Nutrition education through culinary instruction

Kevin McCutcheon/Unsplash

Culinary instruction should be incorporated into the nutrition care process, said Jeanne Petrucci MS, RDN, founder and managing director of the non-profit Living Plate, at the 2020 Integrative Healthcare Symposium in New York City.

Petrucci had a patient who was diagnosed with cancer and prescribed an anti-inflammatory diet. She had been given a folder of information on what she was supposed to do and eat but had no clue how to apply it in her own life. She was completely overwhelmed. Petrucci knew she did not need to give this patient more information, but rather needed to teach her how to use the knowledge. After working with this patient, Petrucci made it her mission to make sure patients are never again paralyzed by the overwhelm and stress of feeding themselves and their families.

Food is medicine, but Petrucci said practitioners need to focus on translating that concept into actionable behaviors for the patient. When it comes to compliance and adopting nutrition-related health behaviors, patients face many barriers. Behavior changes such as eating more fruits and vegetables, avoiding processed foods, and practicing mindful eating may sound simple, but can overwhelm a patient if they don’t have skills to cook or prepare food. Other barriers include:

  • Cooking skills
  • Cooking confidence
  • Resources and support
  • Food experience and taste preferences
  • Time
  • Social support

In recent years, there has been a reduction in cooking at home. In addition, many patients want to save time and may not have cooking confidence. Observational learning and experiential learning can help bridge the knowledge gap.

Practitioners are in a unique position to help patients develop cooking skills because they can provide evidence-based nutrition education and culinary resources, Petrucci said. Culinary nutrition programs can have a positive impact on behavior mediators, such as stress, knowledge, confidence, and goal setting. The strategies Petrucci focuses on to optimize patient success include:

  • Medical nutrition therapy
  • Food experience
  • Evidence-based nutrition education programs

In medical nutrition therapy, Petrucci suggests using food versus nutrient speak, focusing on assessing culinary ability, assessing resources, setting specific cooking goals, addressing environmental changes, and addressing social influences.

For evidence-based programming, Petrucci encourages practitioners to select topics of interest, offer single or multi-module interventions, provide measurable behavior-driven objectives, create text-light visuals, coordinate handouts, and conduct cooking demonstrations.

Lastly, Petrucci urges nutrition professionals to offer food and culinary experiences to patients. This may include:

  • Offering meal plans, grocery lists, and cookbooks
  • Sending recipes based on culinary ability
  • Incorporating culinary and food-focused themes into events
  • Offer food information and recipes in blogs
  • Host cooking classes

“We can no longer maintain healthcare without creating a conversation around food with our patients,” said Petrucci.