JUST COOK Healthy Ageing – Challenges and rewards of breaking the ice in a new location

In September 2018 the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation (NZNF) launched the first Just Cook Healthy Ageing in Rotorua, Bay of Plenty.

The idea to bring Just Cook Healthy Ageing to Rotorua started more than 12 months ago.

At first progress was slow, but gained momentum when NZNF engaged local Nutritionist Tatjana Smolic. Using Tatjana’s local connections helped to transform the initial idea into the Just Cook Healthy Ageing Programme being delivered for the very first time outside of its Auckland home base. With Tatjana on board we were able to establish partnerships with many community groups, Rotorua Lakes Council and funders. Our key partners are Age Concern, Kai Rotorua, Mokoia Community Association, Diabetes New Zealand, Western Heights Community Association, Multicultural Rotorua and Senior Net. Funders for three programmes are Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust and COGS Rotorua. Securing funding was a good start, but there still were many obstacles to overcome before we were able to start with the first programme. Firstly there was a suitable venue to be found which fitted our budget. Then we needed to reach those who met our programme objective and volunteers to help the programme run smoothly. To achieve all of this, we asked our partners to help with advertising using their social media channels and newsletters. We asked local paper to write a feature article about the program inviting participants and volunteers to contact us. We also distributed and placed our promotional flyers at key locations where we thought they may attract the attention of our programme’s target group.

Finally after many hours of leg work, numerous emails and meetings, built up fitness and stamina we were ready to start.

We had enough people signed up for two courses and overwhelming number of volunteers wanting to help.

To date we have completed two Just Cook Healthy Ageing programmes with a third planned for February 2019.

Participants in the first programme were mainly men with age ranging between 64-86 years old. Half of participants declared they lived on their own. Half defined themselves as Maori, and the other half as NZ European.

The second programme was more equally split between men and women. Age ranged from 55 to 86 years, again approximately 50% of participants defined themselves as Maori.

During the course of the four sessions, participants grew closer and new friendships were formed. Participants from both groups showed genuine interest in learning about healthy ways of eating. Everyone enjoyed preparing and sharing the food. Participants also shared some local knowledge that had been passed from one generation to the next, for example we learned how to identify kawa kawa plant and many different ways it can be used. We learned where to find watercress and when puha is in season.

Because we had a good number of skilled volunteers, we were able to try out more recipes per session than initially planned.  We used recipes from the recipe book but we allowed certain flexibility. This means we were able to use affordable seasonal produce and donated foods.  For example we substituted courgette with silver beet because silver beet was a lot cheaper.  In one of the earlier sessions we made our own fish stock, from the fish carcases donated by the Te Arawa Fishery Trust.  The stock was shared between participants and the remainder frozen, to be used in subsequent sessions when recipes called for stock.

Sometimes participants made specific requests, like new dish or how to use a new piece of kitchen equipment. We made silver beet with feta and cottage cheese pie because somebody wanted to know how to make cottage cheese taste good.  Another time we made Thai kumara and pumpkin soup using a pressure cooker because somebody had a new pressure cooker and did not know how to use it.

One thing was constant throughout all sessions, all our meals were always generously padded with fresh or frozen vegetables and extra helping of herbs people would bring from their gardens.

How did we do over the course of two completed Just Cook Healthy Ageing programmes?

‘It is really great what you are doing here everyone is having a good time including volunteers.’

‘I am really glad that my ACC case manager found this course.’

‘Are you going to run advanced classes?’

‘How can we come back onto this course? Can we come back under another name? ‘

How did participants and their family feel about the course?

‘I am now more confident to look after my mother and brother who both live with me because they both had a stroke few weeks apart.’

‘My mates were very impressed by that silver beet and cottage cheese pie!’

‘I now enjoy trying new recipes not just the old ones my late wife used to cook.’

‘I made a salad for my grandkids and they loved it!’

‘This is better than McDonalds!’

‘I am now more conscious of the veggies on my plate so I planted more veggies in my garden.’

‘I told to my doctor about the course and he asked me, “Why do I not know about it?”

‘I made that Mexican salsa salad again I just love it.’

‘I made bread cases and beetroot with feta salad for my visitors and they had two helpings!’

We are now gaining  the interest in the course from the wider Rotorua community (i.e. ACC case managers, doctors, Grey Power, Probus and Rotary groups, Te Ropu A Iwi Te Arawa Trust, etc.)

Five participants from two courses offered to come back as volunteers.

As social isolation is a growing problem for older people we are delighted one group selected a coordinator who will organise cooking sessions and social gathering to keep up with their newly formed friendships and motivation to cook.

Where to from now?

We have to consider other community groups to connect to, look at new partnerships and possibility of regular stream of income. In the mean time we will talk with our current funders and look at other funding organisations who may be interested in supporting us in delivering the programme free of charge to our community.

Last modified: January 27, 2022