Vanderbilt’s Healthy Teaching Kitchen: Bridging the Gap between Food and Medicine

Sat, May 19, 2018

Submitted by Marilyn C. Holmes, MS, RDN, LDN, Associate Director, Vanderbilt Recreation and Wellness Center

Vanderbilt University recently concluded the second Healthy Teaching Kitchen curriculum for students in the schools of nursing and medicine. Overall student confidence in preparing healthy meals, as well as confidence on advising future patients to shop for and prepare fast, easy, and healthy meals increased from the Fall 2017 to the Spring 2018 Semester, as shown by evaluation and instructor assessments. The class is a non-credit offering that meets six evenings over the course of each semester and features a weekly theme and guest speakers. The creators and leaders of the program are registered dietitian, Marilyn Holmes, MS, RDN, LDN, and health educator, Stacey Kendrick, MS, with support from Rooted Community Health’s (RCH) John Compton who covers the ethical and environmental dimensions of food and cooking in support of RCH’s mission as a part of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s (VUMC) Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society.

Coursework and instructor evaluations completed by each student revealed that a few class modifications from Fall 2017 to Spring 2018 provided an increase in overall scores regarding their confidence to prepare their own healthy meals and to help guide their future patients in doing so. In the spring, foundational learning was provided when a Vanderbilt Campus Dining chef demonstrated knife skills and shared food safety and cookery tips. A new layout for the teaching kitchen was also piloted. Rather than have students work in teams at clustered tables around the room, the new layout consists of tables in a circle and provides students the ability to interact with each other, and to see what the other groups are doing more easily.

The modifications made to the curriculum based on feedback from Fall 2017 resulted in an increase in class confidence ratings from 4.5 to 4.6, and all students reported that they would recommend the course to their peers. Based on the evaluations students reflected that the best thing about the class was “the creative recipes and valuable friendships made along the way”. One student stated, “I learned how fun it can be to cook with others.” Another said “I wish this class didn’t have to end.” Several students also commented that they would like to take the class again next year. This has led to planning a Level II curriculum that will build upon the culinary skills learned in Level I.

Once again this semester, the final class provided the students the opportunity to compete in the very popular “chopped” challenge, which is similar to the television show. The students worked in teams to be creative using the staple food items provided, as well as anything available in the pantry to produce a tasty dish for the group to share without a recipe. This final class serves as a cumulative exercise giving students the opportunity to apply the healthy cooking practices and techniques they learned in the previous sessions and to realize how competent they are in creating healthy dishes when relying on their own culinary skills. All of the students, win or lose, received a goodie bag filled with things such as measuring spoons, healthy snacks, and recipe cards.

Overall, the first two semesters of the Vanderbilt Healthy Teaching Kitchen have been incredibly successful and rewarding. Students learned numerous skills such as how to prepare healthy, nutritious and budget-conscious foods in a timely manner, which they are not only able to utilize in their own kitchens, but also pass on to their patients. Students and instructors are looking forward to Fall 2018 to come together again to create tasty recipes, flex their cooking creativity, and ultimately support healthy lifestyles for their patients and themselves.