FOR Fadzai Hamburgh, decisions at mealtimes usually meant choosing which Leith Walk takeaway she would patronise that night. Lynsey Elbekhti would walk to the freezer, pull out something from Iceland and throw it in the microwave.
But the mums gathered at Leith Academy for their monthly class in cookery and nutrition insist they will never look at food in the same way again thanks to an innovative scheme run by a city charity.
Most admit that while they were aware their family’s diet could have been better, it was the offer of £480 worth of vouchers during the course of a year that got them interested in the Little Leithers project, an initiative developed by Edinburgh Community Food.
But after spending their monthly £40 allowance at specially-selected businesses in the area for a year and being given the confidence to experiment in the kitchen, they insist that the scheme has given them skills and knowledge that will stay with them when the food tokens are a distant memory.
Little Leithers, which is open to mums of children aged five and under in the Leith area who are eligible for the Scottish Government’s Healthy Start scheme, aims to boost the wellbeing of families by educating them about the relationship between food and health, which is commonly misunderstood, particularly among those in deprived areas.
It has helped 140 families since it began in 2006, while the vouchers, which can only be spent at Welch’s Fishmonger, J. Andersons Butchers, Rajah’s Supermarket or on fruit and veg at Edinburgh Community Food, were introduced in 2011.
And while statistics show that waistlines across the region are expanding, the testimony of the latest cohort to complete the course this week is evidence that similar schemes may prove an effective antidote to the multi-billion pound fast food, soft drink and snack industries and their bottomless marketing budgets.
Lynsey, 37, says the knowledge and skills she has gained from the workshops would have a lasting impact on her life.
Topics covered with the class, led by an Edinburgh Community Food development worker, include food labelling, menu planning, cooking on a budget and even a session on creating healthy versions of the dreaded junk food that they so often turned to as their main diet.
Lynsey says that her family has now swapped frozen ready meals and pasties for healthy pizzas, salad and homemade dishes such as bolognese, all of which have proved a success with her 12-year-old son, Adam, and particularly with her daughter Yasmin, four.
“If I’m being honest, I wasn’t eating that well,” she says. “I was more likely to go to Greggs or Iceland than anywhere else and I probably was aware that my kids didn’t have the best diet.
“I didn’t do much in the kitchen and I think quite a lot of parents are in that situation. Now I’m far more confident and experiment a bit more.The course has been really helpful in showing you how to make healthy choices, I’ve learned a lot. The vouchers are great, but even when they’ve run out I’ve been sticking to it.”
A major survey conducted across Lothian recently found that while the vast majority consider themselves fit and healthy, in realiry, 60 per cent were overweight or obese.
It led to claims that high-profile education campaigns, such as the drive to encourage the consumption of five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day, had not had an impact on the behaviour of the wider population.
There is also growing concern over a widening health gap between those in who live in the richest and those who live in the poorest areas.
But if the millions of pounds of public cash spent on television adverts and marketing consultants had failed, the city council-funded vouchers and Edinburgh Community Food classes appear to have hit home.
Fadzai is delighted that since joining the course, she has cut down on the takeaways she had been eating most nights with five-year-old daughter Iamba, and that she now uses the vouchers she recieved to buy fish and organic vegetables.
“I was getting anything convenient,” she says. “Leith Walk is so full of lovely takeaways, you can have Chinese one night, then Indian and a chippy another night. I can cook, but this has given me the motivation. Now I’ll have one takeaway or maybe none a week.
“After we get the vouchers, it’s a little journey out for my daughter.
She chooses the veg, helps carry it and is learning about making healthy, informed choices. It’s getting her in to good habits at such an early stage.”
Another group member, 28-year-old Chloe Scott, took two-year-old daughter Elspeth to the final class. She and husband Kyle are preparing for a new addition to the family, due in October.
She learned about the Little Leithers scheme from a poster in Leith Library, although the majority of members of new courses will be referred to Edinburgh Community Food from health professionals such as GPs.
“I did cook from scratch before, but this has widened the types of food I cook,” says Chloe. “Learning about menu planning has been very helpful and I know what to look out for on labelling. I’m now in the habit of making an effort to find out where food comes from, rather than just going to the supermarket.”
Gail Hutchison, of Edinburgh Community Food, took over the class from predecessor Amy Heron for the last session, and intends to follow up with the group to assess the long-term benefits of the programme in coming months.
“It’s been pretty successful and everyone seems to have enjoyed the classes,” she says. “The course is about teaching people about a mix between cooking and nutrition, as well as giving them the skills to eat healthily on a budget, so it’s sustainable when the vouchers stop.”
Pitta Bread Pizzas
1 wholewheat pitta bread
1tsp sun-dried tomato purée
matchbox sized mature
1/4 red onion/onion sliced finely
sprinkling of mixed herbs
These are just a few
suggestions – you can add whatever toppings you like!
1. Heat oven to 200C/180C. Spread each pitta with 1tsp purée. Top with
the tomatoes, cheddar and
2. Place and bake for 10 mins until the pittas are crisp, and the cheese has
melted. Serve with a green salad.
Sweet Potato Wedges
1tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil
1/2tsp paprika (smoked if you have it)
4 to 6 sweet potatoes, sliced lengthwise into chunky quarters
1. Preheat the oven to 200C / gas mark 6. Lightly grease a baking tray, or line with baking parchment.
2. In a large bowl, mix olive oil and paprika. Add sweet potato, and toss to coat. Place on the prepared baking tray.
3. Bake 40 minutes in preheated oven. Best eaten at room temperature.
Easy Chicken Curry for 4
2 chicken breasts, diced
dash of oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1tbsp medium curry powder
2 cloves garlic
1/2 stock cube + 100ml water
1/2 cup semi-skimmed milk
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
pinch black pepper
1. Heat oil in pan over medium heat and fry onions for 5 mins
2. Add red pepper, garlic and curry powder and fry for 1 min
3. Add 1/2 tin chopped tomatoes and pepper. Cook and stir well
4. Add the stock and chicken
5. Cook for 20 mins, allowing sauce to thicken. Ensure chicken is cooked all
the way through – there should be NO pink bits
6. Simmer for a few mins, gently stir in the milk to give a nice “creamy”
looking sauce. Serve with brown rice and sliced tomato and ENJOY!