CHS Students Practice Healthy Cooking in New Nutrition Course
Published March 11, 2022
By Darlene Muguiro
College of Health Sciences
Thanks to a new course offering from the Department of Public Health, Zenia Gomez-Papa, a CHS senior majoring in Health Promotion, is now considering a career in dietetics.
Gomez-Papa, one of 10 students registered in the first Selected Topics: Applied Culinary Nutrition course, said she was originally drawn to the class by the opportunity to cook while on the UTEP campus. The class takes place in the college’s 392 square-foot Experimental Foods Laboratory, complete with industrial cooking appliances and worktables.
“I’ve never seen a class available to students to cook or prep meals or learn about food concepts like textures, smells and visuals,” she said. “What ultimately drew me to this was the opportunity to learn how to cook healthier for myself and my family.”
Exposing students like Gomez-Papa to the field of applied nutrition was one of the driving factors behind designing the course, an effort led by Dr. Maria Duarte, department chair for Public Health, and Dr. Sarah Ruiz, adjunct faculty. Ruiz, a registered dietitian and owner of Sun City Dietitians, is instructor of record for Applied Culinary Nutrition. She says that the idea for the course evolved over several years, originating with Sabrosa Vida, a healthy eating initiative for El Paso, Texas funded by the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation.
“[Dr. Duarte and I] both wanted to start an applied cooking course that integrates nutrition,” she said. “In the past, we used the lab to support the community with the development of the Sabrosa Vida cooking program, but UTEP students and staff mentioned that it would be wonderful to teach students as well.”
Ruiz mentioned that, in the past, many students would take her courses specifically to gain knowledge that they could use to improve their own health. The Applied Culinary Nutrition course takes this one step further, adding hands-on practice to general theory about healthy eating habits. Two of the course objectives are to modify traditional recipes to increase nutritional value and to prepare meals that meet the standards of a therapeutic diet, such as prescribed carbohydrate or gluten-free.
Ruiz’s ultimate hope is that students will apply what they’ve learned in real life and share their knowledge with others, especially regarding how to maintain cultural practices using healthier cooking methods. Gomez-Papa said she is already doing this at home.
“Dr. Ruiz demonstrates that we do not have to give up flavor or dishes that we love, but instead, we can make cooking adjustments for healthier options,” she said.
For more information about the Applied Culinary Nutrition course, please email Dr. Sarah Ruiz at firstname.lastname@example.org.