Gousto is providing “fresh, healthy food parcels in the form of meal kits” to food bank users in Hammersmith and Fulham.
Funded by the local council and Gousto, the pilot trial is taking place over 12 weeks, will “assess the mental health and wellbeing benefits of the upgraded food parcels and accessible home cooking”.
The vegetarian food parcels provide ingredients for several meals, each of which contain two of a person’s recommended five fruit or vegetables a day, as well as wholegrains and healthy fats like nuts, seeds, eggs and avocados. The meals – designed by Gousto’s nutritionist and registered dietician Ellie Bain – each take less than 30 minutes to cook.
The impact of the meal kits will be studied by the council and the Imperial College London Self-Care Research Unit (SCARU).
“The ambition is that the learnings will help inform the approach of emergency food providers across the country,” Gousto said.
The trial comes as the number of emergency food parcels distributed by food banks soars. Food banks in the Trussell Trust network distributed 29% more parcels in April and May this year compared with the same period in 2021.
According to the trust there’s been an 81% increase in demand over the past year compared to the same period five years ago. A 2019 report by the trust found three-quarters of food bank users report at least one health issue.
Food parcels are designed for people in occasional crisis, expected to be no more than three to four times a year, rather than for long-term needs. Parcels consist of NHS approved foods, chiefly long-life goods like tinned beans, tinned spaghetti, soups and cereal.
Hammersmith and Fulham Foodbank said, however, that up to a third of its food is going to people who are returning at least once a month.
“With more residents using food banks on a regular basis in this cost-of-living crisis, it is timely to research whether providing more nutritious food, as opposed to food for short-term emergencies, could strengthen people’s mental health,” said Cllr Ben Coleman, deputy leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
The meals – which cover breakfast, lunch and dinner – come from nine global cuisines and can all be cooked without an oven, as a means to save energy. Recipes include the Cheesy Black Bean Chilli, Three-Veg Miso & Sesame Ramen With Egg and Simple One-Pot Puttanesca.
“We don’t think it’s right that the food bank needs to exist,” said Phil Storey, CEO of Hammersmith and Fulham Foodbank. “We are passionate about tackling the issues that drive people to have to use a food bank. We want to ensure that people are able to access support which will help them afford the essentials in life. We know that providing emergency food is not the answer that will end the need for food banks, but we hope that this exciting pilot with Gousto will help inform our approach to improving the support we provide for people facing hardship.”