Cooking more healthfully at home is just what the doctor ordered


Whether it is to help patients maintain their heart health, regulate blood-glucose levels or sustain lasting energy throughout their busy days, the cornerstone lies in adopting a nutritious and well-balanced diet. But if a patient is not familiar with healthy cooking, how do they know where to begin? This is something that the Geisinger health system has set out to change with its culinary medicine cooking classes, which aims to educate health professionals to facilitate their patients in where to begin.

While patients are educated directly, the mission of culinary medicine is to fill the nutrition education and counseling skills gap of health professionals. That is because only 27% of medical schools offer the recommended 25 hours of nutrition education in the U.S.

Recognizing the profound impact of nutrition on overall health and well-being, Geisinger has introduced a series of culinary medicine cooking classes designed to empower health professionals and their patients with the knowledge and skills needed to make informed, health-conscious decisions. This is delivered through the Health Meets Food culinary medicine curriculum. These classes go beyond traditional dietary advice, immersing participants in a hands-on learning experience that combines the art of cooking with evidence-based nutritional science.

Geisinger is a member of the AMA Health System Program, which provides enterprise solutions to equip leadership, physicians and care teams with resources to help drive the future of medicine.  

Through Geisinger’s culinary medicine classes in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, patients and health professionals can sharpen their knife skills, learn fun food facts and make new friends all while learning how to cook delicious and healthy recipes. Virtual classes are also offered and used globally. Both in-person and virtual classes are free.

The cooking classes are led by Geisinger culinary-trained dietitians and nutritionists, offering a chance for patients to improve their well-being and better manage conditions such as prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Each class is hands-on and offered in four-week blocks in a fully equipped kitchen—or virtually from the comfort of your home kitchen—with multiple stations and is free for everyone—you don’t have to be a patient or employee at Geisinger to take advantage of this education.

By working with the school of medicine, residencies and fellowships, and other health professionals beyond physicians, Geisinger helps to strengthen nutrition education and counseling skills which gives an exponential impact on the community beyond direct education in classes to patients.

Access to this course is important because 80% of patient outcomes are determined by social drivers of health. And Geisinger is acknowledging the beyond-the-exam-room impact on health outcomes through this program.

“The culinary medicine program here at Geisinger gives its participants an elite and easy-to-comprehend education on healthy eating, disease-specific dieting and culinary practices that are easily applicable to daily life. The knowledge gained can be retaught to patients to aid in their disease management strategies and overall live a healthy balanced life,” said Jacob Gries, MD, an internal medicine resident at Geisinger Medical Center.

Just by having one member of a family join the culinary medicine cooking class can impact how a whole family eats.

These hands-on culinary medicine classes are held in Geisinger’s teaching kitchen and “combine the art and skill of cooking with the science of nutrition.” Through an evidence-based approach to health that incorporates food and cooking with nutrition education, participants will learn how to make small, sustainable dietary changes.

But don’t get hung up on the word “diet,” which can seem restrictive. Instead, these culinary classes support health by learning the role of food in treating and preventing disease. This will be accompanied by learning cooking skills while making new and delicious recipes that incorporate principles of the Mediterranean diet.

“Learning nutrition principles based on the Mediterranean diet not only improved my cooking skills but also enlightened me on how to enhance nutritional value without sacrificing delicious flavors, making every meal a delightful and healthy experience,” said Hardik Patel, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Osteopathic Medicine. “It also equipped me with the knowledge to educate my patients on healthy eating practices, empowering them to make informed and nourishing choices for a healthier life.”

Taught by a culinary-trained registered dietitian, the first class introduces the Mediterranean diet along with cooking basics. From there, the focus will be on one of a typical day’s meals as well as practical tips to make healthy meals easy, affordable, quick and delicious.

For example, the second class offers quick and easy breakfast recipes as well as how to read food labels. During the third class, students can learn about healthy lunches, protein, vegetables and portion sizes. And for class four, it’s all about delectable dinners and dessert, good shopping habits and legumes.

During both in person and virtual classes, the dietitian reviews how each recipe corresponds with the day’s nutrition focus, the notable culinary skill gained from that recipe, and other helpful tips to make good nutrition quick and easy. Each student works on preparing the featured recipes. In person students enjoy the meal together, while virtual students enjoy the meal with their families and send in a picture of their dish.

Physicians and other health professionals join in these culinary medicine classes as part of their medical education because nutrition is relevant for all specialties. Joining the health professionals and patients together emphasizes the importance of nutrition education and counseling skills, while simultaneously impacting the personal education of all in attendance.

“Culinary Medicine was an absolutely delightful experience for me. I really appreciated the concept of having a provider and a few patients from the community in the same class. I could see in real time how impactful the lessons were for our community,” said Ahana Bhan, MD, an internal medicine resident at Geisinger Medical Center.

The AMA’s Diabetes Prevention Guide supports physicians and health care organizations in defining and implementing evidence-based diabetes prevention strategies. This comprehensive and customized approach helps clinical practices and health care organizations identify patients with prediabetes and manage their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, including referring patients at risk to a National Diabetes Prevention Program lifestyle-change program based on their individual needs.

Editor’s note: It is important to acknowledge the following individuals for their help with Geisinger’s culinary classes: Jennifer Franceschelli Hosterman, DO, medical director and physician champion of the program; Stacy Coolbaugh, director of clinical nutrition; and Amy Pinkham, the registered dietician and certified culinary medicine specialist who implements and runs the program. Additionally, the program received a grant from the Degenstein Foundation and Travey Wolfe to build the teaching kitchen.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *