by Nawal AlKhalawi
  • 4 minute read
  • April 25, 2023
Exclusive: Saudi Nutritional Culinary Artist Nawal AlKhalawi On Her Health Education Journey

My first memory of embarking on an adventurous culinary experiment dates back to 1995 when I was seven years old. My parents had been away on a trip, and I decided to surprise them upon their return with what I thought was a masterpiece. I wanted it to be something they’d never tasted before and that would leave them speechless.

They were indeed speechless, especially my mother, when I presented her with my very own version of Kousa bil Laban, which is traditionally made with zucchini and yoghurt. I carved a few cucumbers, blended their flesh with pineapple juice, poured the mixture back into their hollow shells, et voilà—I had created a zero-waste, almost edible dish. Looking back, it was quite innovative, but it just didn’t make sense then.

Fast forward 10 years and it was time for the big milestone—university. What did I want to become? I considered studying the arts and I also wished to serve my community on a fundamental level, so I pursued my Bachelor’s degree in Special Education.

I went on to work with children at a school, which gave me joy and fulfilled my sense of purpose. I’d not only speak with their parents about their educational progress, but also about the content of their lunchboxes. What a child eats contributes greatly to their ability to learn and thrive in school, so I took it upon myself to have the processed chocolate sandwiches replaced with alternatives that were still easy to make, affordable, nutritious, and most importantly, just as delicious.

My conversations with parents gradually turned into two-hour after-school presentations, which then became four-hour-long weekend workshops. This led me to create an Instagram account with recipes and information about well-balanced children’s meals.

Food evolution quickly became my first business. In keeping with the community’s needs, I began producing healthy children’s snacks that I sold through Instagram, and at local bazaars and gatherings. Schools began contacting me to create recipes for their cafeterias, speak at events, and share ideas to help caregivers provide a healthier lifestyle for their children.

This passion project eventually turned into a business, which was a great responsibility. I felt that I must seek further education in nutrition and gastronomy, but by then I had become a mother of two little boys, who were my first priority. So, acquiring a Master’s degree seemed far-fetched. I remained open to possibilities and prayed for a suitable opportunity to come my way when the time was right.

Photography by Mohammed Eskandrani; Image courtesy of Nawal AlKhalawi 

Just a few months later, my fitness trainer casually mentioned an online Health Coaching diploma that had changed her life. ‘Online!’ I thought to myself that this would be the perfect solution—I could listen to lectures whilst nursing my baby. I immediately signed up for the course. Earning the diploma changed my life, just like it did my trainer’s. During this time, I made a few difficult personal decisions in the wake of painful life events, which ultimately prepared me for a healing journey. The hardships were accompanied by many gifts and lessons—strength, resilience, patience, and the courage to invest in myself.

I began by sharing an office with other health coaches, where we referred clients to each other. I slowly gained confidence in my ability to add value to the world and took the next big step—opened my very own office.

‘What! Me? An office! But what about rent? What if I don’t have enough clients?’ Despite the cloud of self-doubt hovering over me, I kept going. I decorated the office with custom- made rustic wooden furniture, a tan leather swivel chair, plants, forest green shutters, and stylish wallpaper. I made mistakes and took on more than I could handle, which pushed me to further expand and hire a part-time personal assistant to help me with bookings and bookkeeping, among other things. And guess what? That freed up time for me to do more of what I’m good at—creating, connecting, nurturing, and allowing the business to blossom.

After every health coaching session, I’d find a resource to understand more about that specific case. From surveying emotional eating to creating meal plans for working mothers, I learnt a lot but wanted to narrow down my focus to something that I was most passionate about. And, of course, that was food.

In 2018, I hopped on a plane to attend Le Cordon Bleu London, a French culinary school, which enabled me to refine my skills and immerse myself in the world of gastronomy, staying focused on creating nutritious and aesthetically pleasing dishes.

You might wonder how a mother of two under five manages to wear so many hats. I’d say with a disciplined routine—wake up before the kids, pray before sunrise, train before their nursery drop-off, consume proper nutrition, and surround yourself with supportive and inspiring people. Focus, create, and enjoy the ride. Stay thirsty for knowledge, personal evolution and a sense of fulfilment.

My passion for art crossed paths with my purpose of giving back to my community through health education, with the bonus of fostering human connections. I’ve been blessed to have launched multiple businesses, including a new rooftop restaurant named Asfar in the old town of AlUla, and the biggest credit goes to my family that remains my priority and most valuable support system. They taught me that motherhood doesn’t impede a successful career and a meaningful personal journey. In fact, on the contrary, it fuels it.

Follow @Nawal.alkhalawi and @Asfar.experience on Instagram.

This article was originally published in Villa 88’s Spring 2023 edition. Subscribe here.

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