Food Is Medicine: Four Lessons From Incorporating Cooking Classes Into Practice


This unconventional intervention can improve patients' quality of life.

Fam Pract Manag. 2022 May-June;29(3):40.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial relationships.

Helping high-risk patients improve their health sometimes requires unconventional interventions that allow us to tap into our creativity and passions. This was the case when I began treating a patient who had congestive heart failure (CHF) and end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis. She received medically tailored meals delivered to her home. As long as she ate them, she did not experience complications. But she loved to travel and did not have access to pre-made meals on her trips. During one trip, she received emergency dialysis after eating too many bratwursts at an Oktoberfest celebration. After that, I wondered about the possibility of teaching her how to prepare food appropriately for her chronic conditions. She and her family could enjoy the meals together, and she could apply the knowledge to select appropriate foods when not at home.

This idea turned into bi-weekly cooking classes involving 10 patients with CHF. A registered dietitian and I conducted the classes, demonstrating how to prepare meals from weekly meal kits we provided and offering CHF-specific nutrition education. The classes were held in person initially, until COVID forced us to transition to live, virtual classes. Boston Medical Center (BMC) loaned us iPads and hotspots for patients, most of whom did not have the technology they needed at home. We also partnered with staff from the BMC Teaching Kitchen to make our recipes and short demonstration videos available online to patients. The website that hosted this content has since evolved into a mobile app, The Pursuit By You, which is in the pilot stage.

Two dietetic students helped develop recipes, and two project coordinators (who work as scribes in the clinic) translated our content into Spanish and helped purchase, assemble, and deliver meal-kit ingredients. In total, our team prepared 1,680 meal kits for 10 patients over 12 weeks. Meal kit costs totaled $9,600, paid through a grant from the Family Medicine Discovers Rapid Cycle Scientific


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Dr. Ciszak is a family physician at the South End Community Health Center in Boston, where she practices primary care and addiction medicine. She wishes to thank Olivia Weinstein, Alana Drexler, and Isabel Kay for their assistance with this project....

Author disclosure: no relevant financial relationships.

This project was made possible through a grant from the FMD RapSDI program, funded by the AAFP Foundation with assistance from the AAFP National Research Network.


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