Brain Food Dinners: Finding mental wellness through food
Maureen Cooper, a 4th year student in the Human Nutritional Sciences (dietetics preparation) program, chose to study nutrition because she was interested in how food can heal the body. She is also passionate about mental health, particularly as it relates to university students.
“I think learning to cope with our everyday challenges is an essential part of being a student. None of the knowledge that we acquire in our university courses can be applied in class, in our communities or in our future careers if we are not mentally healthy,” she said.
As a child, Maureen lived in South America and had the opportunity to travel around with her family. She also worked as a research assistant in India in the summer of 2018. Her experiences abroad and her research into the cultural aspects of what motivates people to eat inspired her to use food as a method to bring people together socially.
When one of her classmates told her about the University of Manitoba’s Success Through Wellness grants, she applied with an initiative in mind that would not only address mental health but also promote nutrition and cooking.
The initiative, dubbed Brain Food Dinners, proposed monthly events where participants gathered in a food lab at the University of Manitoba in the evening, and as a group, prepare a three-course meal together in the kitchen facilities.
“One of my favourite things to do is cook with people, but with school being so busy, I never had the opportunity to do so. I know for many students and staff at the university, this ‘busyness’ can lead to social isolation and often, eating nutritious food falls to the bottom of the priority list,” she said.
“The Brain Food Dinners allowed people to unwind, and learn new skills and nutritious recipes in a positive and judgement-free environment” she said.
Maureen was overwhelmed with the positive responses that her team received from attendees, which included local and exchange students, staff, friends and children.
“People really liked trying out new recipes and meeting new people. We created a relaxed environment by giving recipes and also facilitating a creativity in the kitchen and allowing participants to experiment with different ingredients,” she said.
Participants shared with her that the dinners provided a supportive and stress-free environment, where they had fun and also learned some new meal ideas that they could make on their own.
“Eating healthy food in the company of others contributes to overall well-being, and the Brain Food Dinners provided an opportunity for people to do that,” said Maureen.
The University of Manitoba is committed to addressing and improving mental health for the campus community. This program was created through the U of M’s Success Through Wellness Grants, a part of the Campus Mental Health Strategy. Learn more about what has been done over the past five years by reading the Success Through Wellness 2014-2019 Implementation Report. If you’re interested in sharing your feedback, or being a part of the next phase of the U of M’s mental health strategy, click here.