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Grannies with superpowers

“Cook like a Gran” participants, Athena Lau (left) and Doreen Spence, sample the savoury bread nests and self-crusting quiche at SuperGrans Dunedin

Tucked away in the South City Mall in Dunedin, women and men are learning to cook new recipes, adding to their life skills and gaining more control of their budgets.

Some chat, others listen. They discuss where to buy certain ingredients and pick up tips for growing, buying and preparing nutritional, affordable, seasonal food for themselves or their families.

The SuperGrans Dunedin Charitable Trust runs this weekly “Cook like a Gran” session, led by University of Otago Master of Applied Science students.

Athena Lau has attended for five or six months.

She’s learned good ideas about what to cook for dinner, including how to use vegetables so her son enjoys them or doesn’t even notice he’s eating them.

“I can learn different culture food and also can learn the skills different. Also, help people.”

Another participant, Doreen Spence, says there were complaints that she always cooked the same thing at home, however now she knows new recipes.

“Not only that, but it’s free!” she laughs.

Laughter is often heard in SuperGrans’ welcoming main room, which has a fully-equipped kitchen, sewing machines and comfy sofas on which to sit for a cuppa and chat.

Usually, groups of volunteers and participants prepare various recipes in the kitchen. In Covid-19 affected times, the students give a cooking demonstration from behind a bench to an attentive masked, physically distanced audience.

Empowering self-reliance

The students give step-by-step instructions for recipes supplied as handouts. They share tips, such as replacing pine nuts with sunflower seeds to make a nut-free pesto.

Amid a family atmosphere, there is much interaction as people swap ideas, experiences and stories, learning from one another.

There’s a story about someone’s mum who used to get them picking wild blackberries – a rather prickly way to collect food.

The morning Daily Encourager visited, the theme was Picnics. The smell of food filled the air and once it was cooked, everyone sang a karakia, or prayer.

Together around tables or on sofas, they ate delicious savoury bread nests, self-crusting quiche, summer bulgar salad, easy carrot salad and blueberry muffins.

Fresh and healthy: the summer bulgar salad

Just like grandma or grandad makes – the blueberry muffins

“Cook like a Gran” is one of several classes SuperGrans runs to empower families to be self-reliant and confident to make healthy life choices, so they can reach their full potential.

The Manager, Sandy McKay, says the focus is always on helping people gain daily life skills.

“We don’t want to do it for them, but give hands-on help so they can help themselves.”

She says cooking, baking, budgeting, knitting, sewing and crocheting skills may not have been passed down to young people for a variety of reasons.

I think some people have missed out on learning those skills and they are the people we are keen to help.”


She says acquiring such life skills enables individuals to gain more control of their lives, such as by being able to plan and cook meals for themselves.

Those on limited incomes can’t control their many fixed costs, like rent, however they can control what food they buy.

She gives the example of buying pumpkin in season when it is cheaper, so this will reduce costs and contribute to keeping families healthy.

Charity based

The donations-funded charitable trust is based in South Dunedin and offers free, regular, practical group workshops, and one-on-one support to individuals and families.

Cooking, budgeting, craft/domestic skills, communication and reading/literacy/numeracy are the main life skills taught.

Teaching others to cook like a gran: University of Otago Master of Applied Science students, Alice Young (left) and Zoe Tully, at the SuperGrans Dunedin session

Sandy says about 30 people participate each week, plus volunteers. Those who volunteer as SuperGrans aren’t always female or grandmother-aged and are indeed all ages.

Those they mentor might be schoolchildren, people being supported by social services, those with disabilities or immigrants, who especially like the weekly baking sessions.

It just gives them an ‘in’ to a Kiwi way of doing things.”


The immigrants enjoy sharing their own cooking experience and helping with other programmes.

“Everyone’s got some sort of skills to share.”

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For further information:

SuperGrans Aotearoa website and our previous story

SuperGrans Dunedin webpage and Facebook


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