When Healthy Families Waitakere embarked on a partnership with two West Auckland supermarkets, the goal was to increase the availability and affordability of healthy food for Ranui and Glen Eden communities.

But the initiative served up much more for countless social services operators and families nationwide.

The concept ‘Local Choice’ was developed following a co-design process involving stakeholders and members of the community as a solution to the issues facing families around providing healthy affordable meals. Local Choice enables families to provide five nutritionally sound dinners to feed six people, for under $60.

“We know that involving the community in developing a solution has much better likelihood of success and the insights from our community told us that people wanted more affordable, healthier food available in West Auckland,” says Healthy Families Waitakere Manager, Kerry Allan.

“Our goal was to activate and support local systems capable of delivering this – a community model with the potential to be upscaled at a later stage if successful.”

Community and other stakeholders were brought together to contribute and provide suitable recipe ideas, including vegetarian options.  Auckland Council and Love Food Hate Waste also contributed with information focused on preventing food waste, and assisted with the meal planner development.

The first opportunity for the community to access Local Choice was in May 2017 when families could select from five weekly sets of recipes, with a focus around winter produce.  A shopping list guided shoppers in gathering the ingredients for the dinner meals, while store layout, allocated shelf space and signage in the participating supermarkets was designed to help.  The concept was promoted via a number of local platforms.

Ellie Mackwood, a West Auckland mother of nine year old twins, was one of the first customers to use Local Choice.

“It took away the requirement to think about what to cook each night, and I felt like I was doing the right thing by my kids in terms of healthy food.  It also changed the family’s eating patterns for the better,” says Ellie.  “We started eating legumes – I’d never used them before except split peas in soup.  I now routinely use lentils in our meat patties recipe.”

Kerry says the partnership with a community-oriented supermarket owner allowed experimentation with a solution that ultimately benefitted hundreds of families locally. 

“It could inform local whānau and the wider community about cost-effective, healthy meal options while building their knowledge, attitudes and skills for accessing and preparing simple healthy, tasty food on a budget,” says Kerry.

Healthy Families Waitakere, acting as a broker, generated wide interest from more than 20 social services organisations who on-promoted the concept to their clients.

“This represented a significant step in the initiative.  The concept of enabling the delivery of affordable meals had been escalated within local social services groups with excellent take up.  We also saw it grow organically, as participants promoted the concept with others,” adds Kerry.

For local champions like the Salvation Army Waitakere, Local Choice provided a valuable tool for helping families eat well and affordably.  The content was also adapted into monthly cooking workshops for the community.

Faith Bishop Nahu, financial mentoring case worker and co-ordinator of the food bank at Salvation Army Waitakere, said she was amazed at the $60 budget and was quick to try it herself and introduce it to staff, before sharing it within her networks and educating food bank users about the initiative.

“We gave meal demonstrations to show them how to use Local Choice and how to use the ingredients, especially things like beans which are often not taken from the food pantry,” says Faith.

“It was well received, and helped promote better eating.  We had clients who had previously bought takeaways thinking they were cheaper, but then tried Local Choice and started cooking together with their kids.”

In November, the concept attracted the attention of WasteMINZ who identified the potential of using the recipe booklet as part of their nationwide Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Since then, ‘Easy Choice – Family Kai’ seasonal healthy meal planner has been enthusiastically welcomed with more than 12,000 downloads within the first few days.

So did it serve up healthy and affordable kai where it all started?

“Yes, but the reality is much more than that.  The initial Local Choice model has provided the community access to and education on how to cook healthy food across West Auckland,” says Kerry.

“The initiative delivered a model which many social service providers could then take and implement within their own networks – a true win-win that helps our community live healthier lives.”