It’s 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon and Anna Wren has nine women over for dinner.
Wren is a registered dietician and the women are seniors who prescribe to her belief that healthy lifestyle education is best retained in the kitchen – rather than the doctor’s office.
Wren is the leader of a community kitchen for seniors, a free cooking program designed to boost seniors’ health and independence through meal planning and group cooking sessions.
“Nutrition tends to be a lower priority when people are living on their own,” Wren said. “It’s hard to cook for one…and it’s not as fun to eat by yourself.”
Wren was motivated to launch a community kitchen targeted at older residents when her outpatient work with seniors at risk brought her in contact with people who were losing weight and suffering from improper nutrition and isolation.
Today at Les Passmore Seniors Activity Centre, the seniors – who happen to all be women, though the class is open to men and women – are preparing skillet pork chops with sweet potatoes and couscous and an apple rhubarb crisp for dessert.
Some people with mobility issues sit and chop ingredients, some tell stories while cooking, and all go home with leftovers and a book of affordable, easy-to-prepare recipes. One participant was a caterer before suffering a stroke. Her knowledge is returning as she learns to cook again.
“It’s interesting how everyone finds something to do within their ability,” Wren said. “No one is standing and watching. Even if you’re stirring a pot or measuring spices for the soup, everyone feels like they’re involved.”
Wren launched the program in September, 2011 at the James Bay Community Project in Victoria and was able to continue thanks in part to a collaboration with Saanich Parks and Recreation and a $20,000-New Horizons for Seniors Program grant from the federal government.
“So many seniors are living on their own and they want to stay in their homes. This is a way to keep them healthy, keep them socially connected,” said Julie Wallace, programmer with Saanich community services.
Sessions run for six weeks – a term both Wren and Wallace hope participants will extend independently with the cooperation of participating seniors’ centres.
The project is aimed at reducing social isolation, enhancing quality of life and independence, increasing food security and providing basic food skills, including food safety, planning meals for one or two and shopping on a budget.
The next session is slated to begin next month at the Cordova Bay 55+ Association. Funding is available for programming to continue beyond the next group.
Anyone interested in the free community kitchen programs for seniors can contact Wallace at 250-475-5424. A Healthy Eating For Seniors handbook, in which all of the featured meals are based, is available free of charge through the HealthLinkBC: Health and Seniors’ Information Line at 250-952-1742.