At a hospital’s teaching kitchen, patients get a taste of food as medicine

Originally published on Stat News.

At Boston Medical Center, the birth of this health-enhancing showroom was largely fueled by the existing food pantry. The food pantry was started in 2001 by Deborah Frank, the director of the Grow Clinic for Children at Boston Medical Center, after she noticed the direct health and social impacts of her patients who struggled with food insecurity. She was “tired of having mothers burst into tears when I tell them that their children have to eat three times a day,” Frank recalled.

Frank and her team partnered with the Greater Boston Food Bank to source fresh produce. Patients struggling with food insecurity are referred to the food pantry by BMC providers who write prescriptions for foods that best promote physical health, prevent future illness, and facilitate recovery.

But even though the food pantry facilitates access to fresh and healthy food, not everyone may know what to do with it. Frank recalls one day when the delivery included “huge squashes.”

“Our nutritionist handed one to a mother who looked at it as if she had just been given a basketball,” she said. Adopting a healthy diet long-term goes beyond just having the opportunity to access nutritious food — it requires knowledge on food preparation, storage, and more.

That’s when the idea of the teaching kitchen came into place. “How can we teach people how to use unfamiliar foods to make delicious, affordable, and sustainable meals?” said Frank. Eating healthily can be challenging with a tight budget and hectic schedule. The mission of the kitchen is to create an inclusive learning environment that strives to celebrate the diversity of food.

Each of the classes is designed to accommodate the realities of patients’ lives. “Our classes are built to address limited access and low resource kitchens,” said Olivia Weinstein, the director of nutrition innovation and implementation at Boston Medical Center, who leads the teaching kitchen initiative.