Explore Leiths Diploma Open House – 5th June 2024


Alumni Stories: Shaleen Meelu on Nutrition in Culinary Practice

Shaleen Meelu, is a public health nutritionist and the co-founder of Harborne Food School and its restaurant Hengata. During the pandemic, she took the ten-week Nutrition in Culinary Practice course at Leiths School of Food and Wine to support her own personal health and wellbeing. She can say now, “cooking changed her life during the pandemic.” Meelu’s food policy work has taken her to dozens of cities across Europe from Warsaw, Tirana and Groningen to Barcelona, Turin, and Copenhagen. You can read more about her work there at Healthy Futures.

What prompted you to do Leiths’ NICP?

During the pandemic, my body changed and I’m sure this was due to my age and perimenopause. I felt different and wanted to start thinking about how to support this transition in the most positive way. Despite working as a public health nutritionist and being the co-founder of a small cooking school, I also wanted to learn more about the food choices that can support my health and wellbeing. It’s difficult to think about yourself and the choices you make even when you are an ‘expert’. Escaping to London and Leiths once a week, gave me a perfect opportunity to reflect, learn, develop new skills, and think about the changes I need to make.

How was your experience of the course?

I think one of the most incredible things about the course was being with a group of all ages and backgrounds who were also focused on cooking nutritious meals for themselves and their families. This included a film producer with teenage children, a nurse, and carers. We were all there to think about how to enhance the nutritional quality of the meals we prepare at home for ourselves and those we love.

The combination of nutrition theory which was delivered by a pharmacist with expertise in nutrition and practical cooking skills was useful. One of the instant swaps I made was going from taking vitamin D tablets to using a vitamin D spray. We learnt a combination of simple and more complex recipes. One simple favourite of mine is a ginger cabbage stir-fry. There was also a marvellous seeded gluten free bread which I’ve since made a number of times. The Japanese and raw food masterclasses were both inspiring.

Thinking more deeply about how to prepare nourishing meals for myself and take care of my changing body has truly changed my daily existence. I can’t wait for a three-to-six-hour slot during the weekend or midweek in the evening during which I can prepare a number of dishes to fuel my week.

What impact has the course had on you?

I did the course for myself, to develop my own repertoire and think about how to look after my body as it makes this transition. I already have a wonderful food related career which is focused on advising local governments to develop healthy, sustainable food policies. Nutrition In Culinary Practice is definitely useful for those trying to develop public sector catering e.g., school and hospital food.

Cooking from scratch is key for both mental and physical wellbeing. I now order a seasonal veg box from Riverford Organic and top up with ingredients from local shops and supermarkets. I spend a couple of days each week batch cooking to save time the rest of the week. I find the process of selecting recipes, preparing, and even eating, meditative and transformative. I understand that I’m lucky to have the choice and time to make the effort.

I recently completed the survey for the Zoe app which interests me from a professional point of view. I was able to answer yes to eating at least 7 portions of veg a day and responded that both sleep and energy levels are great. My body weight is in the healthy range, and I feel good. I think giving myself time to think about how I eat and live has been transformative and the course provided this opportunity. Of course, it’s not just about the food we eat. I maintained yoga practice, started Sanskrit, and did weight training. Recent blood tests reveal my folate, Vit D, B12, magnesium and zinc are all normal and I feel good. Really good. I’m convinced it starts in the kitchen.

Can you tell us about your food policy work?

I’m supporting 11 cities across Europe with their food policies. Many of these cities are focused on improving the nutrition quality of their public sector meals as well as encouraging a ‘protein transition’ i.e., reducing the animal-based product and replacing with plant-based (legumes and pulses) to encourage sustainable diets. We are just getting to the stage of implementing a range of food system pilots across Europe. Using the learning from Nutrition in Culinary Practice, I’ll be able to support those that want to develop a range of nutritious, well balanced meals for groups across the life cycle using local, seasonal ingredients. I’m also supporting Birmingham (where I live) to implement a food strategy. https://foodtrails.milanurbanfoodpolicypact.org/ After the pandemic, my business partner and I also invested in a restaurant concept called Hengata to utilise the space in our cooking school which was impacted.

To explore Leiths Nutrition in Culinary Practice course, click here.


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