Durham County Council is combining artificial intelligence (AI) and a free surplus food scheme to help feed families while reducing food waste.

This year, the council will be delivering a meal kit scheme through its nurseries to help families facing difficulties with the cost of living, while aiding them in cooking nutritious meals at home.

They will be showing families how to use a free AI system to help create meals with the produce they receive.

By inputting the ingredients they have, the system provided will allow families to receive a recipe and cooking instructions.

Recipes will also be shared via a private Facebook group, and the council is encouraging families to do the same, and share their skills to create a community and help each other with cooking.

The kits will include a range of vegetables and pulses, alongside food with a long shelf life, all of which is surplus food which has been saved from going to landfill.

Jake Hanmore, chief executive of FareShare North East said: “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.”

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

The Northern Echo: Councillor Tracie Smith, left, with Stephanie Waugh and her children

She praised the scheme for its user-friendly system of AI, adding: "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.”

Stephanie also discussed the positive impacts the system brings upon the family.

She said : "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."

Councillor Ted Henderson, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “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.”

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Working in partnership with supplier FareShare North East, the majority of food is sourced for free or from their membership.

Jake Hanmore 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.”

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).