EATING WELL: Opotiki’s Nezla Freeland-Smith is passionate about healthy eating. Photo Troy Baker D8767-08

A DIAGNOSIS of gestational diabetes led Opotiki woman, Nezla Freeland-Smith, on a journey she says there’s no turning back from – a journey she’d never for a moment anticipated. A food adventure that started with a commitment to feed herself and her family well, that has grown into something else.

When the solo mother of three was diagnosed with the condition 20 weeks into her last pregnancy, Nezla says her sole focus became keeping her unborn baby safe and well and doing whatever she could to create an optimal outcome. “I’d always loved cooking and had been interested in healthy eating for a long time,” she says. “I’d thought we were already
eating well, actually, and it was such a shock to get that diagnosis.”

Nezla says the news saw her embark on a pathway of eating even better. “I was researching and learning so much about different foods and how they help to keep you well. I was totally committed to doing the best for my family.”

A creative person, Nezla says she loved the process, exploring new foods and flavours, learning about the benefits, creating recipes and just spending time in her kitchen whenever she could. And she says the results of her new diet came quickly.

“I felt so much better really early on. I’d thought I’d known a lot about eating well, but when I look back now, there was so much that I hadn’t known about.”

Nezla’s new diet was combined with a fitness plan, finding a personal trainer and beginning to walk, a lot. After her son was born, two years ago now, and perfectly healthy despite the risks he’d faced, Nezla would walk up to six kilometres a day with her baby. She had joined a gym and taken up powerlifting, a sport in which she has now become a competitor. But it was her diet, she says, that brought her those quick early results and motivated her with a desire to share what she’d learned.

In June of this year, Nezla launched her online initiative, Full-of-Flavour, where customers can order dishes of the food she has designed for good health.

“I’d started posting photos on social media of the things I was making,” she says. “I love cooking and creating recipes and it was fun to share it.” But she soon discovered that her food was drawing a lot of attention.

“I was getting a lot of good feedback from my friends, requests for recipes and that sort of thing,” she says, and on a whim, she decided to post photos of some of her dishes on an Opotiki community Facebook page. Offering people an opportunity to “try some healthy food options,” she says the response that she got “was a shock”.

“There was a lot of interest and I really hadn’t expected that.” It was then, she says, that Rich-in-Flavour was born.

Now posting one or two dishes on the Facebook page each week, people are able to pre-order a dish of food and come to collect it, or, have it delivered.

“I do a lot of salads. That’s my thing, and I really want people to see how easy it is to make a great healthy and tasty salad. It’s much easier to make than other things people commonly make, and often much better for you.”

But it’s not just salads that feature on her Rich-in-Flavour Facebook page. “I’ve done fritters and frittatas and that sort of thing, too.” But she says it is her “salad bowl” option – where people bring their own bowl to be filled – that is proving to be extremely popular.

“People are buying for different reasons,” she says. “Sometimes it’s for dinner or for some occasion, but sometimes it’s for lunch at work which I think is great. I’d like to help people eat healthily at work because it’s not always that easy.”

Though excited with her new initiative, Nezla is not planning on becoming too busy. As a mother of young children, as well as being a qualified barber working three or four days a week, she says there isn’t the time. “But I love making nourishing food and having other people enjoy it, and I like to think that I’m providing a healthier option than what is commonly available.”

“What I’d most love to do is create a recipe book. That’s always been my goal, actually, because that way, people can use the book to make nourishing food themselves.”
Nezla has been invited to cater for an event being held for Opotiki businesspeople. “I’m going to make the food, but I’m also hand-making little recipe cards for all the dishes I make.” Something she is also hoping to start doing at Opotiki’s monthly Lions Market.

“It’s exciting,” says Nezla. “All these options are popping up for me and all of it came from a commitment to eating well for my baby.”

“I really hope that people are inspired by my food to get creating healthy dishes themselves.”