Housewife Ainini Zainal used to serve her family home-cooked meals most of the time, except for the occasional weekend outings at fast food eateries, mamak stalls and night market.
But Ainini noticed her son, Afi Ahmad Nadzif, was developing hives after consuming certain types of food. He also suffered from stomach sensitivities after consuming processed food such as salted chips and cordials.
The mother-of-one wasn’t sure what was causing her son’s ailments. Was it the sauces, seasoning or frozen food items from the supermarket? Unsure of what to do, Ainini consulted a skin specialist.
“The dermatologist confirmed that Afi had gluten intolerance and was sensitive to certain types of food dyes and preservatives,” says Ainini who lives in Kuala Terengganu. “To control his allergic flare-ups, I was advised to prepare him food according to his dietary needs.”
These days, consumers are spoilt for choice with a wide range of canned goods, processed food and ready-to-eat and microwaveable meals at grocery stores which make for convenient options.
However, when Ainini started researching about food allergies and intolerance, she learnt that commercially-made food are notoriously high in salt, fat and preservatives. She also found out that synthetic food colouring can trigger hyperactivity in children.
“A number of research states that additives, preservatives and products with genetically modified organism (GMO) can lead to health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. I realised that it is safer to consume homemade food, especially because of my son’s issues,” opines Ainini, 36, who began testing recipes to replace store-bought food in 2013.
Based on her doctor’s recommendation, Ainini began phasing out commercially produced items such as sauces and instant noodles. She started preparing seasonings, noodles, nuggets, fishcakes, and cordials from scratch.
To improve her knowledge, she pored over books, recipes on the Internet and blog sites. The former tutor turned stay-at-home mum also signed up for cooking and baking courses in Kuala Terengganu to further hone her culinary skills.
She concocted some of the recipes herself. Some turned out really well while others like chocolate bars and gluten-free biscuits ended up in the trash bin.
“There were many spoilt batches, especially when I attempted to make organic chicken granule powder and ice cream. But I never gave up as I wanted my family to have healthier options,” she says.
After months of trial and error, Ainini finally perfected her recipes for homemade nuggets, burger patties and black sauce (replacement for soy sauce) and beetroot syrup (replacement for rose syrup).
Nuggets are made with gluten-free flour, organic salt, free-range chicken and spices. Rose syrup is produced by boiling beetroot, organic raw cane sugar and pandan leaves. She also makes her own black sauce (to replace soy sauce) using ingredients like chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, molasses and salt.
Ainini’s big step towards a healthier lifestyle may sound overwhelming, especially for working parents. But Ainini stresses that preparing homemade ingredients isn’t that difficult.
“Instead of buying chicken stock or granules, how about making you own stock? All you need to do is boil the chicken carcass in a pot of water flavoured with salt, garlic and ginger. It’s really that simple.
“Do your research on the Internet. Start small and learn from mistakes. While it may take a bit of time, it is worth my effort to avoid ingredients that may trigger my son’s allergic reaction,” says Ainini, who harvests organic vegetables from her garden.
It’s been six years and Afi’s rashes and stomach problems are a thing of the past. Ainini admits that her journey towards safer food substitutes has been a long (and tiring) one. But she is pleased with the end results.
“Preparing my family’s meals and ingredients allows me to use fresh select ingredients. We are also supporting local farmers and reducing our carbon footprint. It is cheaper and kinder to the environment too.”
Friends who knew of Ainini’s healthy cooking requested that she sell her premix food items, syrups and black sauces, and now Ainini has made a business selling her food to like-minded parents on Facebook and Instagram.