The teaching kitchen: Practical nutrition in action

BY VICTOR S. SIERPINA, MD, ABFM, ABIHM, Director, Medical Student Education Program, WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine, Professor, Family Medicine University of Texas Distinguished Teaching Professor and and MICHELLE SIERPINA, Ph.D., Founding Director UTMB Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Recall the old adage, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

A leading-edge concept in professional and public health education is the evolution of teaching kitchens. What is a teaching kitchen? These can be big or small. They can be full professional training centers such as the Culinary Institute of America or Galveston Community College’s Culinary Arts program. But also, they can be as simple as a hot plate and kitchen stove at Galveston Island’s St. Vincent’s Student Run Free Clinic’s “Food for Thought” program. There are “pop-up” portable kitchens, corporate kitchens, and demonstration kitchens. Cafeteria and hospital kitchens can also serve as a teaching kitchen with some creative scheduling and little or no modification.

The purpose of teaching kitchens, in whatever format they take, is to bring the zest for food, eating, and, cooking together with practical, scientifically-based nutrition training. Health professions students taught to cook in a healthy way become better equipped to counsel patients effectively on how to improve their shopping, cooking, and eating habits.

Through the generous contributions of the Campbell Family Foundation, and a five-year grant from Dean Callender, UTMB’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute has a demonstration cooking station with complete cooking supplies, utensils, blenders, mixers, and a commercial microwave. This has been used in public demonstrations, medical and dietetic student training, and research.

In addition to those activities for healthcare professionals, OLLI community senior members enjoy a wide array of nutrition and healthy lifestyle courses and seminars developed and presented by experts from Texas A&M’s AgriLife, UTMB’s Department of Family Medicine and Integrative Medicine faculty and fellows, as well as interns on rotation from UTMB graduate school of Metabolism and Nutrition.

Teaching kitchens can help individuals and groups learn that healthy foods and healthy cooking need not be complex or out of reach of the average family. Corporations like Google even include model teaching kitchens as an employee benefit recognizing the benefits of such training on employee health and fitness, morale, and lowered group insurance costs. They also use them to attract and retain a happy, healthy workforce in a highly competitive hiring environment.

Progressive hospitals and clinics are now increasingly adding teaching kitchens to their designs to promote a wellness-oriented message and the skills of applied nutrition. They can now not only teach about a healthy diet for diabetics, for those with obesity, heart disease, renal problems, on anti-coagulants, and so on, but can involve their patients in how of actually cooking. This is a fun and effective behavioral change method that will have long-term health benefits.

Last year UTMB Health was invited to be an inaugural member of a select international group called the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative. An overview of this organization is as follows:

“The Teaching Kitchen Collaborative (TKC) is a dynamic, action-oriented network of thought-leading organizations with existing and/or planned teaching kitchens that are capable of shaping nextgeneration strategy and collaborative research on best practices for integrative lifestyle transformation across settings. Our vision is that teaching kitchens are used as catalysts of enhanced personal and public health across medical, corporate, school, and community settings.

Our mission is to enable early adopters to learn about each other’s facilities and educational programs, to develop best practices for reproducing and scaling various models and programs, and to explore the creation of a research network to assess the clinical, behavioral, and financial impact of recommended best practices.”

To read more about this organization, go to their website:

Here are just a couple recent examples of UTMB’s Teaching Kitchen experiences. Dr. Vic along with a nutritionally minded medical student chef, Mauli Dalal, presented a short lecture on making a healthy breakfast for a group of incoming medical students. This was immediately followed by a demonstration of how to make an easy breakfast, tasting, and sharing. In another session, co-taught with Integrative and Behavioral Medicine fellow, Dr. Rob Slater, students learned how to use knives to slice, dice, chop, and prepare several wonderful salads and a main course. They also discussed labels, shopping and nutrition concepts, and practiced motivational interviewing counseling skills around dietary change.

They prepared a week’s meal plan for an older couple on a limited budget and varied the menus for families of Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, and African American backgrounds.

This was topped off by a field trip to a local grocery story where we explored labels, food groups, and noted the marketing strategies of shelf and floor placement, which by the way usually did not support the healthiest food choices.

So as your healthcare organization seeks to become more patient-centered and costeffective, remember the man who was taught to fish.