A council in the North East is innovatively merging artificial intelligence (AI) with a surplus food initiative to support families while combating food waste.

Durham County Council is utilizing its nurseries to distribute meal kits, aiding families experiencing financial challenges due to the rising cost of living.

Working in partnership with supplier FareShare North East, the council is providing identified families with free meal kits to help them cook nutritious food at home. 

Made with surplus food which has been saved from going to landfill, all kits include a variety of vegetables and pulses as well as food with a long shelf life. 

This year, to help families create delicious meals with the produce they receive, the council is showing families how to use a free artificial intelligence (AI) system, where they can receive a recipe and cooking instructions by inputting the ingredients they have.

The council is also sharing recipes via a private Facebook group and encouraging families to do the same to create a community and help each other with cooking.

Cllr Ted Henderson, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “Set up initially during the coronavirus pandemic, our meal kit scheme aims to help keep families fed during challenging or financially difficult times. This scheme ties in our poverty and climate change priorities, supporting families while also reducing food waste.

“It also helps us to stay connected with the families we support and encourages people to cook together to make healthy meals without impacting on their budget. With the introduction of AI, we’re also able to help families learn how to meal plan and create recipes with the food they have.”

Mother-of-two Stephanie Waugh, from Chester-le-Street, received one of the kits through her son’s nursery.

She said: “I hadn’t used the AI chatbot before, but I have downloaded it and it’s very easy to use. You can put a series of questions into it quite easily and it gives you instant responses. It gives you tips and advice, recipes and it pretty much answers your questions, so it’s really easy to follow. I’m very excited to use it actually.

“I have a three-year-old and an eight-year-old. They love helping prep the food, helping to cook the food and it’s a really good opportunity to teach them about healthy living and healthy ingredients. It gets us involved as a family to cook a nice healthy meal.”

The majority of food is sourced for free or from the council’s membership with FareShare North East. 

Jake Hanmore, chief executive of FareShare North East, said: “FareShare North East is proud to support Durham County Council’s meal kit scheme, helping to support the community whilst also preventing good to eat surplus food from going to waste. All kinds of food can become surplus, so using AI to help people make use of the wide variety of healthy and nutritious food we redistribute, will be a great boost to families in County Durham.”  

Funding has also been contributed from the neighbourhood budget of Cllr Tracie Smith, which is delivered by Chester-le-Street and District Area Action Partnership (AAP). 

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