; it’s what is going to catch people’s attention. I did not have a sufficient number of students enroll for the first few semesters I offered the class until I changed the class title from “vegan cooking” to “healthy plant-based cooking.”
  • Budget carefully. This is tricky. Your costs will vary, depending on the types of recipes you are making, the quality of the ingredients used, and the number of students.  Unless you can get in contact with someone experienced in teaching cooking classes in your area, you may have to use trial and error your first few times. For my first class I had a budget of less than $7 per student per class and frequently went over my budget and/or used my own ingredients from home. Even if you do go over budget or need to bring items from home, such as spices, remember that whatever is left over after making the recipes is yours to take home, which may help to balance any budgetary discrepancies.
  • Advertise. Once you have found a school or venue willing to offer your program, congratulations! Even though the school will do their own advertising (most likely in the form of a course catalog), it’s a good idea to do some advertising of your own to guarantee sufficient enrollment. Post on social media and ask friends to share. Create a flyer and post it at local health food stores, libraries, co-ops, etc. Contact your local vegan or vegetarian societies and ask them to include the class info on their websites or in their email newsletters.
  • Get organized. Create a folder or binder and keep everything in one place. Do the same on your mobile devices. Create a place to save recipes, information, articles, videos, handouts, etc., for future class use. Research and save supplemental information to hand out. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website  is a wonderful resource which has a section entitled “educational literature” full of fact sheets and other publications. I relied on information from this site, as PCRM is a nonprofit comprised of some well-known physicians.
  • Visit the classroom prior to the first day of class. Familiarize yourself with the setup, the available equipment (paying attention to small yet very important items such as a zester, can opener, dish towels, dish soap, etc.), and where the restrooms are located.
  • Figure out the flow. Once you know how many students you have and the format you will be doing (demo, hands-on, a combo, etc.), think about the specifics. If you’re doing hands-on, you can divide students arbitrarily or have them choose their own groups. Create a loose timeline based on the length of your class and what you want to fit in (e.g., a short demo in the beginning, a short discussion on ingredients/recipes for the night, cooking, cleaning up, and eating). Be sure to factor in a few extra minutes for students to arrive at the beginning of class and, very importantly, time for clean up at the end. Ask the school if you have to leave the classroom by a certain time. If so, you definitely do not want to run out of time and get stuck cleaning up huge messes all by yourself! I handed materials out for a brief discussion while students were eating. You also want to get student feedback about the recipes they made. Some additional ideas:
    • Have a potluck the last night and have students invite a friend or family members.
    • Provide materials for students to take home. Many organizations will send you literature for free or at a nominal cost. If you subscribe to veg magazines, save your old issues and provide them to students. Print out materials each week to discuss. Provide a list of local vegan friendly restaurants and any upcoming veg friendly activities, potlucks, events, etc.
    • Have a moving night (showing a short vegan-themed film) with treats, or you could get the food from a restaurant you want to promote, if your budget allows.
    • Offer themed classes (e.g., Italian, Mexican, appetizers, desserts).
  • Be prepared. Depending on how many students enroll in your class, you may need to enlist the help of a friend (I would suggest having someone help you if your class is any larger than 12). If you aren’t able to find someone to assist you during every class, try to at least have help for the first class, which tends to be the most chaotic. I was surprised at the amount of preparation and work this class would be. Because I tailored the recipes to the requests of the students, all of the prep work could not be done ahead of time; it had to be done on a weekly basis. But I know that the students appreciated having a say in what types of recipes they made.
  • Print out the week’s recipes along with any handout information for students and keep a master copy for yourself. Before you leave your home to go to class, lay out all ingredients and one by one check them off your master copy as you pack them up, taking care especially to remember items in the refrigerator and freezer (make sure you have an insulated bag for cold items). It’s easy to forget one ingredient when you are lugging 30-40 plus items with you! Always make sure you have all the equipment needed for each recipe, especially miscellaneous things such as a can opener, lemon juicer, steamer basket, blender, food processor, muffin tins, casserole dishes, masher, etc.
  • Get student input. I handed out a questionnaire the first night of class so that I could poll the students on their skill level and what they were interested in cooking. I wanted to tailor the class to them and include their requests. Luckily, my group of students already had a high skill set, so I did not have to spend a lot of time teaching them basic cooking skills. Find out what your students are interested in learning about and customize the class as much as possible. If students request recipes you have not made before, be aware that there are pros and cons. It can be fun to try out new recipes, and even if the recipe doesn’t turn out as expected, it’s a chance for students to improvise and to be creative about amending a recipe, if necessary. Conversely, some recipes are just duds, and it’s up to you whether you want to take a chance during a class.If you have the time and budget, you can also make new recipes in advance of class and do a trial run.
  • Expect things to go wrong. I had quite a few problems occur the first semester I taught. I’ll detail a few mistakes to give you an idea of the types of problems that can occur and ways to prevent them.
    • Even though my class was in a fully stocked home ec room, and I had visited the classroom prior to the start of class to see what equipment was available, there was no can opener (check to ensure your classroom has the equipment you need or ensure you bring what is essential with you to class).
    • The food processors in the classroom would not work until a student figured out that the circuit breaker on the electrical strips was turned off (always check power strips, circuit breakers, etc.; plug in a device to ensure the receptacles you’ll be using are working).
    • The door to the classroom storage room was locked one night, which meant we were unable to use anything in it, including muffin tins, knives, cutting boards, etc. (Try to have a staff phone number you can call after hours or know where the maintenance workers are in the building).
    • One night of class I left an essential ingredient (almond milk) at home in the refrigerator; I had put it in my class bag after checking it off my master list but inadvertently put it back in the refrigerator out of habit after making myself a pre-class smoothie (check and double check your master list).
  • Carefully plan the first night of class. Things you can do the first night of class:
    • Introduce yourself and write your name on the board.  Share a bit about your experience and what brings you to the class.
    • Do a quick icebreaker.
    • Hand out a short questionnaire to obtain information such as skill level, current diet, any food allergies, etc. After you collect the finished forms, you can write a quick description of each student to help you remember their names. I also added little things to the sheet that I learned about each student to help me remember them.
    • List the night’s recipes on the board and assign to groups based on skill level or have groups volunteer to make what they’d like.
    • Let students know:
      -they are responsible for cleaning up their stations when done cooking and cleaning their plates and utensils when done eating.
      -to bring their own beverages (or you can provide them if your budget allows).
      -to bring in containers for leftovers each week (they will most likely forget, so I strongly suggest you bring your own, or else you will be stuck throwing away perfectly good food).
      -to come hungry, since they will be eating what they prepare.
      -where restrooms, emergency exits, water fountains, recycling containers, etc., are located.
      -if you compost, provide a compost container.
    • Lay out all ingredients and any special equipment you brought on a table in the front of the class. After each group is paired with a recipe, students take whatever ingredients are needed and then return them to the table when finished.
    • Take a minute to explain any unusual or unfamiliar ingredients to the class, along with any special instructions.
  • Enjoy the experience. It may a lot of work, you may get a difficult student, or face some challenges, but the important thing to remember is that you are facilitating humane education and helping to enact positive change.Please contact me with any questions.


Image via 5oulscape/Flickr.