Mum of four, Nichol Ng, shares her ‘workaholic’ schedule, how she gets up at 5:45am to make Bentos for her kids, and only eats one meal a day. Plus hear about what she’s doing to educate Singaporeans on minimising food waste
Food waste is a big deal to Nichol Ng. After all, her family has been in the food distributions sector for almost eight decades, and she knows how easily things can go to waste. Read on to learn more about why she established Food Bank Singapore (a charity where you and your kids can volunteer at), how she’s balancing work and home life and why even her youngest tot gets weekly chiropractic care with the whole fam!
Tell us all about yourself and your family!
I have 10 people – four generations! – living under the same roof. This includes my four enjoyable bears (three girls and one boy) and my husband and life partner, whom I have known for the last 24 years.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up at 5:45am to prepare lunch boxes and Bentos for my two primary school-going girls. Then at 6:30am, I ferry them to school, coming back by 7am to wake the two younger ones for bath time and the breakfast I prepare for them. At around 8am, I send them to school before heading over to the office for a full day of meetings, as I manage a group of companies. The day is also filled with meetings with donors and various stakeholders for the Food Bank. I also give a lot of talks for food banking and I am active in my school alumni plus other business organisations and NGOs. I usually end my day just before 9pm when I head home to put the kids to bed. After a quick dinner – my only meal of the day – I rest a bit before I take on the night duty. As I have nursed my children for extended periods, I have always been the one looking after them at night.
What inspired you to start The Food Bank Singapore?
The amount of food waste in Singapore is about 30% of everything that we import. And having been in the food distribution sector for while now – our family has been in this trade for 80 years – I felt something really needs to be done about excess food and also how food has increasingly become so much more expensive despite incomes not rising nearly as much. Although we are still a small company, we wanted to motivate our peers in the trade to do something about this issue. That’s why I co-founded the Food Bank in 2012. And over the last 80 years, our family has gone through some mighty tough times – this includes bankruptcy in the 1997 economic crisis where we really nearly lost everything. Digging out of that rut was tough but I told myself if ever there was a time that we can regain our footing, we should be in a position to give back and also do something major for society.
Do you get your kids involved in the work you do at The Food Bank?
Yes, we started the Juniors Club about five years ago. We had many children interested to do more but there were few volunteering opportunities. Now we welcome children above the age of five to join us in our journey to combat hunger and food waste. My kids have become our small ambassadors and they pop by the bank from time to time.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
The requirements on the ground have significantly increased. We actually distributed 1.6 million kilogrammes of food last year – twice the amount in 2019. And we are seeing more people from all sectors, not just those in rented homes, coming forward to say they need help. With the pandemic, volunteer numbers have fallen and our small team had to figure out creative and interesting ways to get on with our work. Besides food distribution, advocacy has also been one of our biggest pillars and the pandemic has definitely opened up even more doors for conversations.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about the food consumption habits in Singapore?
Did you know that Singapore is often one of the world’s most food-secured nations? That’s a feat when you realise that we only grow 10% of everything that we consume. It is not shocking that people tend to waste because we have been having ample supplies. I feel our attitudes towards food need to shift with increased scarcity and also adopting the attitude that while we may have a lot, it doesn’t mean it’s also going to last forever.
What are some steps we can take towards ensuring a more food-secure environment in Singapore?
Start supporting local farms. Start questioning where our food comes from. Start understanding how tough it is really to get that piece of meat onto your table. When the understanding and knowing starts, we hope the wastage will be reduced. All of us can play our part to only consume and use what we need, and this includes food, too.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
The legacy that we will leave behind is often something that keeps me up at night. I joined the traditional family business in 2002 after leaving my first job. And honestly, I have actually been continuous building my career throughout my family building as well. Strange but with the birth of each child, my career – both on the non-profit and for-profit ends – has gone from strength to strength. It may also stem from the fact that I have lesser time and more things to manage; somehow that helps increase my productivity and efficiency. The children and family have also given me renewed creativity and energy in my career and business. The family has been my greatest cheerleader in everything that I do.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
What swing? As a workaholic, I was working up to the moment I had to deliver, and then once my baby was born, I was back on my phone and doing work. My teammates are always saying that I went to give birth during the coffee break! “Nichol doesn’t miss a heartbeat!” they say!
How do you balance life, family and work? Any organisational tips?
I personally never leave anything to the next day if I can complete it today. I have a checklist for every compartment in my life from my business to the home and the charity. I guess sometimes having a great attitude and mindset helps as well. Like everything else in life, nothing flows to plan and we just have to learn to roll with the punches. Also, being a working mum, I have learnt to trust the caregivers and childcare teachers to do their best. Having a good support system is another key, and it’s important to know you do not have to ace everything.
We hear you’re a big advocate for chiropractic care. You once mentioned your entire family gets adjusted regularly! Tell us more about this.
It all started when I was expecting my third child in 2016 and I accidentally twisted my back. No sinseh (TCM doctor) wanted to help me, and I was looking for natural and drug-free solutions in treating my back pains. That’s how I stumbled upon Chiropractic First, one of the leading chiropractic clinics and Dr Todd (Great World City), whom I have been seeing ever since. I then introduced my mum to get her ailments treated, and my husband, an ex-professional athlete who needed to treat his serious sports injuries. More importantly, I decided to start my kids from a young age to address their health and posture generation. My son and my youngest baby girl met Dr Todd when they were 10 days old! My 6-year-old daughter, Shaia Rae, no longer has a drippy nose after her visits to Chiropractic First; my 8-year-old gymnast Sacha Rae was experiencing restrictive movements and couldn’t move as actively found out that she had unknown displacements in her body! So far, I’ve noticed that my children fall sick less often as compared to other children, and I truly believe that chiro had something to do with it. That’s why I make visits to the Chiropractic First a weekly family affair!
Favourite family-friendly activity in Singapore?
Hiking through the Southern Ridges.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Cooking from the time the kids were 2!
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
At home, my hubby is the king of the castle. And I like to do simple things like making his favourite beverage for him in the morning or taking care of him. I feel that openly discussing issues when things are not going the way they should be is also a great way of keeping the romance alive. With “good fights”, there will be good fire.
Favourite date night restaurants?
CUT by Wolfgang Puck at Marina Bay Sands and ALMA by Juan Amador at Goodwood Park hotel.
Complete these sentences!
As a mama, I wish I were better at…
Mathematics! Honestly, the current Math syllabus really ain’t that simple.
I wish I had more time for…
Good conversations with my husband.
I always feel saner after…
My morning black coffee.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…
How to save the world. Seriously.
My favourite moment of the day is…
When I am alone, cooking breakfast for my kids in the kitchen.