Challenges for Teaching Kitchens


A couple of weeks have passed since the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative Research Day, and I find myself still thinking through all of the amazing speakers and the research they presented. But while there are clever innovations in the Teaching Kitchen space, we still have work to do. Throughout the one-day event, some real challenges to our Collaborative emerged. In all of the excitement about new ideas for Teaching Kitchens, I don't want to lose sight of some of the tougher discussions we need to continue to have.

Wendy Weber from the National Institute of Health (NIH) pointed out:

    1. Food intake is under the individual’s control
    2. Behavior change is difficult to maintain
    3. We’re competing with the media to influence individuals’ choices

She charges us as a group to think about how we can overcome these challenges and move forward to show effectiveness and ways to measure. What’s the best duration for success in sustainability? What’s the best location - is it a clinical setting? How can we shift the impact of media messages?

While much has been done in behavioral medicine to get people to make healthy choices, as Wendy noted, we often don’t know why certain efforts worked or how they worked. That said, my team here at FamilyCook has developed an effective model, alongside Columbia University, to understand the drivers of behavior change outcomes, so that we can replicate those successful shifts. I encourage you to reach out to us for help with measurable, sustainable behavior change. That’s where we really shine, and we love sharing our knowledge, especially with other Teaching Kitchens.

Jennifer Massa of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reminds us that we need standardization and validation for Teaching Kitchen research. As a group, we should be working toward developing common evaluation tools and measurements.

Dr. Frank Hu, Department of Nutrition Chair at the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that our roles as Teaching Kitchen Collaborators is to translate dietary guidelines. To combat misconceptions often perpetuated in the media, we’re charged to advocate for dietary patterns rather than nutrients exclusively.

There’s plenty of work to be done, but that’s why I’m so grateful to be a part of this Collaborative Group. I met some truly bright people who I am looking forward to further collaborating with.    

In closing, I'll leave you with a thought from the TK Collaborative’s founder, Dr. David Eisenberg (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health):

“A Teaching Kitchen can be described as a 'life skills immersion class' — it’s transformative and essential learning for developing and sustaining a healthy lifestyle."



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Recap: Inaugural Teaching Kitchen Collaborative Research Day

Wednesday, Feb 7, 2018 - Napa Valley, CA --

Following the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative Research Day, I was inspired to summarize some of the key ideas and takeaways from the day that might influence how our Teaching Kitchen (TK) colleagues work together to innovate.

Lynn Fredericks Family Cook
Standing in front of my poster presentation on Behavior Change at the event

For anyone who did not attend the first-ever Teaching Kitchen Collaborative (TKC) Research Day, or is not a member of the Collaborative, the event was a day for Teaching Kitchens to share research and strategies for impacting behaviors, improving health outcomes, and reducing costs. It’s convened by leaders of the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative: Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).

 As the TKC event site states, the purpose of the meeting is to ‘advance the design, methodology, implementation, and evaluation of replicable programs for individuals with increased cardiovascular risk; along with other populations seeking to enhance their health and wellness.’

As Greg Drescher of the CIA so eloquently put in his welcoming remarks:

 “We’re here because of our need for unapologetic elevation of deliciousness as a public health imperative.”

Over 100 researchers, chefs, food service directors, medical professionals, hospital, university, corporate and military administrators converged at The Estate in Napa Valley to learn from each other.

Lucky enough to be among them, I attended to meet other Teaching Kitchen thought leaders, to learn about innovative strategies from my peers, and to share FamilyCook’s findings on Teaching Kitchen strategies that are effective drivers for Behavior Change.

One thing was abundantly clear at the event: TKC members are doing some really cool, innovative things. Here’s what struck me most:

 5 Cool Things Going on in the Teaching Kitchen Space

1. Shared Appointments

Could group visits to the doctor foster the positive kind of peer pressure needed for healthy behavior changes? Cleveland Clinic presenters say yes. Their Shared Medical Appointments are breaking through the funding barrier by making all the services included in the shared visits — including cooking classes — reimbursable by patients’ health insurance coverage. This is a model that many clinicians will be watching to resolve the critical issue of sustainability.

2. Mobile/Pop-Up Teaching Kitchens

For many organizations, funding, space, and staff are common barriers to establishing Teaching Kitchens. Enter the growing popularity of pop-up TKs.

