It’s no secret that we at Dietitian Connection are massive fans of Jamie Oliver.

Yes, we love the simplicity of his recipes, but the bigger reason is this: Jamie is actively working to transform the public’s eating habits through cooking education. “Actively” is the key word: instead of just talking the talk, he is proactively implementing and supporting programs that make a difference.

In Australia, The Good Guys and The Good Foundation partnered with Jamie Oliver Limited in 2010, and launched the “Jamie’s Ministry of Food” program. This cooking program has since won accolades – including VicHealth’s Award for “Best Healthy Eating Program” – and has twice been independently evaluated [Deakin University, The University of Melbourne], with results showing that participants who complete the program 1) eat more veggies, 2) cook more from scratch and 3) eat fewer takeaways.

Another The Good Foundation program is “Jamie Oliver’s Learn Your Fruit and Veg”, a curriculum of lessons and recipe plans imbued with fun. The program is aimed at teaching kids all about food: what it is, where it comes from and how it affects their bodies. DC’s Maree Ferguson spoke with Amy Smith to learn more about what’s ahead for Jamie’s Ministry of Food, as well as Jamie Oliver’s Learn Your Fruit and Veg, in 2018 – and how dietitians can get involved.

Amy, congratulations on your new role. What will your guiding vision be for The Good Foundation’s Jamie Oliver programs?

People receive a lot of information about food. But not a lot is done to actually physically immerse them in an experience that’s joyful – and not judgmental – that results in great-tasting food.

With Jamie’s Ministry of Food and Jamie Oliver’s Learn Your Fruit and Veg, there’s opportunity for us to reframe “healthy” for people, and have a lot of fun along the way.

What are your top priorities, as CEO of The Good Foundation?

Going Mobile

My first objective is to scale Jamie’s Ministry of Food, and reach even more people. Jamie’s Ministry of Food has taught over 40,000 people how to cook from scratch since 2011. The people who’ve been through the courses are eating better, but they’ve also increased their sociability skills: they’re connected, proud, sharing recipes – and more confident in cooking.

Jamie always talks about bringing cooking skills back, because it’s a lost art. We’re seeing the evidence of that. We’re not just talking about “pretty cooking classes” – we’re teaching people what food is.

So – “reaching more people”, or being more mobile, means looking at different formats, such as pop-ups and collaborations.

Primary Schools/ Edible Education

My second objective is to address adolescent and childhood eating habits, at even a primary school level. Kids are coming from homes that are not cooking from scratch, and they don’t understand how fresh fruit and veg can really power them. There’s a massive opportunity for us to get edible education back on the curriculum.

In 2018, we also launch a pilot program in 20 schools, and happily, we’ve got a wealth of people who’ve applied to facilitate incursions in schools: introducing kids to seasonal ingredients, then teaching them, in fun ways, what to do with these ingredients and how to use them at home. The goal is to get two million kids eating half a cup more fruit and veg a day.

Indigenous Health & Isolated Adults

And thirdly, Indigenous health is a key objective for us, as well. I believe that our Ministry, with its hands-on approach, can make a massive difference in communities.

We’ve also undertaken a massive effort to connect people who are feeling isolated, through cooking. For example, we’re doing some extraordinary pilots with Stockland in retirement villages and independent living. We’ve designed programmes that encourage older people to cook together, and it’s making a massive impact. I’d love to roll this out nationally.

What’s your favourite success story from the work that Jamie’s Ministry of Food has done to date?

As you know, it’s tough to prove longterm behavioural change. We were able to publish a paper, and show through research, that people who purchased and consumed more vegetables were more confident in cooking meals and spent less on takeaway foods. Their health markers also went up. I’m really proud of that.

What role do partnerships play for The Good Foundation?

One of the best things about this job is that I don’t ever go into a meeting feeling like no one is interested or wants me there. It’s about, how do we collaborate? How do we get aligned to deliver something where one plus one equals three?

