Medical Students Sharpen Culinary Skills in Culinary Medicine Class

Before enrolling in medical school, delicious home cooked meals were a common occurrence for second-year PNWU osteopathic medical student Val Young. Young’s mother was a great cook, and she loved serving her delicious creations to her hungry family. When Young arrived at PNWU, away from her mother’s kitchen, she quickly realized that all of those years of mouth-watering meals were a gift and a curse. She knew what good food tasted like, but she had no idea how to make it herself.

Bogged down in her studies, she tried time and time again to recreate her mom’s recipes. After one failed attempt that nearly resulted in a house fire, Young settled on the idea that cooking wasn’t for her. Quickly, her diet began to shift from homemade to pre-made.

“Eating healthy is definitely a lot more challenging when you don’t cook much,” said Young. “My diet was on the verge of turning into frozen foods and Domino’s pizza.” She tried mixing it up by dabbling in pre-chopped vegetables and bagged salads, but her home economic-horizons were limited. 

As her ever-expanding medical knowledge continued to reinforce the importance of a healthy diet for a variety of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and obesity, Young struggled to find a solution. Like so many Americans, she knew what she should be eating, but couldn’t bridge the gap between knowing what was good for her and actually making what was good for her. 

That was until one day, while passing through Butler-Haney Hall, she saw an ad for an upcoming culinary medicine cooking class. After being reminded about the class in her prevention and lifestyle medicine club, she decided to sign up.

“These culinary medicine classes give our students, and the students from other area health training programs, the chance to interact over food preparation and eating,” explained Dr. Kathaleen Briggs Early, PNWU’s Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Nutrition. “Many students don’t have time or experience to prepare well-balanced nutritious meals, so not only is the program helping them to become more confident and knowledgeable in their own kitchen and cooking skills, but also enabling them to bring what they learn into the clinic.”

To help with the lesson, Dr. Briggs Early brought in Elaina Moon, a Certified Health Coach at Healthy Eats Yakima.

“This program is helping introduce healthcare students to the benefits of preventing disease and illness with dietary choices,” said Moon. “We hope to empower them to go out into the communities they serve and be culinary medicine advocates.”

Dr. Briggs Early hopes to see the classes become a regular occurrence for health professional students, and would even like to see faculty and staff members get involved in the future. 

“I learned a ton of new cooking skills,” said Young following the class. Her favorite, she says with a laugh, was a technique on how to smash garlic open with the side of a knife. “I am going home this weekend with an extra motivation to further my newly-discovered skills. I’ve already told my mom that she needs to take me under her wing and show me how to make a few of her specialty homemade Chinese dishes.”