The VA has found that using wheel carts for pop-up teaching kitchens has not only been effective in changing healthy behaviors in patients — the strategy has helped overcome those common barriers to establishing a TK.

According to Michiel Bakker, Director of Food Services at Google, their 'Kitchen Sync' Teaching Kitchen program started with one pop-up. Now, they have seven Teaching Kitchens, all with the goal of translating healthy food in the workplace to healthy eating at home. They also have numerous pop-up kitchens.

Pop-ups are not only a vehicle for expanding current TK offerings — they can be a cost-effective way to explore viability for a more established Teaching Kitchen at your organization.

3. Unique Environments

One way to engage people in cooking is by providing unique experiences that make them eager to take part.

The Culinary Enrichment program of Regent Seven Seas takes place on a cruise ship. Four of their cruises have Teaching Kitchens on board. As part of their Teaching Kitchen program, cruisers are taken to food markets off-ship, then partake in cooking, plating and eating together back on board. The Teaching Kitchen has become the most popular thing on these four ships, and some cruisers actually book specifically for the learning experience.

A University of Cincinnati partnership with Turner Farm not only provides culinary literacy for medical students (see #5 below for why that’s so key)— it provides an enhanced learning environment. Many of the medical students have never been on a farm before, so learning in a Teaching Kitchen built in a 100-year old barn is a rather memorable experience.

This past spring, Boston Medical Center started a rooftop farm …located on the 3rd floor of a power plant. Outputting 4600 lbs of produce and 25 types of crops, the farm fuels a cafeteria and food service to patients. It is also integrated with the hospital’s Teaching Kitchen, where foods from the hospital’s nutritious Food Pantry are combined with those from the rooftop to teach healthy food selection and cooking skills to patients and employees.

4. Going Digital

While some Teaching Kitchens are leveraging unique physical spaces to create memorable experiences as a means to drive behavior change, others are leveraging - or even living in - the digital world.

Google’s workplace Teaching Kitchens aim to go digital in the near future. In addition to their physical pop-ups, Kitchen Sync is exploring sharing Teaching Kitchen videos and live streaming to encourage distance learning FamilyCook has been using similar technology to disseminate our programing to partners around the US; it’s a low-cost way to scale up Teaching Kitchen initiatives.

Digital therapeutics mobile apps like FareWell work to treat disease digitally. Patients using the app are in part offered new skills to build health literacy, much like in our physical Teaching Kitchens. FareWell’s Clinical Research Lead, Nicole Guthrie, presented a 12 week pilot program that showed high app engagement rates, low app abandon rates, and positive health outcomes for most users. Digital therapeutics may be a real ally for Teaching Kitchens in the journey toward sustained behavior change.

Another digital solution, eButton, has the potential to be used to corroborate self reports among Teaching Kitchen study participants. This wearable computer tracks a healthy cooking score, being innovated by doctoral student Margaret Raber at MD Anderson UT’s School of Health Professions, among other healthy behaviors. As we all work to validate Teaching Kitchens as real agents of change in the fight against chronic diseases, digital solutions like this can serve as helpful assessment tools.

5. Culinary Literacy for Medical Students - From Student to Teacher

More than one presenter discussed TK programs that teach nutrition and culinary skills to medical students and future health professionals. The growth in this focus at medical schools is key, as research has shown that we need physicians to validate these behaviors with patients for serious, wide-spread positive health outcomes.

As the Providence Milwaukie Hospital team presented from their Cooking Matters Teaching Kitchen program study, physician recommendation and reminders can greatly contribute to behavior change. The team attributed their high program graduation rates (96%) largely to physician recommendations and reminders.

Another project, Cooking Up Health, a Northwestern University Integrative Medicine elective, trains med students to be the trainer. Med students are taught cooking skills and nutrition for lifestyle change that can later be used to counsel patients. As part of their training, they facilitate a 'train the trainer' model in the Chicago Public School system by imparting skills and knowledge from their course upon student mentors. These young influencers are now armed with culinary literacy that can be shared with peers, their families, and their communities.

Research like this demonstrates the value of Teaching Kitchens aimed at our future medical professionals.

There’s plenty of work to be done, but that’s why I’m so grateful to be a part of this Collaborative Group. I met some truly bright people who I am looking forward to further collaborating with. As the TK Collaborative’s founder, Dr. David Eisenberg of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, reminded us:

“A Teaching Kitchen can be described as a 'life skills immersion class' - it’s transformative and essential learning for developing and sustaining a healthy lifestyle."

