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

In our previous blog, we shared the beginning of our journey with NADO (Nepean Area Disabilities Organisation) Residential Care Homes. With a mutual passion to teach people how to create healthy meals, and to address chronic health issues in our community, we created a customised health and nutrition program to teach the passionate team of care home staff important skills to enable them to enjoy cooking healthy, modern food.

It was then time to turn our attention to the residents themselves. NADO manages ten residential care homes for those with intellectual disabilities. These residents live in either a shared living environment or group home requiring around-the-clock support.

Why Cooking for Life Matters!

Little research has been conducted to explore the nutrition, knowledge, skills and attitudes of residential care staff in Australia. Particularly those in group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

However, research does connect risk factors for chronic disease, like poor diet, with obesity and other illnesses including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension. We also know that people living with a disability are more likely to suffer from a chronic illness. [The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare] and that a healthy diet improves the quality and length of most individuals’ lives.

We’re passionate about providing residents from the NADO care homes with knowledge and the necessary tools needed to cook healthy nutritious food for themselves, and to make wise food choices. After all, they deserve this as much as anybody else in our community and we’re committed to help them receive it.

How The Cooks Workshop shared their foodie passion and knowledge to combat chronic disease

Each group of residents received three in-home cooking sessions, as part of our Cooking for Life program. I was accompanied by one of my workshop presenters, Rena Patten. Rena is a renowned recipe developer, cookbook author and cooking demonstrator and was keen to share her knowledge with our NADO residents. Our challenge was to create positive change around food choices.

We began our visit bonding with the residents in their home environment. Valuable time was spent getting to know them each on an individual basis, building rapport and trust. We all enjoyed each other’s company and it was a wonderful, uplifting experience.

Options were provided for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and healthy snacks. Then we then cooked up a storm. Chopping, mixing, laughing and talking, following recipes and of course tasting their delicious creations. Each resident busily creating his or her own meals.

We talked about healthy eating and portion control in a way they could relate to. We discussed independent choices around food and the need for healthy food choices. As we were dealing with a diverse range of intellectual capabilities, personalities and strengths, each person’s needs were considered.

Over the three sessions conducted, it was encouraging to watch each resident’s improved engagement. Their growth in self-confidence, learning new skills and their satisfaction in creating their own meal was abundantly evident.

We always assess our program at its conclusion, looking at what worked well, where we can improve and the outcomes achieved. Rena and I found working with the NADO residents such a joyful, mutually rewarding and effective experience. Witnessing in action that our program positively influences residents to make healthy choices and will in turn create positive change in their lives long-term, simply by eating healthy, home-made food.

Creating positive impacts:

As Rena and I were driving home from each of our sessions with these wonderful people, we both expressed how good we felt and how much fun we had with these guys.

The value of these sessions? It’s hard to measure. How do you put a number on a smile, wanting to learn, willingness to talk, the learning of simple skills?

I commend Denise and the NADO team for their proactive approach in implementing a program that’s simple, but inherently designed to improve health outcomes through the improvement of healthy choices around diet.

A bonus and unexpected consequence of our program was the important qualitative measures: A sense of achievement in learning new skills –“I can do it!”, an improvement in self-confidence, empowerment, an opportunity for socialisation and interaction, and for some, the opportunity to find a creative outlet.

It has been a privilege and a great pleasure to build the Cooking for Life program to assist these members of our community that are so often forgotten by mainstream Australia.

Nothing speaks more to the success of the program than reviews from the participants themselves. We were very touched by this response from one of the NADO support workers, after our program was implemented within her care home. It reinforces our dream to make a real difference to people’s lives through food:

“.. to have watched the men open up, engage & have such a fantastic can-do attitude tonight was an exciting thing to watch, the growth in the participants’ skills over the course of the 3 workshops has been amazing! A huge thank you to Jennie & Rena for their positive, gentle & fun approach to teaching & supporting the men with learning all about healthy eating”

I look forward to working with further groups in the disability sector, to continue creating positive change in physical and mental health and reducing chronic disease.