Above: Photo courtesy of Viviana Rishe.
Head to your doctor’s office for a cooking class? The idea doesn’t square with our notion of visiting the doc only when sick. But if we embrace the centuries-old adage “let food be thy medicine,” a cooking class at the physician’s office makes all the sense in the world.
That’s the reasoning behind an innovative solution to diet-related disease that a medical practice—Munson Family Practice—is testing on a small, pilot-scale level in Traverse City these days. Christened “Dinner With Your Doctor,” the program invites a small group of patients into the doctor’s office for six cooking classes. Each class session takes on a food group, like fruits, vegetables, proteins, and dairy, and hands-on instruction centers on patients making meals at individual work stations. Instructors also emphasize cooking with locally grown food, which has higher nutrient quality than food shipped a long distance.
Patients invited for the pilot test are people who are on the cusp, individuals who are not yet suffering from more serious diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity and hypertension, but who are trending that way. Could some fun kitchen skills, food knowledge and tasty recipes turn that trend around and get it headed in a healthy direction?
The class goes beyond just making a recipe. Instruction takes a holistic approach to the idea of cooking and is designed to expand the patient’s general confidence and enjoyment in cooking, which is likely to sustain good habits. So things like clever and safe ways to cut foods (knife skills), and kitchen tricks, like how to quickly and precisely mince a garlic clove, are as much a part of class as learning about nutrition. More broadly holistic is the idea that, by purchasing locally raised food, patients are supporting local farms, and in turn helping keep the landscape rural and beautiful—offering areas of respite and calm.
The Dinner With Your Doctor program springs from work in the field of Culinary Medicine that Groundwork led here in Michigan, beginning back in 2017. Culinary Medicine embraces the full sensory experience of cooking: its scent, its texture, its deliciousness. But Culinary Medicine also teaches the wisdom that nutrition science offers.
Near-term, the goal of the Dinner With Your Doctor program is to see if habits related to shopping, cooking and eating can be altered with a hands-on cooking class, and patient health improves as a result. But longer term, the mission reach is far higher. Groundwork and our study partners are hoping to prove to insurance companies that Culinary Medicine instruction is effective at preventing diet-related disease, and that it’s worthy of reimbursement, just like other nutrition interventions.
“The Dinner With Your Doctor project has been an incredible experience,” says Dr. Lucas Friedli, Munson Family Practice Medical Resident and program lead. “It’s rewarding to see patients work to improve their health outside of a typical office visit, all while having fun in the process.”
For more information, contact Groundwork’s Food & Farming Policy Specialist, Paula Martin.