 Honorable Mentions

Barilla America is doing great work in supporting cooking skills across the population. And of course the Culinary Institute of America, as co-leader of the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative, is working to innovate the role that professional chefs can play. The work that the UT MD Cancer Center is doing to develop a common evaluation tool for Teaching Kitchens is greatly appreciated. The Turner Farm Foundation is using their farm as a catalyst to healing and human development through healthful, farm-fresh food. VA Puget Sound is supporting veterans with key skills to support their long-term health. And Google’s work to instill healthy eating habits in not only among their workforce, but beyond, is admirable.

In conclusion, kudos to Food at Google, Campus for Health, Turner Farm and funders at NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, Dr. Rogers Prize and the Weil Foundation for their support in making this conference possible.

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"Cooking Buddies" Enhance Program Impact

In our 20 years of teaching cooking as nutrition education and family therapy, we’ve found that mixing ages can offer extraordinary group dynamics in the classroom and at home.

Throughout the school day, children are grouped by their age and abilities. But, when it comes to cooking, there are at least 3 major benefits to assigning tasks by level of difficulty for participants of different ages. This can be accomplished in after school settings, community settings, and certainly in the social services setting.

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1. Engagement flourishes with age-appropriate roles.
Parents may be hesitant to invite children into the kitchen if they are unsure how to do so safely and efficiently. Understanding this reality, we build the class experience to highlight appropriate roles and tasks for different ages. By aiming for ‘aha’ moments in each session, parents know just what to do when they get home with each child. This really alleviates parents’ fears because the class shows them how each child can contribute in an authentic and non-chaotic way. Three year olds, for example, can tear up greens and lettuce, while a third grader grates potatoes. Adolescents can be taught to use a chef’s knife and become the family meal sous chef, which makes scratch cooking for parents a breeze. But, the value of combining ages in the class setting extends beyond identifying appropriate tasks for each age.

2. Bonding.
After 20 years of program development and supporting our affiliates across the US, it’s evident that people love to cook together.  Cooking creates a common bond with little ones looking up to older siblings or schoolmates. Adolescents and elementary aged children are equally enthusiastic and proud to be able to support younger children make a solid contribution to a shared meal. There is a huge win-win opportunity created by acknowledging that everyone – regardless of age, has something valuable to contribute.

This point was brought home when our FamilyCook Productions founder, Lynn Fredericks, first began cooking with her own children who are 6 and a half years apart in age.  Back in the 90’s when Stephan was a toddler in the kitchen, nLynn took great pains to make sure he had a very defined role with each recipe, so that he would not feel eclipsed by his older brother. Such role designation plays out similarly in a program setting, where children in each age group take their cues from their peers and know their role well and take pride in it.  Everyone contributes based on their ability and everyone shares in the sense of accomplishment.

3. Practice in class makes for success at home.  
Apart from parents with twins or triplets, most parents don’t have all 3rd graders at home.  By practicing age specific roles and tasks in a mixed age class, family members return home with an understanding of the boundaries around their capabilities and know when to ask for or offer help.  This is an essential development for harmonious family cooking.  If little ones are determined not to ask for help and frustrate parents with their insistence to do tasks inappropriate for their age and ability, parents will not feel motivated to continue to cook with then. It’s really that simple. The class experience should set the parameters in a positive way that celebrates every participant’s contribution. Both parents and older siblings experience the satisfaction of assisting younger family members to help. With each accomplishment the group cheers for the youngest helper’s culinary success.

This is how youth in Teen Battle Chef across the US approach their growing interest in cooking at home. They have learned so much in the program midway into the semester that they are assigned a family cooking activity designed to include ALL family members. Each Teen Battle Chef knows exactly how to safely engage each participant based on their age and ability. The result is a successful demonstration to their parents that cooking can be a happy, delicious and nutritious family affair.

Stay connected with us! Find out what the New York Times had to say this month about our award-winning programs. Sign up for our mailing list, and check out our latest book!

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Why Food Enhances Learning in School

We all learn new skills differently. Some of us learn by listening, while others learn by doing. Most of us learn best with a combination of learning methods. Food, with its numerous multi-sensory properties, is a fantastic tool to enhance learning about anything.

