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Quick, Easy, Delicious, and Nutritious—First-year Geisel Students Learn to Cook up Health by Susan Green

Photo by Rob Strong

Scientific evidence supporting a diet filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils and fats, along with plant and lean protein, reduces our risk for chronic diseases related to lifestyle and promotes metabolic health. We hear this mantra daily from multiple news sources and healthcare providers. Yet little advice is offered about how to achieve this because physicians are not trained in culinary medicine.

Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine is changing that.

Among a handful of US medical schools teaching culinary medicine, all first-year Geisel medical students are required to participate in culinary medicine sessions as part of the GI, Metabolism and Nutrition course.

The sessions, taught by Auden McClure MED ’99, MPH ’09, an associate professor of medicine, and Rima Itani Al-Nimr MS, RDN, LD, a lecturer in medical education and medicine, in partnership with the Dartmouth Health Culinary Medicine Program that McClure, a trained chef, directs, combines evidence-based nutrition with culinary learning giving medical students practical skills to translate daily nutrition and lifestyle recommendations into sustainable daily habits for themselves and their future patients. Dartmouth Health is also part of The Teaching Kitchen Collaborative, a national network of organizations with teaching kitchens aiming to develop and evaluate emerging culinary medicine programs.

“Evidence is mounting that teaching medical students these culinary skills via technique driven training during medical school is linked with improved confidence in lifestyle counseling when they are physicians—they report better counseling skills with patients, better talking points with patients, and interestingly, improved wellness for themselves,” says Al-Nimr who leads the Nutrition in Medicine Longitudinal Curriculum and directs the development, pedagogy, and dissemination of nutrition science content in medical education.

McClure demonstrates techniques and teaches medical students how to plan and prep a recipe while practicing knife skills and kitchen safety. Recipes are chosen to be low cost and adaptable to what is in season, in most pantries, or on sale. Although the students’ skills range from accomplished cooks to those with little experience, everyone gains confidence in the kitchen while having fun and learning key skills to guide patients in improving food choices and meal patterns. As students prepare dinner, cooking in pairs or groups of four, Al-Nimr and McClure walk the room answering questions. When dinner is ready, everyone eats together.

Madison Neumaier '25, left, and Michelle Dong '25, right

Med student Michelle Dong ’25 loves to cook. She says her mother, an excellent cook well-versed in nutrition, taught her everything she knows. For Dong, the discussion about talking to patients about cooking struck a chord. “Patients may neither have the time nor enjoy being in the kitchen, so the lesson on how to prep healthy foods during the week without putting in a lot of time was important to learn. The way a parent models healthy eating habits for their children, a physician needs to model healthy eating habits for their patients.” A key point both McClure and Al-Nimr teach throughout the cooking session. Dong says she also values how the recipes are easily adapted to accommodate cultural taste preferences.

Al-Nimr and McClure also talk about intentional meal planning and what foods to buy when preparing meals on a budget. The recipes use both fresh and canned foods, as well as bulk whole grains, and are easily adaptable to what may be on hand at home.

“We offer practical tips on how to use the same ingredients for several different recipes—it saves money, it’s good for the environment, and there is less food waste,” McClure says. Key points are batch cooking, repurposing, and planning. “While practicing basic culinary skills and techniques, students learn how to sauté, how to make a soup, how to make a stew, and how to make a salad based on tastes or dietary needs.”

A firefighter prior to medical school and no stranger in the kitchen, Charles Maguire ’25 appreciated the focus on inexpensive ingredients. “People fear that it can be expensive, difficult, and time intensive to eat nutritiously but we were able to prepare and cook these dishes in under half an hour—this is something that after doing a few times you become pretty good at it,” he says. “And this is not something you just tell your patients, but it’s something that you do too. This class was a good reminder of that.”

“Food is a social vehicle that brings us together, it is identity, it is culture, it is tradition, a way to show love and connection, and not just about chronic diseases,” Al-Nimr says. “I always tell students that food is so much more than nutrients. But when we put it all together, improved nutrition, improved access to food, and the wellbeing that comes from eating together, we see a reduced risk of disease.”

Pauline Mochama ’25 is from Kenya and says the food they prepared during the session resembled what she cooks and what she grew up eating—rice, beans and other legumes, kale, and a wide variety of vegetables.

“In Kenya, fresh produce is much cheaper and is often sold straight from the garden or farm at local markets; meat and processed or fast foods tend to be much more expensive. In the U.S., fresh, organic produce is often expensive and hard to access particularly in areas that can be classified as food deserts or food swamps (inundated with fast food options and not enough options to access healthy food),” Mochama says. “As future physicians it is helpful to have the tools to help patients navigate these challenges by providing them with practical tips, recipes, knowledge, and resources that they can use to meet their nutritional goals while staying withing their budgets and enjoying their food.

“Nutrition and health are so deeply intertwined—I think it’s commendable that Geisel and Dartmouth Health are emphasizing and prioritizing this vital aspect of patient care,” she says.

Al-Nimr says the students are proud of what they accomplished, and some say this is the most fun they’ve had in medical school. “It’s exciting and fun for Auden and me as well.”

Classes are held at the COOP Culinary Learning Center in Lebanon, NH. To encourage them to keep cooking, each medical student leaves class with a 10-inch cast iron skillet.

If you'd like to view the recipes from the program, you can do so below:

Recipes courtesy of the Dartmouth Health Culinary Medicine Program.