Senior Chef - building new skills

More than 1300 people have graduated from the Senior Chef cooking programme since it began in 2010 - we find out the secret to this successful recipe.

Five people cooking

Anne's story

“I’d always been a good cook, but I had lost so much confidence,” says 73-year-old Christchurch woman Anne.

After years of cooking family meals, she was living alone and facing challenges from arthritis and other health issues. Her loss of confidence in the kitchen meant she was often resorting to frozen meals from the supermarket which ‘tasted like cardboard’.

“It’s a real challenge cooking for one,” says Anne.

“It’s a lot easier to double a recipe than make it smaller. You’re used to cooking 8 or 9 potatoes and suddenly you only need to cook one. There are lots of little differences like that.”

She had heard about Senior Chef and was then referred to the programme by her doctor.

“I went with a friend. She was in the same boat as me. One of the really good things about the course is that you realise you’re not alone. There are other people out there who have the same challenges as you. We helped each other a lot.”

Who takes part in Senior Chef

Three women cooking

Long-time Senior Chef facilitator Jane Callahan says Anne’s story is fairly typical for many women who enrol in SeniorChef.

“The men have often never cooked. Many of them come to Senior Chef because their partners have died or become sick. They’ll start the course and say something like ‘I don’t even know where anything is in the kitchen’.

“Those men are often really surprised to see women on the course – they think that all women can cook. Often the women can cook, but they have lost the motivation. They just need a little bit of help to get started again,” says Jane.

What you learn at Senior Chef

The course, and the associated recipe book, have been carefully designed with older people’s nutritional needs and living arrangements in mind. Recipes are for one or two people and use easy to find and inexpensive ingredients.

"We start off with learning about your changing nutritional needs as you get older. People are often surprised by this."

You should have at least six servings of bread and cereals a day for fibre. You should also try and have a small amount of protein as part of each meal, and dairy food to help prevent osteoporosis.

Jane instructs man cooking on a stove

While Jane clearly relishes sharing the enjoyment and comradeship that participants gain from the course, she rates improvements in their health as the highlight.

"I’ve bumped into people after they have done the course. Their diet has changed and as a result, they’ve been able to come off their medication for things like blood pressure and cholesterol."

Senior Chef New Zealand began in Christchurch by the project team Healthy Eating Healthy Ageing, which is funded by the Ministry of Health, and is run through the Canterbury District Health Board.

Since 2010 more than 1000 participants have taken part in one of the eight week courses and it’s success has seen it extended to other regions throughout New Zealand.

How to enrol in a Senior Chef course

Senior Chef is run by different organisations in different areas, so the requirements and courses on offer do vary.

You can visit the Senior Chef website for contact information for each region.

In some areas, a referral is required from a medical professional, while in other areas you can enrol yourself.

Senior Chef recipes

Recipes from the Senior Chef book and course are available on the SeniorChef website. We asked Jane which ones she thought were the most popular.

“The one that people seem to make the most again is our take on Chilli Con Carne. It’s a one pot dish and that seems to be one of its big attractions.

“Another dish that people make regularly is the omelette. It is quick and nutritious and ideal for people cooking for themselves.”


Kumara soup

For Anne, the soups and the light meals got the thumbs up.

“I really enjoy the devilled kidneys. I’ve made that again.”

“The curried coriander soup was fabulous. That’s probably my favourite.”