• OzHarvest CEO and founder, Ronni Kahn, and chef and NEST ambassador Kylie Kwong. (Joyce Ong)Source: Joyce Ong
“This program is really powerful. It can create positive long-term change in people’s lives by teaching them the skills they need to cook good food for under $3 a serve..."
By
Yasmin Noone

26 Feb 2021 - 1:21 AM  UPDATED 1 Mar 2021 - 1:26 PM

If you love eating quality food but want to develop more confidence in the kitchen, learn how to make healthy meals costing under $3 a serve and reduce food waste – all at the same time – there’s a new cooking course for you.

Food rescue organisation, OzHarvest has just opened up its charitable NEST (Nutrition Education and Skills Training) program to the public, so that people living in communities throughout Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne can learn how to cook healthily on a budget and tackle environmental sustainability. 

OzHarvest founder and CEO, Ronni Kahn AO, tells SBS that the free six-week program is open to non-profit organisations, community groups and interested individuals of all ages and cultural backgrounds, especially those with limited food preparation and cooking skills. 

“If you build your confidence to cook, you will also [build] the confidence you need to live a life that’s healthier, both mentally and physically.”

“This program is really powerful,” Kahn explains. “It can create positive long-term change in people’s lives by teaching them the skills they need to cook good food for under $3 a serve, to eat healthily and make better food choices.

“If you build your confidence to cook, you will also [build] the confidence you need to live a life that’s healthier, both mentally and physically.”

OzHarvest CEO Ronni Kahn (left far back) with chef Kylie Kwong (right) and NEST participants from non-profit group Ability Options.

Look, buy and store

Kahn explains that the current course is an evidence-based public health nutrition program that aims to promote food security. The program, which was once only accessible to charitable organisations, was recently revamped to suit public audiences and align with Australian Dietary Guidelines and State and Territory Healthy Eating Strategies.

It now covers a wide range of topics such as nutrition and food groups, label reading, safe food handling and healthy eating habits.

“During the course, participants are also taught a new mantra which is ‘look, buy and store’: look at what you already have in your pantry, buy what you need and store it well,” she says. “These are the fundamentals you need to know to manage your kitchen. They are skills that will also save you money and reduce food waste.”

Other food waste reduction tips, like how to include the fibre-filled peel of the carrot rather than discard it, are also embedded throughout the course content to promote sustainability.

“If you know how to include parts of an ingredient that usually get thrown out, like carrot peel, into your meal, then you won’t be wasting it and it won’t be going into landfill.”

Multicultural food learnings

Participants will also get a free photo-based recipe book, Everyday Cookbook, which can be easily accessed by people with linguistically diverse backgrounds.

“The cookbook has photos in it and it’s simply written. So if English is a second language, you can still follow it."

The recipes included are diverse, spanning from a watermelon pizza delight that incorporates yoghurt, nuts, seeds and fruits to shakshuka featuring poached eggs in tomato sauce with vegetables and beans. 

“We also teach food substitution to make the recipes easy to adapt. This is useful if someone needs to change the recipe [to suit their dietary or cultural requirements].”

Celebrity chef and NEST ambassador, Kylie Kwong, tells SBS the cultural and community benefits of the program are far-reaching. 

“As Australia is such a multi-cultural society, it’s hugely important to consider and respect different backgrounds and the fact that English may not be someone’s first language,” Kwong says. "NEST is designed to accommodate language and cultural differences, but most importantly it brings people together and encourages community connections.”

“When my mother taught me the joys of cooking and sharing good food with friends and family around the table, from the very early age of seven, she gave me the greatest gift." 

At the end of each cooking session, the budding home cooks all sit down and eat the meal they made together. The social element of the course aims to help to increase the social connections and life skills of adults from vulnerable backgrounds.

“I love how, through the program, everyone [gets the chance] to sit down to enjoy the cooked meal together, promoting community connections and boosting self-confidence,” explains Kwong. “For me, there is nothing more enjoyable, fun and uplifting, then cooking and sharing a meal together.” 

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The restauranteur knows first-hand how a boost in kitchen confidence can change lives, given that the acquisition of her cooking skills as a child was what helped her to later carve out a career.

“When my mother taught me the joys of cooking and sharing good food with friends and family around the table, from the very early age of seven, she gave me the greatest gift. 

“Confidence comes with practice and learning some basic recipes and cooking skills is a great place to start. As NEST is a six-week program, it gives you the foundations to build on at home.”

NEST is currently available in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne although Kahn says there are plans to extend it to Adelaide, Brisbane, regional QLD and NSW if funding can be secured.

For more information, visit ozharvest.org.

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