Learn to cook for a healthy start on adulting

Contributed by Linda Shiue, MD

Learn to cook for a healthy start on adulting

It’s graduation season!

The best gift to give a graduating senior about to leave the nest for the first time is a set of cooking skills. Whether your grads will be living on their own for the first time or want to be able to cook on occasion, they’ll need to know how to boil water, cook pasta, make a salad, and know what to do with an egg. Basic knowledge of nutrition will set them on the right path to becoming healthy adults.

For those of you located in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ll be co-teaching a “Cooking for College” class with my colleague and fellow Food For Health contributor Heather D’Eliso Gordon, RD, who has a special interest in plant-based nutrition. We’ll be teaching basic techniques for beginner cooks including how to make a salad and vinaigrette, soup, pasta, pasta sauce, eggs, and how to use a rice cooker.

Here’s a sneak peek at two recipes we plan to cook in class. Heather’s recipe is a family favorite: whole-wheat pasta with red lentil and roasted pepper marinara sauce. She incorporates olives and tomatoes for a wonderful umami flavor, and red split lentils for more vitality from fiber and protein.

My stir fry is a one-pot meal that can be enjoyed with whatever vegetables you have on hand. Keep it colorful and “eat the rainbow” to make sure you’re getting a wide range of nutrients. To make it a complete meal, add some protein, such as chicken, tofu, shrimp or edamame.

For more information about my Thrive Kitchen cooking class series, visit the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Health Education website.

Easy Stir-Fry

Servings: 4 to 6


Main dish:

  • 1 package firm tofu or 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 1 yellow squash, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced


  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder) or crushed red pepper flakes, optional

For serving: Steamed brown rice, other grains, or cooked noodles


If using tofu: Drain tofu and wrap in 2 layers of paper towel. Sandwich the wrapped tofu between two cutting boards and place a heavy pot on top, and press for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, slice the tofu into bite size pieces (1/4 inch-thick x 1 inch x 2 inch rectangles).

If using chicken breast: Slice chicken into thin, bite-sized pieces. Marinate with a tablespoon of low sodium soy sauce and a teaspoon of cornstarch and allow to marinate for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for sauce, and set aside. Heat pan with one tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium high heat. Once oil is hot:

If using tofu: Fry the tofu slices until each side is browned and crisp. Allow tofu to cook on each side without disturbing or stirring — it will release from the pan easily when it is browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

If using chicken: Stir fry marinated chicken until fully cooked — it will take just a minute or two and will be completely opaque. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add the second tablespoon of vegetable oil and warm over high heat. Add the sliced onion and stir fry for 30 seconds, until translucent. Then add in zucchini, yellow squash and carrots and stir fry for another minute, until barely softened. Add the cooked tofu or chicken and pour in the sauce, and stir fry for another minute, until all ingredients are evenly coated in sauce.

Serve with brown rice or other grain or noodles, as desired.

Nutrition information (per serving)

With chicken:

  • 220 calories
  • 15 g carbohydrate
  • 3 g fiber
  • 12 g fat
  • 15 g protein
  • 370 mg sodium
  • 5 g sugar

With tofu:

  • 230 calories
  • 16 g carbohydrate
  • 3 g fiber
  • 14 g fat
  • 11 g protein
  • 340 mg sodium
  • 5 g sugar