A project encouraging families across Wales to ditch fast food and instead cook up healthy alternatives has scooped a top award.

Young parents, older teens starting in their first homes, and widowed men learning to fend for themselves in the kitchen have all been supported by two schemes – the Come and Cook and Get Cooking programmes.

They are both part of the All Wales Nutrition Skills for Life programme, run by dietetic assistant practitioner  Sarah Powell-Jones from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and Lisa Brown of Cardiff and Vale Health Board.

Sarah and Lisa won the 2016 Advancing Healthcare Award foroutstanding achievement by an allied healthcare professional, healthcare science support worker or technician”. It aims to recognise and encourage their contribution to improving patient outcomes by celebrating an individual or team that provides high quality, creative care which enhances the quality of life for the patient.

Sarah helped devise and launch the Come and Cook programme three years ago, and the project has been praised across Wales for its contribution to improving food education and inspiring individuals and families to adopt healthier diets.

Surveys of those taking part found that 81 per cent were consuming less sugar and sweet foods such as cakes, biscuits and soft drinks since undertaking the course. And 92 per cent said they felt more confident about preparing healthy meals and shopping for healthy ingredients.

Sarah said: “In recent years there has been a trend towards families relying on convenience foods, which contain much higher levels of sugar, fat and salt than home cooked dishes. Eating foods that are high in these things and possibly also low in fibre, and fruit and vegetables, can contribute to health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

“Our aim is to reverse the trend and encourage people to go back to basics, cooking simple but nutritious meals at home.

“We have had tremendous feedback, with many people telling us their eating habits have really changed for the better since taking part in the courses.

“We set out to make recipes simple and tasty, and we include dishes familiar to people, like chicken nuggets, curries and pizzas, all of which can be made quickly at home but to much healthier recipes than takeaway and ready-made versions.”

The course, runs over seven weeks, and includes nutrition activities such as exploring ingredients on packaged foods and how to make sense of food labels. Sarah delivers Come and Cook courses in Wrexham and Flintshire, working directly with groups such as older males and young parents who often feel less confident make meals from scratch for their children or loved ones.

Sarah said: “They’ve relished the fact that we’ve shown them the basics and let them have a go at cooking up meals in such an informal environment, without any pressure.”

Sarah and the dietetics team also support fellow community workers to deliver Come and Cook, and this helps the programme to reach other parts of North Wales.

She added: “The partnership working we have developed with other teams, for example the Caia Park Health Team has enabled the programme to reach a much wider audience.

“Another benefit of Come and Cook is it offers participants accreditation for their learning. Participants can gain a certificate which really boosts their confidence plus it could help their future career “

Sarah received the award at a ceremony held at London’s Millennium Gloucester Hotel, and before the event Sarah and Lisa had to give a presentation to a panel of top judges.

Sarah said: “We were both really nervous but it was great to have the opportunity talk about our work and the evidence we had to show its success. What was so rewarding for us is that we were not just up against people from the nutritional field but from all different areas of health provision.

“Nominees for the award came from sectors such as occupational therapy, podiatry, physiotherapy – there were representatives from across the board. So to be judged overall winners against so many worthy teams of professionals was a real honour and testimony to the valuable work of the whole dietetics team.”

Presenting the award, the judges said: “Sarah has been instrumental in developing and evaluating the innovative Come and Cook programme and Lisa has had a lead role in setting up and rolling out the Get Cooking programme for families in Cardiff.

“It requires people with exceptional interpersonal skills to persuade and retain families in these programmes and Lisa and Sarah have demonstrated that they have those special powers in spades – not to mention the ability to cook.

“Great job Lisa and Sarah.”

Sarah was nominated for the award by BCUHB network lead for public health dietetics, Andrea Basu, who said: “Sarah’s work has been vital in getting Come and Cook off the ground and to a point where it is benefiting so many families. She’s so dedicated and I’m absolutely thrilled she has received this award.”