"Healthy, economical and easy-to-prepare" are three main ingredients for meals prepared at Senior Chef cooking sessions in Marlborough.
Run by Age Concern over eight weeks, the two-hour classes can be arranged at most centres around Marlborough if a few essential requirements are met: A large kitchen with the right facilities and eight willing students, 65 years and over.
Age Concern service worker and Senior Chef class co-ordinator Marilyn McLeod says the classes are free and the food used is purchased from funds provided by the Marlborough Primary Health Organisation. Its support highlights the importance of older citizens maintaining good nutrition to remain healthy and active.
Sadly, many older people stop eating properly as circumstances change. Men who have lived with mothers, then wives who did all the cooking are often adrift in the kitchen when their wife dies or becomes unwell and cannot cook, Marilyn says.
"And women can lose motivation to cook when they find themselves on their own."
One woman who attended one of the courses was eating just one Marmite sandwich for lunch and very little food the rest of the day.
"That's not enough to keep you going," Marilyn says. "Eat better, not less," is a mantra she wants her senior chefs to learn.
The two-hour sessions are divided into food discussion topics and hands-on practical work.
"This is not Master Chef," she assures, and says recipes are designed to be tasty, healthy and simple.
One-dish meals are a specialty, with vegetables and meat or other protein, all in one pot. Leftovers can then be put into the freezer as ready-made meals for another day.
Keeping meals affordable is an important focus of the classes, and supermarket shopping tips are offered to senior chefs.
For example, products on special are often displayed on shelves above or below the shoppers' eye level, Marilyn says.
She encourages senior chefs to take their time along the aisles and get into the habit of looking around for the bargains.
Smart shopping allows a few luxuries to be added, too. At the delicatessen, small portions of otherwise-unaffordable foods can be requested.
"Salmon is so good for you; good for your brain, good for your heart, I can't sing the praises of salmon enough. But at $32 a kilogram, many people can't afford that. But if you pay $2 for a little off-cut, it is affordable."
Complimentary samples regularly donated to Senior Chefs by King Salmon make the fish class a special one.
It gave one 87 year old man his first taste of fresh salmon.
Vegetarian meals are also studied and ways learned of creating easy, meat-free versions of dishes like chilli con carne with products like baked beans.
Vegetarian food is preferred by Blenheim man Daryl Jones and his wife Pam.
She had always looked after the family's meals; Daryl having grown up at a time when he says it was considered almost "sissy" for men to venture into the kitchen.
Pam is still working, however, and when he retired he liked the idea of preparing the evening meal so it was ready when she came home from work at the end of the day.
When he learned about a Senior Chef class held in Seddon, he put his name down for the next course in Blenheim.
It was held late last year and the dynamics were good, he says. He gained lots of new cooking skills - and the confidence to use them - and was among a few class members who met for a few more weeks after the official sessions were over.
Another participant, Jan O'Fee, wasn't among them but says the friendships formed and support shared among the Senior Chefs were strong.
"We cooked in pairs so you got to know someone different; and we sat and discussed what we'd done," she says.
Jan grew up on a farm then raised a family of five so was used to cooking large meals.
"When you're left on your own, it's hard. It's good to work out how to cook specially for one or two people.
"I recommend it to anyone to go along and join in."
For more information about Age Concern Senior Chef classes, telephone Marilyn McLeod, 03 579 3457.
The Marlborough Express