I had the opportunity to attend a session at the Yale New Haven Health’s Irving and Alice Brown Teaching Kitchen. While I’m not a chef, I am the one who cooks (and bakes) in my household, so I was curious about what new information I could learn there.
Like many people, I’ve been cooking for my family since I was a teen. I had what we called “Home Economics” in middle school, like everyone else. (Now called Family and Consumer Science or similar.) I remember that Home Ec wasn’t exactly a revelation, but I did learn some of the finer points of baking and how to properly measure ingredients.
From what my children tell me, the classes haven’t changed much over the years. They learn similar information and make a few recipes. The biggest change maybe being in the shift from learning about the Food Pyramid to learning My Plate.
The high school in my area does offer more advanced classes, and even has a restaurant. When I attend parent meetings at school, they sometimes feature food the kids have created. But that’s a specialized track, so not every kid takes those classes. The end result is that even though we all need to eat multiple times a day, the opportunities for formal learning about how to cook for ourselves are not robust enough.
‘What Do I Eat?’
In the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) space we’ve gone from addressing diet in a surface level way (“bowel rest,” which was not eating anything or not eating much and “diet doesn’t have an effect”) to understanding that diet does play a role, although exactly how much may differ from person to person. Diet is difficult to study in a rigorous way, but there are several diets that have been adopted or developed with IBD patients in mind.
Teaching Kitchens are pretty much what they sound like: a place to learn about food and its preparation. However, the vision at Yale is also much more. It’s an opportunity for community and for sharing a meal that participants have prepared together. It’s a place to learn how to prepare foods in a way that supports health goals, whatever those might be.
I had the opportunity to attend a session at the teaching kitchen as a member of the Yale New Haven Health Patient/Family Advisory Committee (PFAC). The PFAC group was brought into the planning process and offered some insight on what patients in the digestive health space might look for in a teaching kitchen. For the PFAC members, it was a long time coming, so being able to walk into the kitchen felt like reaching a goal.
Taco Tuesday: On a Thursday
We learned how to make tacos in small groups, using several different recipes which contained various ingredients. First we learned about the Mediterranean Diet through a video on the kitchen’s large TVs. Chef Max Goldstein, MS, RDN gave us a demonstration of knife skills. Then we were set loose with the ingredients at the individual cooking stations while listening to some 70s rock over the speakers.
After we had a chance to eat our recipes, Max gave us explanations of how the different recipes helped meet daily goals for protein and fiber. As a post-surgical IBD patient, fiber can be tricky for me, but obviously it’s important as I cook for my family. Protein is a key part of my diet that I focus on in particular because I find meeting those daily goals difficult.
It was a fun and informative event, and I can envision so many uses for the teaching kitchen for patients as well as for the healthcare providers at Yale. In the IBD space alone, there’s so many ways a teaching kitchen could be helpful as patients navigate their journey. As a practical place to learn skills from an expert, but also as a way to come together with other patients and supportive healthcare providers.
Ideas For Finding a Kitchen Near You
Teaching kitchens are becoming more common, though they’re not yet a standard part of hospitals and health care centers. If you’re interested you may want to ask and find out if there’s one available to you or if one is in the works. Or, if your hospital or health care system doesn’t have their own teaching kitchen, maybe they have connections in the community to classes offered at culinary schools.
Taking a cooking class is a great idea for anyone, and would make a good outing for support groups or new patients. From the responses to my posts on social media, patients are interested and looking for these resources locally to them, so I hope more teaching kitchens become available and open their doors to community members.
Teaching Kitchen Collaborative, Inc. https://teachingkitchens.org/
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Healthy Teaching Kitchen Program. https://www.nutrition.va.gov/Healthy_Teaching_Kitchen.asp
More than cooking, Teaching Kitchens as learning labs for life skills. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2017/05/23/more-than-cooking-teaching-kitchens-as-learning-labs-for-life-skills/
Eisenberg DM, Righter AC, Matthews B, Zhang W, Willett WC, Massa J. Feasibility Pilot Study of a Teaching Kitchen and Self-Care Curriculum in a Workplace Setting. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2017;13(3):319-330. doi:10.1177/1559827617709757. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31105496/