CF cooking classes a virtual hit

The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW) has held cooking classes for inpatients with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) for the last decade, but the introduction of COVID­-19 restrictions put a halt on all face-to-face sessions.

Our Nutrition Assistants quickly rose to the challenge and restructured the cooking classes to be delivered virtually, allowing them to be continued for the children and their families throughout lockdown.

Originally the cooking classes were designed by the CF nutrition assistants and dietitians to create a fun yet educational session for inpatients based their individual needs.

One of the silver linings to moving the classes online has been the ability to target more children at once, with up to six families dialing in to attend each session. This has given children with CF the opportunity to enjoy these classes together, which isn’t possible face to face due to strict CF infection control precautions.

Andrea Kench, a Senior Cystic Fibrosis Dietitian at CHW, said the service gives children an opportunity to learn about what they need to fuel their bodies in a fun and interactive way.

“Children with CF have specific dietary needs. In addition to a healthy balanced diet, most children need extra energy (often fat) to help them grow, extra salt to replace what they lose in their sweat and Creon (a medication taken with every meal) and a snack to help digest what they eat,” Andrea said.

“We have had younger children learning to try new foods and the importance of healthy high fat foods by making things like smoothies, pizzas and nachos. Some of our older kids have been taught basic cooking skills and simple recipes to prepare them for transition to adult care and living out of home.

“No two sessions are the same and it’s been a great way to break up admissions for some of our kids, particularly those who are in on a more regular basis.”

The team have so far run two age-specific classes per school holidays, using simplified recipes, easily-sourced ingredients and utensils commonly found in the family home to ensure everyone could participate.

The virtual sessions have been well received by children and their families and have helped to increase confidence in managing nutrition.

“I liked my child being able to complete most of the recipes independently as it does wonders for their confidence. My child was able to learn more about CF nutrition in a different way while interacting with other children with CF in a safe environment,” one parent said.

Another parent added, “I liked the connection with the CF Team - and with other children with CF. My child felt part of something rather than being alone. I imagine this will help as she gets older and can then engage with others with CF via online platforms.”

Sarina Darenzo, a new CF Allied Health Assistant at CHW, said the best part of these classes is seeing the joy on the children’s faces.

“It was a great feeling to see the children actively involved with measuring the ingredients and cheekily sneaking in some taste testing of key ingredients,” Sarina said.

“The children were also pleasantly surprised by some of the ingredients that came together, such as spinach and avocado in the choc banana smoothie and that it actually tasted delicious.

“The art of cooking is a wonderful way to connect and bring people of all ages together.”

In the future the team would like to reintroduce one-on-one individual cooking classes back in the Nutrition and Dietetics kitchen for inpatients, but also continue the school holidays virtual cooking classes to help bring kids with Cystic Fibrosis together.