Yes, Actually, a Crockpot Can Be a Tool in Addiction Recovery

For 40 years, Addiction Treatment Services (ATS) has provided outpatient and residential treatment and services for people experiencing substance dependencies with a mission to promote a patient’s overall health, wellness, and recovery. The organization works in Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Benzie, Antrim, Wexford and Kalkaska counties and serves an average of 2,000 people each year.

Counselors at Addiction Treatment Services’ Dakoske House, after seeing that more and more research was establishing the connection between what we eat and our mental health, decided to expand their instruction to include guidance on how to cook food that can help people heal from addiction.

Especially convincing was when providers learned that there are receptors in the belly that uptake serotonin, which is an essential chemical supporting brain health. “Things are so connected between stress, eating and mood, if we’re not talking about what’s going in the mouth, we’re not helping clients enough,” says Paula Martin, Groundwork’s Community Nutrition Specialist. “We need to work toward the best possible way to include these foods in their lives.”

To that end, Addiction Treatment Services applied for funds from Groundwork’s Building Resilient Communities program, which offers grants of $2,000 paired with training from Groundwork staff to increase consumption of locally grown food, both to support the health of our communities and to support farm family income.

Paula consulted with Dakoske House staff to develop a training for the staff, and then assisted with ways to incorporate the lessons with clients. She also helped identify the best equipment to purchase to move the program forward: a new refrigerated mobile salad prep station, five crockpots, vegetable peelers, ladles, measuring spoons, and cutting boards—plain but essential tools for scratch cooking.

”Crockpot cooking is ideal for people just learning to cook,” Paula says. “One-pot cooking is economical and easy. You just chop things, put them together, and the crock pot does all the work.” And most important: with the right ingredients, a crockpot meal delivers deliciousness that also directly feeds the brain with mood-boosting nutrients.

When Paula trained the staff in the Dakoske House basement kitchen, nearly a dozen people gathered in the cinder-block space with its eclectic mix of chairs and tables to learn to cook a simple but supremely brain-boosting meal of Harvest Chili with beans and butternut squash. “Beans provide resistant starches, and that’s what our gut uses to make the important chemistry needed by the brain,” Paula says. “We want staff and clients to be thinking about this when cooking for addiction recovery.” 

To  kick off her 3-hour training, Paula presented a lecture titled Food and Mood—what, why, and how the two are connected. The full training that day consisted of research and concepts related to:

  • The role of human energy requirements and how stress affects those needs.
  • The microbiome-gut-brain relationship to mental well-being.
  • Foods and nutrients to support brain health and mental well-being.
  • Ways to connect to local food purchasing to improve nutrient density of meals served.
  • Demonstrating how a cooking activity can be a positive and supportive group activity for mental well-being.

“The grant and training provided us with the knowledge and tools to integrate additional nutritional education to clients at Dakoske Hall,” says Karin Banks, Dakoske Program Manager. “We are excited and grateful to provide education, skills and understanding of the role proper nutrition and whole foods play in helping a recovering body and mind.”