Deirdre Doyle is a Nutrition & Health Coach and the founder of The Cool Food School. She promotes healthy eating in a fun and interactive environment for kids of all ages. The Cool Food School travels to schools, preschools, and parties to teach children the value of eating healthily through a range of fun workshops and camps designed to encourage them to develop healthy habits!
When did you first become interested in nutrition and health?
I have always been interested in food – my primary degree is in hotel and catering management from GMIT in the 80’s and there, I met a lot of people who worked in restaurants and hotels. I got to experience good food and was never drawn to junk food (well maybe once or twice after a night out!). I also spent a lot of time reading about dieting and trying to diet myself – always looking for the quick fix way to lose a couple of pounds! Exercise has always been a part of my life too – even during those hedonistic student days! I spent my twenties working in hotels and restaurants around the world and this helped to expand my palate and continue my food education journey. It wasn’t until I had my own children though that I really started to cook from scratch as I wanted them to be fed in the best possible way. This is when I really started to understand the true value of food as something more than fuel that can make you fat or thin! I started reading about childhood obesity and knew I didn’t want this for my children or other children so I decided I wanted to educate children more about food.
So what made you decide to study to be a Nutrition & Health Coach with IINH?
This is when I decided to study to become a health coach. I knew it would be good to have a formal qualification behind me to start my business. I was also looking for a change in my life at the time and food was always something that I found very interesting. IINH is on my doorstep in Bray so it seemed the obvious choice! My mind was blown by the information we received in the course and I think everyone should attend it – for their own use if nothing else. The link between food and our overall health is so little understood and greatly overlooked.
You own your own company, The Cool Food School. Tell us a bit about that.
I set up my business after qualifying as a health coach. I was full of enthusiasm about explaining to children where food comes from and the importance of eating a healthy diet but I also had my own children so I knew a very earnest, serious approach would not cut it with young children! So I am basically a children’s entertainer with food! With older children, we talk a lot about bodily functions like poo and wee which they love! And my goal is always to make it fun for them so they want to do more, learn more, eat better. So now I teach online cooking, online workshops, in school workshops with pre, primary and secondary schools. I do corporate workshops, family events, food events and have an online shop selling safe knives and peelers as well as a very carefully selected range of items from around the world that are designed to encourage better eating habits in children.
Do you find that children really grasp the concept of nutrition when it is explained to them?
I don’t talk about nutrition to children. My approach is to make healthy food fun in a way that they want to choose it. If I can encourage them to eat more fruit and veg, then I don’t need to talk to them about nutrition. It’s the difference between me telling them to eat a tomato because it’s healthy and me encouraging them to see how far they can spit a tomato out of their mouth! I’ve come across children who have never eaten a tomato at 11 years of age so talking to them about nutrition is pointless. I do talk about things like whole foods etc if that fits into what we’re doing. But generally, making food fun, sparking their curiosity in it by seeing if a red tomato tastes the same as a yellow tomato or listening to the sound celery makes when you’re crunching it, is a much more effective way to get children engaged in food!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
When children taste something they have never tasted before because it was a fun thing to do! Or when I hear from parents that their child really enjoyed the cooking class and have since made the recipe again for the family. Or when parents buy the safe knife and peeler and then email me to say their child is so engaged with veggies now since they started using them!
From working with schools, parents and children, do you feel that nutrition and health is well understood? What simple advice would you give people?
No, I feel it is totally misunderstood. As with all areas of nutrition, people get their information from many conflicting sources and are generally confused about all the conflicting messages.
And then there’s food poverty – where people may not have the resources to purchase “healthy” foods which are often more expensive. And if they do have the resources, they may not have the knowledge to cook them. They resort to processed foods which are often very cheap, easy and convenient. So while they may want to eat a healthy diet, it is beyond their reach.
But the general advice I would give is eat whole foods where possible, have fruit and veg as half your plate and cook from scratch where possible.
What is your personal nutrition philosophy?
I eat plenty of fruit and veg with fish and chicken. I only have food in the house that I am happy for my children to eat. I encourage them to cook with me when possible.
But I do maintain an 80/20 rule – my children eat sweets and treats, especially when we are out. Denying them this leads to bigger issues in the long run. I cook from scratch
80% of the time but love eating out and getting (certain!) takeaways when restaurants are closed.
And what advice would you give to someone who is interested in living a healthier lifestyle?
My advice would be, as I mentioned, focus on whole foods as much as possible. Cook from scratch as much as possible – this could be as simple as a quick omelette with salad on the side or roasting a tray of veggies at the weekend to have on hand for lunches during the week. And food is only one of the components of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise, a healthy sleep pattern and mental health are all equally important pillars of a healthy lifestyle. If one of these is in crisis, your overall health will suffer.
If you’d like to learn more about Deirdre Doyle, her journey as a health coach and The Cool Food School, you can visit her website The Cool Food School, or connect with her on the below social media channels.