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The challenge

Too much food, not enough nutrition

Community Chef is the largest provider of prepared meals for the aged and disability care sector in Australia. They are passionate about providing a leadership role in advancing the nutrition of meals.

Feedback from their clients was that current meal sizes were too large. This meant that clients were at times not getting adequate daily nutrition and they were also often wasting food. Some clients reported preferring to skip meals so as not to waste the food that was left, further missing out on their daily nutritional intake.

The company needed a process for modifying their recipes to increase the nutritional density and reduce the portion size of meals but still conform to or exceed the Commonwealth and Victorian Government Home and Community Care (HACC) guidelines.

Our response

Nutritional profiling and assessment of meals

Our dietitians trained in nutritional profiling of foods and food components assessed and remodeled some of the company’s most popular menu items against HACC guidelines and the Nutrient Reference Values set by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

We looked at total energy, protein and a range of macro and micronutrients of concern for the aged population at risk of malnutrition such as fibre, zinc, iron and calcium.

We developed recommendations for the energy and protein required for nutritionally dense, reduced portion meal components such as soups, desserts and sides to assist the company with future recipe development.

[Music plays and text appears: ‘Community Chef: Shaping prepared meals for those in need’]

[Image changes to show the outside of the Community Chef Building and then images flash through of the inside production area of Community Chef]

[Image appears of Joe Ciccarone]

Joe Ciccarone: Hi I’m Joe Ciccarone and I’m proud to be the C.E.O. of Community Chef.

[Image changes to show Joe Ciccarone talking to an employee and then the camera zooms in on the worker weighing food]

[Image changes back to Joe Ciccarone]

Community Chef is a social enterprise that was formed by local government to meet the dietary needs of those that are nutritionally at risk in the community. Typically those that receive Meals on Wheels and now we’ve expanded into hospitals and aged care communities, health and community care and even child and family services.

[Image changes to show meals being prepared on a production line]

Community Chef discovered a need to review the formulation of their meals. The elderly cohort were finding it difficult to eat such a large meal. They’re old, they’re frail and they don’t have big appetites.

[Image changes back to Joe Ciccarone]

So to ask someone who’s 90 years old to consume a meal that weighs almost a kilo is just not feasible. They’re also fearful of wastage.

[Camera zooms in on the reduced size meal package and then zooms out to show a worker packaging the meals]

We realised we needed to do something about that and one of the ways we could see that we could have a positive impact on it was by reducing the size of the meals by increasing the nutritional density of the meals.

[Image changes back to Joe Ciccarone]

We thought about how we could run that project internally, came to the conclusion we just didn’t have the in house capability to do that.

[Image changes to show a woman walking into the CSIRO building and then the camera pans around the inside of the building showing the different work stations]

So we made a connection with the CSIRO and through them FIAL and we were able to secure enough funding to get the project off the ground.

[Camera zooms in on a female CSIRO employee working at the computer and then the camera zooms in on her hands, her face and the dietary books on her desk]

[Image changes back to Joe Ciccarone and then the camera zooms out to show the meals being prepared on the production line again]

Because of the relationship with the CSIRO and FIAL we were able to gain access to the best dietetics minds in Australia combining that with our own in house knowledge and come up with solutions to some of the problems we were facing. Able to increase the nutritional density of our meals using natural ingredients like a milk powder, like beans to boost that nutritional content and get the meal size down.

[Image changes back to Joe Ciccarone and the camera zooms out to show the meals in preparation]

[Images flash through of meals in preparation, a large vat of beans, a worker filling out paperwork, a vat of rice, meals on a conveyer belt and then the camera zooms out to show Joe Ciccarone again]

Without the assistance of a FIAL S.M.E. Centre and the CSIRO we wouldn’t have been able to take these next advances in our menu development to offer a more nutritionally dense meal that clearly benefits our own business but something that we’re going to make available to the wider community.

[Image flash through of meals on a conveyer belt, a female employee and an employee packaging meals]

It also gives us a springboard to approach government and look at a review of the food standards themselves to make sure that they’re relevant in today’s terms.

[Image changes back to Joe Ciccarone]

[Image changes to show the Crown St Stables Community Cafe and the camera pans around the room showing the elderly patrons]

Other ways in which we’re working with local government is in their own social enterprise activities. So Moonee Valley have been really innovative in the way that they’re trying to get good nutrition out into their elderly community.

[Image changes to show an employee serving a customer and then images flash through of the food in preparation]

They recognise that the face of Meals on Wheels is changing and that the whole market’s changing.

[Image changes to show the waiter delivering the meals to the elderly patrons at the table]

People aren’t as sedentary. They’re ageing more healthily which means they’re more mobile and they don’t want to be sitting at home waiting for someone to knock on their door and deliver a meal. We see our role as adding further benefit to the wider community by providing meals into new markets.

[Music plays and text appears: ‘With thanks to Crown Street Stables Community Cafe, a Moonee Valley City Council Initiative. Crown St Stables Community Cafe and City of Moonee Valley’]

[Music plays and CSIRO, FIAL and Australian Government logos appear with text: The SME Solution Centre, A collaboration between CSIRO and FIAL’

[Music plays and CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here]

Joe Ciccarone, Community Chef CEO, discusses the benefits for his business of working with CSIRO and Food Innovation Australia.

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The results

Increasing the nutritional density of prepared meals

We increased the nutritional density of many dishes by fortifying recipes through the use of whole foods and whole food additives such as skim milk powder. This enabled Community Chef to reduce the portion sizes slightly, leading to less food wastage.

Our recommendations set a benchmark for defining the appropriate energy and protein content of various meals, which allows the company to mix and match meal components and still meet the nutritional requirements of the meal overall.

Since project completion, Community Chef have now introduced a new frozen product range for the Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Sunshine (Melbourne), with the assistance of Gabriel Gate (Celebrity Chef) and the team at Western Health.

More recently, these meals are now being offered to councils to distribute through their delivered meals programs under the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP).

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