Healthy Cooking Elective gives students hands-on nutritional knowledge

Back in 2007, Des Moines University began offering its students hands-on instruction and information on a key aspect of health that was taught at very few medical schools – nutrition. Since then, the Healthy Cooking Elective has become a highly popular course that in past years brought students together once a week in the Wellness Center teaching kitchen to prepare a meal.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this fall the course took on a virtual format, but it has retained the same key ingredients – hands-on meal preparation, information and ideas on using healthy ingredients and ways students can use what they learn to counsel future patients.

Students build a better breakfast in a recent Healthy Cooking Elective session.

“We continue to provide students with an opportunity to learn how to prepare meals that are healthy, tasty and economical,” says Maria Barnes, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and nutrition. She teaches the course with Steven Harder, D.O., FAAFP, assistant professor of family and internal medicine, and Joy Schiller, M.S., CHES, director of wellness. “We want students to be able to utilize what they learn in their personal lives and share what they learn with their future patients.

“I think that is why this course is so important,” Dr. Barnes adds. “We are providing students with a tool – i.e., how to use nutrition to improve health – that they can always use and rely on to aid in their own health and those of their future patients.”

Each week’s meal features a themed cuisine, such as Indian, Asian/antioxidants, Italian/leafy greens, “south of the border”/fats, whole grains/carbohydrates and plant-based proteins. Joy collaborates with Christine Brenneman, director of dining services with Summerfield’s, DMU’s on-campus dining service, to plan the meals; Summerfield’s staff then package the ingredients for students to pick up and prepare at their homes during the online class. Recipes and nutritional information accompany the meal packages.

“We also include a segment on food safety and ideas of what to make out of the leftovers from the meal that was just made,” Christine says. “Meal prep is the key to healthy, homemade eating without a lot of work. With simple prep each week, you can stock your fridge and freezer with heat-and-eat meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

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