Her name is Ana Pinto and we met through the stomach. Don’t you believe it? It is true.
With a degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon and currently living in England, Ana believed that through a cookbook she could help the National Health Service in her country of origin.
Having heard through the Faculty of Medicine of the project “Help this Cause”, Ana Pinto thought that the distance between countries had to act as an incentive and not an obstacle. She therefore decided to challenge families to create a simple recipe that could be made with children. For each recipe presented, € 3 were donated and at the end of all the recipes sent, a “special quarantine” cookbook would be published, along with a sentence about something positive that had happened during the lockdown. The total amount raised would then be allocated to the NHS.
Anyone who knows Ana Pinto knows how much she loves cooking and is inspired by healthy dishes with her daughter Mia, making up the most delicious pair in the social networks.
Kiddy Cook Portugal is the project that she endorses and has the “mission of improving the health and well-being of children, in a practical and fun way”. In addition to having fun, they also get to know new foods and flavours, learn the fundamentals of healthy eating and gain very important life skills”. The way to communicate such important messages to this audience less than one meter tall is simple, through workshops and many food colours included.
The projects she embraces today have an explanation if we look at her path to the present day.
She was in the last year of her degree when she won a GAPIC (Office for the Support of Scientific, Technological and Research Investigation) grant to complete the NHIRC (Nutrition in Hypertensive Immigrants at Cardiovascular Risk) project at the Macrobiotic Institute of Portugal. She worked there for a year and after finishing her degree. That same year, she decided to increase her range of experience and went to Switzerland, in Lausanne, to work with Pedro Marques Vidal, Professor at the Institute of Preventive Medicine. There, she had access to databases of two projects on childhood obesity, and wrote two documents that would later be published in scientific journals. “The international spirit that I came across during that month and the desire to study more about the impact of nutrition on health and disease prevention, made me apply for a master degree in Nutrition from King’s College London, England”, she says. As a master research project, she chose to work on a "clinical study where she researched the postprandial effects of different types of fatty acids on vascular function". This study enabled her to move on to do a Ph.D. whose focus was on “dietary determinants of heart rate variability, namely omega-3 of marine origin and intermittent fasting”.
After completing her Ph.D., it was as a postdoc that she continued to evaluate "the effects of functional ingredients/foods on postprandial metabolism". Extraordinarily sensitive to the world and to others, we wanted to understand a little of her path, since it is not every day that we find people who are truly happy with what they do every day.
How the Kiddy Cook idea came about?
Ana Pinto: The idea of doing nutrition and cooking workshops was always present in my thoughts, but the inspiration to take the idea forward and finally make it a reality came with my daughter Mia, who, since she was a baby, has spent time in the kitchen with me and loves to participate in all activities appropriate for her age. Every time she sees me go to the kitchen, she comes running! Kiddy Cook Portugal was born, on the one hand, out of the inspiration that Mia gave me to want to influence children to have a healthy diet, which involves involving them in the kitchen in a fun way, while learning life skills. On the other hand, it arose out of my professional interest in wanting to contribute to the prevention of cardiometabolic diseases (such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus) and, in that respect, the earlier a healthy lifestyle is instilled, the less risk of developing this type of disease in the future and better quality of life. Acting on our children today is to contribute to a healthier adult population and a lower impact of diseases, both in terms of morbidity and mortality, as well as financially, due to the health costs and hospitalization associated with them.
It is very funny because you have several interactions with your daughter Mia, who is almost 4 years old. How did this "professional duo" emerge?
Ana Pinto: As I mentioned earlier, Mia was the inspiration and gave me the final push to launch this new adventure, which is a long-standing dream come true. Whether in the morning, afternoon or evening, whenever she sees me heading towards the kitchen, she follows me to see what the next culinary adventure will be. In the beginning, it was quite “messy” but over time she has come to master a lot of techniques. The benefits of children's participation in the kitchen are numerous, both in terms of choice, preparation and cooking of food, as well as in terms of learning about their origin and the role of healthy eating for health and disease prevention, as well as the role of sustainable food for the health of our planet. Indeed, children really “soak” up learning, especially when they are younger. I always adjust the activities to the age, as well as to the development stage of each child, but I can guarantee that if we are not afraid to leave the kitchen turned inside out (I mean food everywhere, because safety always comes first!), children gain confidence and master different techniques and tasks very quickly. Practice is what makes it perfect!
We ended up getting closer to the Kiddy Cook project, because through it you joined the "Help this Cause" campaign, challenging the public to create a simple and practical recipe and donate a symbolic amount (€ 3) for each recipe sent. This will lead to a book and the amount raised will revert to the NHS. Where did this idea of helping and mobilizing others for a common cause come from?
Ana Pinto: Given that the pandemic has changed the lives of most of us a lot, I thought that the best way to introduce Kiddy Cook Portugal to the Portuguese population was to propose a challenge for a good cause, since good causes tend to unite the community. The response and the way in which the NHS, with the hard work of its health professionals and all the workers that constitute it, adjusted to this pandemic was and has been extremely important, in order to save as many lives as possible. Knowing the existing financing difficulties, as well as all the sacrifice made by everyone, I thought that, however small the contribution, it would always be a gesture of recognition and value for all the work done and another way of showing support. The cookbook in digital format will be available soon to be purchased, for € 4, to finalize the fundraising. Those who participated with a recipe will receive a copy of the book by email. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the participants who contributed with a recipe and positive quarantine phrase.
This is the unavoidable question, knowing that you live in England, and that in fact we only met because a pandemic happened. How did your life suddenly change out there?
Ana Pinto: I have been on compulsory leave from the University (King's College London) since the end of March and, although it took me some time to adapt to the reality of the quarantine, I have to admit that the balance was quite positive, since it was possible to spend more time with Mia, time to reflect and appreciate what is really important to us, and to have more family moments. And as I couldn't fail to mention, it also gave me time to develop Kiddy Cook Portugal, which I hope will benefit children, either through the curricular workshops we offer to schools, or through private workshops for children and their families, among others services. At the moment, the team is formed by me and Joana Larangeira, who, as soon as I told her about the project, accepted the challenge of making it grow from day one! What I find most difficult at the moment is not knowing when I can return to Portugal to see family and friends, although I try to stay positive and hope it will be soon, as soon as it is safe to travel.
Kiddy Cook Portugal brought us together, but then Mia came and the delicious photographs that leave a smell in the air that one feels like savouring. And certainly soon we will follow in Ana's footsteps, because we will want to satiate the appetite this entrepreneurial cookbook gives us.