Preparing healthy food for your family can be a challenge. A visit to the supermarket presents you with a dizzying array of choices that promise easy prep and cleanup. However, most of these meals consist of processed foods that aren’t the best for your kids’ health.
On the other hand, preparing a healthy meal from scratch may seem like a daunting process. How do you pick the right foods and how do you make a meal that takes minimal time but maximum taste and benefits to your children’s health?
A free online course on Coursera offered by Stanford University, Child Nutrition and Cooking, answers these questions.
About the course
The course takes 11 hours over 5 weeks to complete. Each lesson has one or more multiple-choice quizzes that accompany it to test your mastery of the material. You can skip these if you aren’t interested in completing the course. If you are pressed for time, you can speed up the playback speed to 1.5 by clicking on the gear icon. Dr. Adam speaks slowly enough that you should still be able to follow along easily.
The courses consist of lectures by Dr. Adam and a few graduate students from Stanford University. You won’t feel like you are back in school again as the lectures are delivered from Dr. Adam’s own home kitchen. They are accompanied by recipe demos.
About the instructor
Dr. Maya Adam, MD spent 10 years as a ballerina in Germany before she became a physician. She is a lecturer at Stanford University School of Medicine and the Program in Human Biology. She is also co-author of Food, Love, Family: A Practical Guide to Child Nutrition.
What you’ll learn
Dr. Adam spends a fair amount of time explaining the different types of nutrients in foods and why they are important for your children’s growing bodies. While it would be good to see these recommendations revised in light of the new USDA 2021-2025 guidelines, most of what she presents is still relevant today. In addition, she provides a lot of practical tips that will make it easier to cook and feed your family healthy meals:
- Avoid processed foods: Manufacturers take cheap raw products, process them in a way that removes many of its nutrients and then add preservatives and other flavorings to make it taste good and last longer.
- Shop the outer margins of the supermarket: Supermarkets places the healthiest foods at the sides and the rear of the store. Foods that are attractive to children, but not good for them, tend to be placed at eye level when you are going down the aisles at the center. Better yet, buy foods that are locally grown and if you have a farmers’ market in your area, take your kids there for the freshest local products.
- Buy foods that don’t have a nutrition facts/ingredient label: While a nutrition label can tell you the benefits and drawbacks of the product, the fact that food has such labels in the first place likely means it is processed food and not as healthy. It’s better to stick with the fresh products, like fresh vegetables and meats.
- Choose seasonal and fresh produce to help develop your kids’ taste: Quality foods taste better and if you choose the best then your kids will be more likely to want to eat them.
- Keep these items in your pantry: You should have rice, oats, pastas, dry beans on hand. Flour and baking powder allows you to whip up some baked goods at any time. Nuts and dried fruits make good snacks. Have a spice cabinet to add flavor to your food. Onions, garlic and potatoes are staples you should always keep. In your fridge, it’s good to always have eggs, milk, butter, cheese and yogurt, along with some basic vegetables like tomatoes and carrots. For sauteeing, olive oil should be your go-to choice.
- Cook at home to control what goes into your children’s bodies: You can control the amount of fat, sugars and sodium that your food includes. In addition, you will be able to choose the healthiest ways of cooking food. Dr. Adam is particularly fond of stir fries as a way to get a healthy meal on the table quickly.
- Involve your kids in the food preparation process: One way to prevent your child from becoming a picky eater is to involve them in the process of making their meals. When you take them with you to the supermarket or farmers’ market, let them choose the vegetables you purchase. Let them help out in the kitchen to give them a sense of control by mashing potatoes or adding fruit to their smoothies. The more they feel they are given the choice about what they eat when presented with healthy options, the more likely they are to prefer them.
- Grow your own food: A kitchen garden is a good way to introduce your kids to eating salad and it also may make them more willing to try new things. In addition, fresh fruits and vegetables you grow yourselves have the maximum of nutrients.
- Eat meals together as a family: Research shows that kids from families that eat meals together do better in school and have better health. You can make mealtimes fun by trying some conversation starters or inviting friends to eat with you.
The cooking videos
Each unit of the course includes cooking demos that show you how to quickly make dishes using fresh ingredients and little prep time. Some of the kid-friendly foods she shows you how to make include:
- Vegetable stir fry
- Homemade pasta sauce
- Chicken nuggets
If you are the kind of person who likes to work from a recipe with precise measurements, then these videos aren’t for you. In most of the videos, Dr. Adam doesn’t specify amounts of ingredients, temperatures, cooking times. etc., so you will need to be comfortable winging it yourself.
One of the few recipes in the course that does have precise measurements is this simple almond cake:
Simple almond cake
- ½ cup butter softened
- ¾ cup sugar
- dash vanilla essence
- 4 eggs
- 2½ cups almond flour
- 2 tsps baking powder
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Grease your baking pan generously with some of the butter.
- Add the remaining butter, sugar, vanilla essence, and eggs to a large bowl.
- Beat all these ingredients together until combined with an egg beater.
- Pour the batter into the greased cake tin and smooth the top with a spatula.
- Bake in over for 27-30 minutes until cake is golden and springs back when lightly pressed or until toothpick or fork inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool on a wire rack before removing the cake from the oven.
While this course won’t teach you how to cook if you are a novice, it’s great for experienced home cooks who want to get away from relying on processed foods in their repertoire. Once you complete this course, you will realize that cooking with fresh and unprocessed ingredients doesn’t necessarily have to be more difficult or time-consuming.
Your family’s health and well-being can benefit greatly from following the tips that Dr. Adam presents.
Best online parenting classes
You might also want to try these courses on Coursera:
- Stanford’s Short Course on Breastfeeding: Another course taught by Maya Adam, this course is designed for new mothers who want to learn how to breastfeed.
- The Science of Gastronomy: This course is great for moms who want to learn the science of cooking and taste. It will help you understand how you can make food taste better, a bonus if you have picky eaters. The instructor presents experiments that you could do yourself with your kids, and there is edible “homework” that they might enjoy doing as well.