Since we began to pioneer hands-on nutrition education 20 years ago, we became curious about why food could effectively convey complex ideas. For example, third graders grasped very abstract concepts about Japanese culture after performing the Japanese tea ceremony. We asked ourselves, what exactly is going on that makes learning ‘stick’ so well when food is involved? We began researching what the brain needs to learn. What we found is five ways that food can enhance the brain’s natural learning mechanisms. Not just by eating it, but by looking at it, thinking about it and preparing it through cooking.

1. Food Engages the Brain 


It’s been long established that multisensory learning is an effective technique to help students retain new information. We use cooking as a means to teach nutrition because it engages all of the human senses, and is an ideal activity to support multisensory learning of new information. But what we’ve found is that learning through cooking goes beyond seeing, smelling, touching, hearing and tasting the food. Where the senses originate in the brain also have an impact on our ability to absorb new information. The part of the brain that processes our sense of smell is directly connected to the part responsible for memory and emotion. This is why a familiar smell can trigger a past memory or strong feeling. The same can be said for taste, which is largely dependent on our sense of smell. What’s interesting is that auditory and visual information don’t pass through these same areas. When applied to pedagogy, this suggests that engaging smell and taste can better support learning than the traditional ways of teaching auditory and visual information. 

2. Food Sharpens the Mind

As it turns out, peeling a pound of carrots may stimulate the brain’s natural learning processes. The human brain learns best with repetition, especially when an activity is repeated with the right frequency, intensity and duration. Cooking has its own set of methodologies, like preparing a mise en place of ingredients before sauteing them. In nour programs, we’ve found that repetition encourages students to think logically and independently about the next steps in the process. “I’ve observed many young children memorize how to cook a recipe from start to finish, and be able to repeat it at home from memory.” says Lynn Fredericks, FamilyCook Productions’ founder, “Many tasks in cooking are repetitive, and repetition is so integral in how children learn.”

3. Food Makes Learning Fun

We’d all learn new things more easily if we were in a fun, relaxing environment. Neuroscience research shows that students achieve higher levels of cognition when they’re more engaged, motivated and feel minimal stress. This doesn’t always apply to traditional school settings and directed lectures. Bringing food into the classroom is a unique way to engage students and break up the monotony of sitting and listening.

4. Food Supports Collaborative Learning

If cooking is done collaboratively in a group setting, it provides another dimension for learning. Collaborate cooking applies the principles of cooperative learning, where students work as a group to help each other accomplish a task. Cooperative learning is effective because students can observe their peers and correct themselves if they’re completing a task ineffectively. In fact, we’ve found that cooking classes taught in group settings require less didactic instruction from the teacher. This translates to less required time and resources, because the brain’s natural learning mechanisms are more efficiently utilized.

5. Food Is Relevant

One reason that students lose focus in the classroom is that they don’t feel like the concepts are relevant to their lives. Food can help abstract concepts come to life. At Manhattan International High School, we’ve partnered with their 9th grade math teachers to teach statistics within the context of food. In one assignment, students take on the role of a food critic by rating their recipes for taste, and then charting the statistical average of these ratings over time. Food engages the students and utilizes all of their senses, while cooking supports collaborative learning and repetition. This provides new dimensions to teach math concepts, both in and out of the seat.

For more brain-boosting best practices, sign up for our mailing list. And click here to learn more about our award-winning programs.

Written by Bobby Maknoon, dietetic intern at City University of New York.


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Practice savvy seasonal shopping & save money

When we were wading through reams of material to share in our book, we knew that tips on shopping smart would be essential. It took us a long time figure out cost effective strategies for our own families and translate them into steps for our educational programs!  

Farmers Market

Everyone wants the highest quality food for the best price! 

We have shared our secrets and strategies on how to prioritize where to shop and what quality to look for among different food categories (dairy, meat, fish, produce etc.).  Of course when it comes to produce, shopping by season is key and trying to shop local and support local agriculture brings many benefits.

Still, some people argue that fruits and vegetables are very expensive and even unaffordable. But we have found that cooking at home with fresh ingredients, adding more plant-based  proteins result in VERY affordable meals.

So we were thrilled with the release of this new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  The report demonstrates that buying fresh produce can be even more economical than packaged and fast foods! It supports the shopping strategies we laid out in our book. Check out the study and learn more

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