Nutrition student with client and staff from Footscray House
VU student Stephanie Heaney (left) with Footscray House resident and staff

Victoria University nutrition students are gaining real-life community health experience by helping NDIS staff create healthy meals for people with disabilities in supported accommodation.

The Menu Project is a partnership between VU, the non-profit health organisation Cohealth, and supported disability accommodation providers in Melbourne’s west.

The four-week project gives the staff and NDIS support workers a better understanding of how food can influence the health of their clients. It also offers the students practical skills in developing nutritious recipes and other resources for each accommodation centre.

Dr Helen McCarthy, course chair of VU’s nutrition and dietetics courses, said the project pre-empts recent recommendations to a government commission calling on NDIS providers to have training and skills in nutrition and menu-planning. 

“The project has had positive feedback from all sides and scope to be expanded,” she said.

“This is currently a volunteer opportunity for our students, but we are looking at ways of embedding it into our courses.”

From cakes & sweets to fruit & veg

While the pandemic required VU students to collaborate with supported accommodation staff via Zoom this year, Dr McCarthy is hopeful it can proceed face-to-face in future.

Footscray House was the first accommodation provider to participate in the program. Staff members Wendy and Rosemary, who have each worked there for a decade, said the Menu Project introduced them to new foods, and healthy ways of preparing them.

“At our recent Christmas party, we served more healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables instead of cakes and sweets like we used to,” said Rosemary.

Bachelor of Human Nutrition student Stephanie Heaney said the project confirmed she wanted to continue working in community health.

Another student, Emma Sheridan, said the project gave her valuable experience that she could not learn through text books.

Both students plan to continue to postgraduate dietetic studies next year.

The Menu Project is an extension of another VU Community Food and Nutrition Education program in which final-year nutrition students worked directly with people with learning disabilities to enhance their knowledge of healthy food.

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