When I saw the brochure for the Harvard Medical School Lifestyle Medicine conference, I was intrigued, and determined to attend. Why? Because how we live can either spur on or help prevent some of the biggest threats to health like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
The conference started with Culinary Health Education Fundamentals coaching. Its purpose is to teach providers like me how to teach patients about nutrition, and to help us identify and address barriers to eating healthy. Dr. Rani Polak, the Director of the Culinary Health Education Fundamentals (CHEF) Coaching Program at the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine, led these sessions.
Dr. Polak is a physician and trained chef. He reviewed extensive research showing that home cooking is key to a healthy lifestyle. For example, studies show that the more meals people prepare at home, the more fruits and veggies they eat. But since the 1960s, people have been preparing food at home less often, and relying on fast food a lot more.
Many people know they need to eat more healthfully, but don’t know where to start. They lack confidence and skills, and don’t think they have the time to prepare meals at home. If these are barriers to eating well, then doctors should be able to inform, motivate, and help patients make reasonable and practical goals for better eating. We need to help patients plan, shop for, and prepare healthy meals — and understand that they can do this. It takes more than handing them a list of healthy foods and recipes.
How to overcome common barriers to healthful cooking at home
Doctors as well as their patients can benefit from Dr. Polak’s tips and tricks, for example:
- Make shopping for fruits and vegetables more convenient: community supported agriculture groups and farmer’s markets are great, but canned and frozen is fine.
- Plan meal preparation with an eye toward efficiency: cook in large batches, and freeze extra cooked ingredients separately so that they can be re-purposed in different recipes.
- Look for shortcuts: use quick-cooking orange lentils or even no-cooking-needed bulgur as a nutritious base for a meal.
- Keep it simple and start every meal with a vegetable: leftover roasted or grilled veggies can be served as an “antipasto.”
For anyone (including doctors) who is intimidated by the kitchen, or beginning home cooks, Dr. Polak offers some advice as well as two beautiful recipes.
There are endless possibilities for healthy homemade soup. To keep it easy and convenient:
- Always make more soup than you need, and freeze the leftovers in meal-sized portions. Then, on days when you are busy or the cupboard is bare, you can heat it up, serve with whole-grain bread or a salad, and enjoy a great meal.
- You do not need to defrost frozen soups prior to reheating, just run the frozen container under hot tap water to loosen it from the edges, then dump the contents into a pot and heat it right up.
- If you don’t have an ingredient, it’s okay to leave things out, or substitute with what you do have. By improvising you can discover new combinations you enjoy, and each success helps you build confidence.
Try Dr. Polak’s recipe for this simple and delicious Zucchini and Mint Soup.
Pamper your kitchen with a grill pan, which is a basically a “frying” pan with elevated ridges that duplicate the effect you get on your outdoor grill. This is an amazing tool that can help you prepare quick and impressive food. Grilled veggies are super-healthy and tasty! To keep it easy and convenient:
- Let your grill pan heat up for a while before you set food on it, just as you do with your outdoor grill. The hotter it is, the better “grill” taste and marks you will get.
- To prevent sticking, lightly brush or spray food with a vegetable oil that can get hot without smoking, like canola.
Try Dr. Polak’s Grilled Vegetable recipe as an appetizer or side dish. I used yellow and red beets, zucchini, and summer squash, but the list of possibilities is nearly endless (eggplant, peppers, Brussels sprouts, you name it).
Additional online resources
- From the Institute of Lifestyle medicine and collaborating partners, a curated list of basic nutrition, kitchen organization, meal planning, and recipe links:
- From Stanford, free online nutrition and cooking courses, Introduction to Food and Health and Child Nutrition and Cooking.
Rani Polak, MD, is Founding Director of the Culinary Health Education Fundamentals (CHEF) Coaching Program at the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, am. He is also a Research Associate, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Harvard Medical School. Follow Dr. Polak on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn:
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4 NIV
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12 NIV
When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. Psalm 94:19 NIV
The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:24 NIV
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11 NIV
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10 NIV
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:24 NIV
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV
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