Woolworth’s have been the most fabulous supporters. They’ve donated all the food for the pilot program, and they’ve donated all the ingredients for Jamie’s Ministry of Food. We wouldn’t have been able to put Australians through the program without that food. There are a lot of really good people behind this program who really want to see positive change in people’s eating habits.

We’re also looking at evolving into the health space through partnerships with organisations such as the Heart Foundation and Cancer Council. Food and mood, healthy heart cooking, gut health and diabetes are critical topics. I’d love to explore how we could collaborate and do some classes on those topics.

How can dietitians get involved in promoting and supporting the work of The Good Foundation?

We’d like the program to be even more mobile than it is currently, so we’re going to need to think about a national presence. I’ve got some very, very good teams, but by no means from a volunteer basis do I have enough to cover the country. I would absolutely love to hear from people who would like to get involved. Many people have applied to be facilitators for Jamie Oliver’s Learn Your Fruit and Veg program. The schools will absolutely love it, because it’s not asking anything more from them. Then we can roll that program out nationally. That would mean we need a lot more facilitators. We would accredit them, and match them with the schools that they live near – and then really they’re up and away. That would be fantastic.

Also, Prof. Helen Truby published a fantastic paper on creating long-term change in adolescents, and she absolutely proved that it did. I want to go even younger now, to really prove this – and to give governments what they really need, which is: does it work, and what does it need in order to be successful? I’d love to hear from dietitians who are working in this space.

Your background is in marketing leadership. How can dietitians better market themselves, to stand out in such a busy nutrition space?

Dietitians are probably the greatest secret weapons for the public. Yet people think, “I’ll go to a dietitian when I get sick”. Why don’t people actually engage with dietitians before they get sick, and look at how they can help? We’ve got to accept that nearly half of all Australians are experimenting in some way with some sort of dietary or lifestyle choice, whether it’s because they are coeliacs or just believe that gluten-free is better. Healthy doesn’t just mean healthy weight any more — it means so much more, on so many dimensions, from belief systems to your social status. It’s a hugely different proposition than it was even ten years ago. So we need to accept that, but also remind people that they still need basic nutrition knowledge. That’s where dietitians come come in. Dietitians remain the source of truth, and in delivering that “truth” they could be a bit more Jamie-esque: “Give it a try…here are things that you need to know before you do…here are the things to kind of experiment with and be aware of.”

Jamie is expected to come out again next year to Australia. What topics do you hope to discuss with him on his next visit?

I’d like to discuss with him on how best to get edible education back on the curriculum, and how we can actually then help schools evolve. I’d also like to talk about how Ministry can evolve to address some of the biggest health issues that we’ve got in Australia, while collaborating with partner organisations.

We’ve successfully run the program in two indigenous communities, so I’d also love Jamie to visit our indigenous areas, so we can discuss how to approach the model slightly differently going forward.

What have you learned from Jamie that is transforming you as a leader?

Jamie’s sense of humour is fantastic. I want to advance that sense of humanity and humour. This means trying to make things easier, not harder; appreciating that people have enough to do already; and understanding that skill gaps simply mean those skills need to be taught, in a positive way. Jamie teaches in a way that is so engaging that people who would never even have thought of cooking want to do it. I love Jamie, and everything he stands for, because he is all about simple, enjoyment, taste, colour – and helping people to feel people proud and confIdent.

Can you share any tips from him for cooking at home?

Think: very practical. What I like about his new cookbook, 5 Ingredients, is that it’s great if you’re on a budget. Plus, there’s no waste. You can do it without a lot of fancy heating and cooling and all that sort of stuff. And the ingredients are all readily available, in most urban Australian locations.

Many of the recipes have obviously have been created with Jamie’s nutrition team, so you know that they are going to be balanced. Bottom line: the book’s recipes tick the box of, “I want it, I want it now and I want it to look good!”

LEARN MORE: Follow Jamie’s Ministry of Food online (click the link):

Interested in becoming a Jamie Oliver’s Learn Your Fruit and Veg Facilitator? Register your interest here:

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