Kimberly Evans, RD, is a clinical nutritionist at the UVM Medical Center.

Kimberly Evans, RD, is a clinical dietician at the UVM Medical Center.

“Food is life; create and savor yours” is a message that is embedded in the mission of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Recently, physicians, chefs, and dietitians got a taste of what it looks like to apply this vision to health care at the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference. The Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives conference is a collaboration between the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America. The aim is to build bridges among professionals who all need to be at the table as we bend the cost of health care by positively impacting the rising risks associated with chronic diseases in our country.

While it might seem obvious that chefs, dietitians, and physicians all share a common health care tool — FOOD — The impact of this common tool has been loosely applied. This conference is looking to change that. In bringing together physicians, chefs, and dietitians for an immersion in conversation about the impact of food choices on health, the conference organizers believe we have the best chance to impact disease risk. Can you imagine physicians and dietitians cooking in their offices as a part of patient visits? Can you imagine chef’s joining medical practice staffs to engage patients in building their culinary tool box? 

The value of healthy food in health care is not new to the UVM Medical Center.  But, eager to take these practices further, Diane Imrie, MS, RD, director of nutrition services, Leah Pryor, line chef, and I, Kimberly Evans, MS, RD, clinical dietitian, joined 400+ other self-identified foodie dietitians, physicians, and chefs. Yes, the week was full of delicious food and welcome sunshine. But, the excitement was around the passion and commitment the culinary, medical, and food services worlds share in improving health. Food is central to good self care and good patient care. Are you excited too?

Here are some take home messages:

  1. The types of food you eat impact disease risk independent of weight.
  2. How you eat, as a health care provider, impacts your advice to patients and family about how they eat. This is an amazing opportunity to improve your health and the health of those around you.
  3. Chefs and food service workers are the deliverers of this good medicine. Get to know them and regard them as part of the health care team.
  4. Ask your patients, and yourself, about eating habits. If time is an issue the simple question of “How many vegetables and fruits do you eat in a day?” is far reaching. Aim for 5+ colorful fruits and vegetables.
  5. Encourage a growth mindset over a success and fail mindset. There are both obstacles and opportunities to learn.
  6. Access tools to help build culinary and nutrition literacy. Most payers cover nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian for both preventative/well visits and for medical nutritional therapy. Think of cooking classes as part of good treatment.
  7. Eat more plants! Plants are a great source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, and other phytonutrients.  Make it easy with the 3-S tool – soups, smoothies, salads.
  8. Try a “dessert flip” by adding colorful and abundant fruits to small portions of indulgent favorites.
  9. Build culinary tool kits around basic kitchen tools and healthful ingredients and provide recipes to make those tools useful.
  10. Cooking more food at home, and from scratch, is key to making healthy foods that taste food. 

Over the next three years we will take this work further as part of a collaborative team, The Teaching Kitchen Collaboration.  This team includes thought leaders from 27 organizations across the country including Google Foods, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, The University of Vermont Medical Center, Stanford University, and Dartmouth Medical Center….to name a few. We are so excited to be leading the way in developing best practices in culinary medicine. 

For those of you who are hungry from reading this blog, here is one of my favorite recipes from the conference.


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