Successes and challenges of using a peer Mentor model for nutrition education within a food pantry: a qualitative study

July,  2020

Tracy L. Oliver, Amy Mckeever, Rebecca Shemkman & Lisa K. Diewald



Delivering nutrition education within an emergency food pantry (EFP) provides an opportunity to reach many food insecure households and underserved populations. However, little is known about using a peer mentor model, “Community Cooks,” as a modality to deliver nutrition education within this setting. This research aimed to identify the successes and challenges of using a peer mentor model within an EFP to better understand the best approaches to deliver nutrition education among community residents.


In spring 2018, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 peer mentors after they delivered a series of nutrition workshops to community members of the EFP. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Qualitative content analysis was used to analyze the data.


All peer mentors were women over 40 years-of-age, were recruited from the EFP community; most were high school graduates and currently received some form of federal nutrition assistance. All peer mentors reported that the “Community Cooks” nutrition education program offered many benefits. Key successes of the program included serving in the role as a peer mentor was an empowering experience which gave them a sense of community, purpose, and camaraderie; 2) the nutrition education was appropriately tailored towards those living with food insecurity; 3) the recipes required minimal cooking skills and included low-cost easily accessible foods available at the EFP. Key challenges of the program were the lack of community member engagement in the nutrition education workshops.


Challenges continue to exist when delivering nutrition education within a community EFP setting. While the use of peer mentors to deliver nutrition education messages is promising, more research is needed to quantify the impact of using a peer mentor model in underserved and food insecure communities.

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Cite this article

Oliver, T.L., McKeever, A., Shenkman, R. et al. Successes and challenges of using a peer Mentor model for nutrition education within a food pantry: a qualitative study. BMC Nutr6, 27 (2020).

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Content provided by BMC ​( Note: Content, including the the headline, may have been edited for style and length.

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