Nutritional Empowerment for Good Health in Marginalised Sections of the Community.

In today’s society there are many people who live outside the mainstream. Generally, they’re forgotten in the societal consciousness unless, of course, they cross your path. The people I’m referring to, due to an intellectual disability, live in residential care homes. They don’t have the ability to live on their own or take care of themselves.

Cared for by brilliant staff, the residents receive encouragement, community engagement and support.

Now, it’s no secret that a healthy diet hugely impacts the prevention and worsening of chronic disease as well as contributing to wellness and good health. 

To increase education for support workers, The Cooks Workshop partnered with NADO (Nepean Area Disabilities Organisation) to create a ‘Cooking for Life’ program focused on healthy food, meal preparation, and empowerment.

The inception of the ‘Cooking for Life’ program

My previous work as a podiatrist included treating care home residents, so I was aware of people living with such disabilities. However, I wasn’t fully aware of the wonderful environment care homes can provide for intellectually disabled people as an alternative to institutional living.

Last year, I participated in a business growth competition. One of the judges was Denise Heath, the CEO of NADO. NADO manages ten residential care homes for those with intellectual disabilities.

You never can tell what wondrous opportunities may come knocking at your door. So, when Denise approached me during the competition and suggested a collaboration, I was all ears.

Denise shared with me her vision. To improve the knowledge of nutrition and cooking skills for the support workers who care for the residents. To enable them to encourage healthy food choices and eating habits.

Denise felt that the ethos of The Cooks Workshop was completely aligned with the ethos of NADO. Our shared focus on improving access to healthy eating for everybody could be applied to her organisation.

We developed an action plan together to implement the Cooking for Life program. Phase one was to work with the support staff. Building workshops around basic cooking and nutrition. With one additional special ingredient: the program would also provide strategies to empower support workers. To empower the people in their care, towards making healthy food choices.


The program’s offerings and benefits

  1. For the programs teachings to be effective, support staff are needed.
  2. A thorough understanding of healthy eating and the impact it has on long-term health.
  3. To learn methods and techniques to involve and influence care home residents to make healthier food choices.
  4. To teach healthy food preparation within their care home.

Why teach people with a disability about healthy eating?

Compared to the general population, people living with intellectual disabilities can be at a greater risk of developing certain health conditions. For example, they have a greater chance of chronic health problems due to lifestyle factors. 69% of people with a profound/severe disability are overweight or obese. This occurs due to less physical activity and unhealthy eating habits.

These people are adults, the care home is their home. The residents make the final choice about what they eat for their meal. So, if it is a less than optimal meal choice (for example, take away or other less-than-healthy pre-prepared meals), they may be unaware of the impacts of these choices.

Diet has a huge impact on our health. If we’re healthy and well, we’re going to be more productive and happier, more able to participate in life and live longer. The residents in the NADO care homes deserve this knowledge and these options as much as anybody else in our community.

Rollout of the Program and Lessons Learned

At the commencement of the program, we provided each support worker with three cooking/nutrition workshops at our premises in Dural. It was informative, inclusive and practical.

However, we quickly learned that creating a positive level of engagement with the staff members was not without challenges. A few felt they were under attack, feeling that they knew how to choose and cook healthy food. As the programme progressed, they came to realise that they were actually able to build on their existing skillset.

While we know cooking is a life skill and cooking nutritious food is life-giving, across the community we see generational change around food preparation, with convenience foods filling the needs for those of us who:

  • Are time poor
  • Have little to no cooking skills handed down through families

Therein lay the problem. We needed to show in a positive and encouraging way, how simple changes could make a huge difference. Rebuilding cooking skills around a premise of nutritious ingredients and healthy cooking methods, without undermining confidence. We talked about simple things, such as:

  • The components of a healthy meal
  • Balancing serving sizes with energy needs
  • Nutritional requirements.

To assure a consistent nutritional approach across the NADO organisation, the Cooking for Life programme has been designed around the Australian Governmental(??) Dietary guidelines and recommendations. This provides a framework to ensure that the care home residents will receive essential nutrients for good health. In turn this will assist to reduce the risk of chronic health problems including:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Some cancers
  • And obesity

Overall, the program was considered by all to be a worthwhile and positive learning experience, with participants embracing the program and being surprised at what they didn’t know. It was fun and a positive team-building exercise, and a great way to reinforce NADO’s approach: to provide care for people living with a disability in a kind and supportive environment.

With a successful rollout of the program to support workers, we move into phase 2: working with the care home residents themselves. Stay tuned for our next post where we describe how we adapted the Cooking for Life program to provide an opportunity for each group of residents to have three ‘in-home’ cooking sessions.

And that’s where the fun begins!