On a typical Thursday evening, the DMU Wellness Center kitchen hums with activity and radiates delicious aromas. It sounds like a dinner party among friends, which in a way it is, but the main purpose of “Nutritional Survival 101” is to help osteopathic medical students learn and apply their knowledge of nutrition in preparing healthy meals that don’t require Chef Mario Batali’s culinary skills or Bill Gates’ bank account.
While that’s useful information for time- and money-strapped medical students, it’s even more important for them as future health care providers who face an increasingly overweight and obese patient population. The nutrition elective shows students how to stock a pantry, use basic cooking techniques, get creative with a variety of nutritious ingredients and seasonings, and then get cooking.
“I’ll need to give patients practical ways they can reach healthy goals,” says Stacie Kamada, a DMU student who took the elective last year. “You can’t just tell people, ‘You need to lose weight.’”
Joy Schiller, M.S., CHES, director of DMU’s wellness program, and David Spreadbury, Ph.D., chair of biochemistry and nutrition, have co-taught this popular elective since 2007. DMU is one of very few medical schools that include nutrition in its curriculum, and one of even fewer that put students in a working kitchen. Yet knowing how to feed our bodies healthfully is critical, especially in a nation where – according to the Centers for Disease Control – more than one-third of adults (35.7 percent) and 12.5 million children and adolescents (approximately 17 percent) are obese.
While class participants are guaranteed a tasty and healthy meal, the elective is no cakewalk.
“On week 7 of the cooking elective, the tables are turned and the students have to apply what they’ve learned over the past six weeks and are responsible for coming up with a healthy menu that includes appetizers, entrees and desserts,” Joy says. “They demonstrate to the group how to prepare their dish as well as provide a nutritional analysis of their recipe.”
Guidelines for that assignment include the following:
- Select recipes that are reasonably low in fat, using canola or olive oil (monounsaturated oils).
- Include a nutritional analysis for each recipe. SparkRecipes.com has a recipe analysis tool that determines grams of fat, sugar, protein, fiber, carbohydrates and calories per serving.
- If using meat, select the leanest cut.
- Limit use of cheese to keep the saturated fat low.
- Emphasis should be on fruits and veggies, whole grains and beans/lentils/legumes.
- Keep budget in mind. Select food items that are reasonably priced and affordable.
These guidelines would be good to add to your own cooking repertoire. What other tenets do you practice in the kitchen to keep meals doable, healthy and priced right?