Maggie Beer’s Big Mission review: a heart-soaring triumph from the ABC

Championing a lifelong mission to promote healthy eating, Maggie Beer hopes to prove that minor tweaks can have a major impact on aged care.
Maggie Beer's Big Mission. Image: ABC.

Early on in the ABC’s new ‘hugs your soul like a waft of nana’s freshly baked scones’ documentary series Maggie Beer’s Big Mission, our beloved host invites a clearly excited Aged Care Minister Anika Wells for lunch.

Rightly dubbed by Wells as a national living treasure, Beer – co-host of The Cook and the Chef and The Great Australian Bake Off, author, restaurateur and fresh food producer – has dedicated her career to ensuring Australians eat well. Particularly elderly Australians in aged care, establishing the Maggie Beer Foundation in 2014 to upskill cooks and chefs working within these institutions.

Appalled by the key findings of the 2018 Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety – particularly that 68% of residents are, or at risk of being, malnourished – Beer undertakes the challenge of applying her theories on a grand scale.

Embedding herself in a WA aged care home for four months, she sets about convincing the reluctant leadership team that a small budget bump can pay out big time, improving the lives of both residents and staff.

And that’s not just in the kitchen, where executive chef Sasanka ‘Sas’ Peiris is sold on getting rid of salt-laden processed and pre-packaged food, despite the steep learning curve for his small team. Beer also takes a big-picture look at how the clinically austere establishment’s lacklustre design and limited community engagement impact the residents.

Inviting Wells, a former aged care worker passionate about the industry’s vital role, is a smart move. She’s ecstatic at meeting Beer in person, which empowers the latter in convincing the federal government, through the former, that her plan can be rolled out – like scone mix – nationwide, with a work smarter, not too much harder, focus on genuinely delicious nutrition options.

This 16-week timeline is also a wise dramatic choice, setting this three-episode run to the sound of a clock. ‘The pressure is on to make this work,’ Beer says. ‘Lives are at stake.’

Maggie Beer: do things differently here

Stewarded by director Laki Baker, Maggie Beer’s Big Mission hopes to prove why it’s worth doing things differently, and it’s not just about the feel-good footage captured by cinematographer Nathan Hayter (The Dreamhouse). The journey is backed up by research conducted by the University of Tasmania, with Beer hoping to overcome a depression rate amongst residents and staff of over 40%.

Careful not to finger-point too much, 78-year-old Beer, the 2010 Senior Australian of the Year, notes upfront that carers are over-worked and underpaid, with burnout all too common in a rapidly growing industry already in crisis and expected to expand by 80% in 20 years. But then, tut-tutting isn’t really in Beer’s nature. She can’t hide her comically pursed-lip scowl, however, on trying out the home’s meals on arrival, including under-cooked fish and the shock realisation that her pre-poured ‘water’ is, in fact, sugary lemonade.

It’s gorgeous watching how gently a good-natured Beer inspires Sas to step up to the challenge of motivating his kitchen staff and the dining room servers that while doing things a little differently takes time to bed in and irritates several residents along the way, it’ll make all their lives a little brighter in the long run.

The most compelling stuff comes care of the residents. Asked what they miss most at mealtimes, with many having cooked at home regularly, flavour comes first. One Indian-born resident sighs at a lack of spice, particularly as taste buds dull with age (it’s why Beer counter-intuitively encourages Sas to add a dash more salt to dishes). Another misses Italian grub. They all wish there were more options.

‘It’s equal measures of goodness and pleasure,’ Beer says.

Maggie Beer: what lessons here?

Overflowing with goodwill counter-balanced by sassy resident commentary worthy of The Muppet Show’s Statler and Waldorf, Maggie Beer’s Big Mission perfects the art of heart-tugging doco series at which the the ABC excels, including Annabel Crabb narrated shows Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds and its teenaged spin-off.

They shine because of their gloriously inspiring message that it’s actually pretty easy to engage aged care residents in joyful ways, and equally frustrating in that this isn’t the norm.

Beer demonstrates that there are loads of great ways to make the most of limited resources while arguing for an increase in the food budget from $11 per resident a day – below the national average of $12.63 – to a best-practice $14.

She and Sas grow a herb garden along the kitchen driveway, with a green-fingered focus that also transforms a mostly ignored central courtyard and balcony, creating more inviting spaces to hang out in the sunshine. Involving the residents in planting enlivens several who have missed their own gardens. The works get lots of previously perma-closed curtains a-twitching, too.   

A fresh lick of paint transforms the hospital-like dining room and other communal areas, with nice touches like installing a breakfast bar so residents can pick how they want to start the day having an outsized effect. As guided by the delightful Beer, Sas’ kitchen team learns a bunch of new recipes that can easily be achieved at scale and adapted to residents’ varying hew capabilities. Nothing goes to waste, and everything is finely judged to offer maximum nutrition and YUM factor.  

But the show doesn’t shy away from stark realities. Sas has to do all the paperwork and oversee the staff in several homes, making it difficult to keep his eye on less-experienced staff as they try new approaches. Budgets need to be managed and staffing levels are stretched thin.

Making this work on a grand scale will take government intervention. That’s the true power of Maggie Beer’s Big Mission and her good-humoured butinsistent ambition. Wells is convinced that what Beer’s advocating for is money well spent. Let’s hope she can convince her Labor colleagues to front up the cash required, because aged Australians deserve respect, love and happiness in their later years.


4 out of 5 stars



Maggie Beer  


Laki Baker

Format: TV Series

Country: Australia

Release: 09 July 2024

Available on:

abc iview, 3 Episodes