• The Koori Cooking Program is a free, four-week healthy eating and cooking program run with local Aboriginal communities in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven. (Andy Mark, The Heart Foundation)Source: Andy Mark, The Heart Foundation
There's one way to help our most vulnerable to become healthier: teach them to cook nutritious food on a budget. Here are a few inspiring programs that are changing Australia's eating habits, one dish at a time.
Yasmin Noone

28 Nov 2019 - 1:55 PM  UPDATED 28 Nov 2019 - 1:55 PM

1. Koori cooking classes

The Heart Foundation runs the Koori Cooking Program, a free four-week healthy eating and cooking course delivered with local Aboriginal communities in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions of NSW. 

The program helps local Indigenous people to connect with traditional food and culture, while also teaching participants how to cook healthy meals on a budget and read food labels.

“Aboriginal people have much higher rates of cardiovascular disease compared to non-Aboriginal people,” says Andy Mark – Heart Foundation regional health promotion coordinator in the Illawarra/Shoalhaven region NSW. “So healthy eating and physical activity are really important from a cardiovascular point of view.

“People who participate in the program can go away and cook up a healthy meal with lots of vegetables that is low in saturated fat and salt, is affordable and tastes good.”

Mark explains that the meals cooked contain as much budget-friendly native ingredients as possible, like kangaroo, locally gathered Warrigal greens, healthy store-bought sauces with Kakadu plum, natural lime or ginger, and home-grown bush pepper and lemon myrtle.

The organisation also hosts regular Koori Cook Off events across NSW community groups to experiment with new, healthy foods.

The competition features a cooking battle between four teams of four and mystery ingredients and is judged by Indigenous elders.

“The cook-off is a fun event that demonstrates healthy eating and gives people an opportunity to try cooking new healthy recipes too that they may not have been exposed to before,” explains Mark. “It’s a chance for people to try something different.”

To find out more, visit the Heart Foundation's website.

2. Granting equal access to healthy food

The Australian Red Cross helps people of all ages and cultures to have consistent access to healthy food.

It runs breakfast clubs, community gardens and Meals on Wheels programs, as well as free nutrition education to teach people from vulnerable communities how to eat a balanced diet on a limited budget, maintain a healthy weight and manage chronic disease.

The education workshops, called FoodREDi, targets hard to reach groups and families including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, migrants, refugees, prisoners, the elderly, people with mental illness and young people.

After four-to-eight FoodREDi training sessions, participants walk away with basic cooking skills, knowledge of how to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables in their daily diet, and a stronger sense of social connection.

The workshops are offered in all Australian states except Queensland.

To find out more, visit the Australian Red Cross online

Edible cities, food-sharing initiatives: How to tackle global obesity and hunger
One in three are affected by obesity and other forms of malnutrition around the world. This year's World Food Day is focused on healthy diets for a #zerohunger world bringing to light some of the actions fostering change around the world.

3. Classes that focus on dietetic basics

Nutrition Australia ACT is a non-profit organisation that delivers cooking workshops for vulnerable groups including young mothers, seniors, people with mental health issues, new arrivals, refugees and asylum seekers.

The two-hour cooking classes are run by qualified Accredited Practising Dietitians – not chefs – to inspire healthy eating and living throughout the community.

“Everything you put in your mouth has an impact on your general wellbeing including your mental health,” says Leanne Elliston, Accredited Practising Dietitian and program manager for Nutrition Australia ACT. “People who are more vulnerable are also more likely to suffer from health conditions, both physically and mentally.

“So learning how to do simple things, like choosing healthy, budget-conscious meals that they can prepare easily can actually turn things around for many vulnerable people.”

“Everything you put in your mouth has an impact on your general wellbeing including your mental health."

Each workshop, costing $65 a group session, sees participants cook and eat a two-course meal.

The charity also currently runs the program, Project Dinnertime, for people living with a disability, facilitated as part of an individual’s NDIS funding. “We help people with a disability to cook for themselves and build their practical and nutritional skills to understand what healthy food is,” Elliston tells SBS. 

Whole food is real food and a gateway to preserving my Greek culture
For nutritionist and the owner of Miss Bliss Whole Foods Kitchen, Jacqui Toumbas, whole foods are hearty, healthy and a means to preserve traditional Greek culture in Brisbane's West End.

Project Dinnertime offers one-on-one tailored cooking clinics and group cooking classes in a fully accessible kitchen. Classes are tailored to suit the nutritional needs of all participants. It is funded through the NDIS. “Everyone has a different level of ability so the support we offer has to be tailored to cater for people’s different nutritional needs.”

To find out more about Project Dinnertime, visit the program online. 

4. Cooking workshops in remote WA

Foodbank WA, in partnership with BHP, offers culturally appropriate healthy eating programs to people living throughout the Pilbara.

Qualified nutritionists and dietitians from Foodbank WA visit the Pilbara 10 times a year, delivering food education programs for adults, parents and school children in need of support to live a more healthy lifestyle.

They run free cooking workshops and breakfast programs in schools to ensure that all students have an opportunity to enjoy a wholesome breakfast. The team also attends youth centres, playgroups and early childhood centres throughout the Pilbara to teach teens and adults nutritious recipes and healthy eating skills.

To find out more, visit Foodbank WA online.

5. Helping people to regain the art of cooking

Jamie's Ministry of Food program, delivered by The Good Foundation in Australia, sets out to tackle one big issue that’s contributing to a growing national obesity epidemic and the development of obesity-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes – people are forgetting how to cook.

“Today, cooking skills are not being passed on like they used to,” the organisation’s website reads. “If we don't even know the basics about food and cooking, we're not likely to give it a try. Within a couple more generations we are at risk of completely losing our cooking skills.”

The aim is to get people cooking again and teach them how to live a more nutritious lifestyle, fuelled by hearty home cooking. 

The Jamie's Ministry of Food Program runs hands-on cooking courses for people aged 12 and over so they can learn basic skills – simple food preparation techniques, food storage, nutritional principles, meal planning and meal budgeting. The aim is to get people cooking again and teach them how to live a more nutritious lifestyle, fuelled by hearty home cooking.

To date, the program has worked with almost 40,000 participants including school students, single parents, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the unemployed, youth, people with a disability and families on low incomes.

The program runs for five weeks, as that is “the ideal amount of time the required to embed health benefits for the long term,” the organisation says. Each 90-minute class costs $10-$30, depending on the participant, as the course is subsidised.

To find out more, visit Jamie's Ministry of Food Program online. 

Eating bush foods has helped me reconnect to my Indigenous culture
Proud Kamilaroi, woman Tracy Hardy, tells SBS Food how reconnecting to country and traditional Indigenous food has helped her to feel emotionally, physically and culturally strong.
These asylum seekers want to give back by teaching others how to cook their food
Sydney's Parliament on King café has launched a program of cooking lessons, to remind people of the many skills that new arrivals have to offer the Australian community.
Luke Nguyen's new menu joins Indigenous ingredients with Asian flavours
Inspired by Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden, Luke Nguyen is splicing his Asian dishes with native ingredients at his brand-new restaurant, Botanic House.
The refugee project serving up work skills and delicious dinners
Scarf trains young refugees and asylum seekers in hospitality, with a 70% success rate in finding them jobs. You can see the trainees in action at the Scarf dinner series, currently at Melbourne's Bhang.