It was two simple statistics that spurred Nur Al-Ali, a doctoral student of Biomedical Science and Health at Universidad Europea de Madrid (UEM), to action. She discovered that three in 10 Spanish children are likely to be obese as adults and that cardiovascular issues, often caused by poor nutrition, have become the top cause of death worldwide.
It was these troubling data points that led Al-Ali, who has always had an interest in the intersection of nutrition and healthy cooking, to start CómoComo, a play on the Spanish words that mean “how I eat.” CómoComo aims to provide practical instruction to school age children on how to cook healthy meals with natural ingredients.
“I wanted to do something that wasn’t just theoretical, but was practical and fun,” Al-Ali explained. She is a trained nutritionist, so the mission of the organization played directly to her strengths. Al-Ali had been interested in medicine while growing up, but through her studies, Al-Ali realized that nutrition could actually prevent many of the ills that medical doctors end up trying to cure.
Through a series of cooking workshops with children aged three to 11 at a local school, Al-Ali was able to put her ideas into practice and see the effects that instruction on healthy habits could have. In late 2015, she started a pilot program with 90 children, doing an hour-long workshop each week in which the children learned to cook a healthy meal through interesting instruction.
“We believe that a healthy lifestyle can be learned,” Al-Ali said. She found that the children often ended up teaching their parents elements of what they learned, leading to insightful conversations and much-needed changes in the homes. Al-Ali points to the many side effects that unhealthy eating and an inaccurate view of food can have on children as they mature, including eating disorders and inactive lifestyles. Through her continued research, she has shown that the kind of education offered by CómoComo dramatically reduces the risk of health problems later on.
Al-Ali is in talks with schools and hopes that in the coming year over 500 children will be involved in CómoComo
workshops at schools in Madrid. She also has been supported in her venture through her selection as a fellow of UEM’s 2015 Young Social Entrepreneurs Awards, conferred through the university’s partnership with Laureate and YouthActionNet.
For Al-Ali, the possibilities for future programming with CómoComo are endless because of the ever-present need and because of the interest that she has seen that children have in healthy eating. And the best part is, Ali is showing that healthy eating is not only the best route, but can also be the most fun.