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The (not so) secret ingredient to live a happier, healthier life

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Hint: It starts with a conversation.

Have a guess what percentage of the total food spend Canberrans put towards discretionary foods, like chips, soft drinks and other types of ‘junk food’ in 2015?

To help you get an idea, consider this latest Information, from 2017-18, 36 per cent of children in the ACT consumed sugar-sweetened drinks at least weekly and only 6.8 per cent of adults and 3.5 per cent of children consumed enough vegetables in that year.

If your guess was 60 percent of the total food spend then you’re on the money! That’s the what Canberrans spent on discretionary foods in 2015 and the trend hasn’t shifted much from that since.

What if we told you that we know someone with the (not so) secret ingredient to live a happier, healthier life? One choice that could provide improved mental wellness and lower your chances of chronic disease.

“I’m a Health Promotion professional and our job (in a very simplified version) is to keep people out of hospitals,” says Selina Hardwicke from ACT Health. “No, you won’t find me handing out flyers. Health Promotion professionals look at systems and educate and co-design solutions for behaviour change. It’s about keeping people healthy and keeping them out of hospital.”

Selina explains that chronic disease due to poor nutrition is associated with the excess of ‘discretionary’ foods and drinks that are high in energy, saturated fat, added sugars and/or salt, and insufficient nutrition like sugary biscuits and cakes, chocolate, deep-fried and highly processed foods.

“We know it’s hard. Food choices are influenced by our food environment, which includes shops, sports venues, workplaces, schools and media channels,” says Selina. “Too often these settings are dominated by unhealthy foods and drinks, which makes the healthy choice difficult.”

“We want to make it easier for you to find tasty, fresh and healthier food and drink options when you’re out and about, so we started a conversation with the community, and we named it Healthier Choices Canberra.”

We’ve written about Healthier Choices Canberra before, and you may have noticed ‘HC’ popping up on menus all over town (and nope, that’s not HC for HerCanberra!) or, you may have seen the subtle healthier twist on the food you’ve been buying from junior sports canteens.

Maybe you’ve even seen the blue shelf cards in your local grocer. These little Healthier Choices cards allow you to make informed choices in the easiest way possible. And this brings us to The Great Canberra Cook Off!

“Rather than us telling you all our favourite healthier, delicious and nutritious recipes, we thought we’d make you do the work!” laughs Selina.

Why? I think you already know the answer—because as Selina puts it, “making a choice to be ‘healthier’ starts with a conversation.”

The Great Canberra Cook Off was a city-wide search to look for three chefs across three categories to bring their best healthier recipes to Canberra—with great success.

Three wonderful local chefs edged out the other finalists in a tough competition to be crowned the winners.

11-year-old Lola Taylor, winner of the Little Chef category, was so impressive that the Canberra Southern Cross Club has decided to feature her San Choy Bau recipe on their specials kids menu.

Sebastian Connor, 17, claimed bragging rights as the winner of the Teen Chef category with his delicious lettuce cups, packed with veggies and protein. He has his sights set on being a chef so there’s no doubt this will be the first of many scrumptious creations.

The adults in the Stripped Back Chef category were challenged to create a recipe that could be cooked on minimal cooking facilities that could be pre-packaged or easily prepared to be sold in school and sporting canteens.

In a public cook-off at the Capital Region Farmers Market, Mary Levy’s middle eastern-inspired mince burger wrap was declared the favourite by an eager crowd of taste testers. Needless to say, it was an EPIC (see what I did there) moment when Mary heard the news that she’d won…


Selina said “We’ve had so much fun searching for our Cook Off winners but what we set out to do is show Canberrans just how easy it can be to prepare simple, healthier meals. Don’t over think it, just playing around with your favourites to see if you can throw in a few extra veggies is a really good place to start. And my other hot tip is to get your kids in the kitchen as early as you can!”

For some inspiration, Healthier Choices Canberra has created a FREE e-Recipe book featuring the recipes from the 11 finalists In The Great Canberra Cook Off.

Download and have a go for yourself!

This editorial was created in partnership with ACT Health. For more information on sponsored partnerships, click here.

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