We all know that influencing behavior change is the hardest part of our jobs as RDs. Getting clients to do what they should do requires not only taking an evidence-based approach to food and nutrition but also human psychology. We use techniques such as motivational interviewing and coaching and adjust our approach specifically for pedagogy or andragogy. We teach our clients skills in label reading, grocery shopping, and menu planning. It only makes sense that we also incorporate cooking skills into the mix.
Arizona-based chef Michele Redmond, MS, RDN, is a culinary instructor and food enjoyment activist for The Taste Workshop, which teaches how taste, food appreciation, and cooking improves health and enjoyment of life. Redmond says, “I often teach basic culinary skills classes that specifically decrease barriers to cooking and share tricks to easily make nutrient-rich foods.” With convenience being a major barrier for clients, being able to teach them hands-on skills to prepare tasty vegetables, which many may perceive as time consuming, can go a long way toward adopting a more healthful diet.
According to Redmond, “there are multiple options for RDNs to gain culinary proficiency to share with the public, including Craftsy, Rouxbe, and America’s Test Kitchen online classes.” While RDs need not be classically trained chefs, Redmond says learning professional culinary techniques can go a long way in helping to promote increased efficiency in food preparation and consistent results for clients.
In addition to considering what skills a practitioner may want to hone, he or she should consider some other practical and logistical matters, too. Dietitians interested in incorporating culinary or cooking classes into their practice should ask the following questions:
- Are you comfortable cooking and talking at the same time? This may seem obvious, but it takes some skill to keep a recipe moving while also providing instruction in a clear and timely manner.
- Where will you conduct your cooking instruction? Do you have access to a suitable commercial kitchen? Or will you teach your clients in their home or in your home?
- Do you have access to necessary equipment? What will you need for the foods you plan to create with your clients?
- Will your insurance cover injury in the unlikely event that something should happen during a class?
- How much will you charge for your services? When pricing lessons and classes, remember to include the cost of all food, materials, and your time for shopping, class preparation, and cleanup.
After attending the Culinary Institute of America’s Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives event (a collaborative program with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) with a client, I began incorporating cooking classes and individual lessons as part of my nutrition practice. I’ve been an avid home cook for decades and had an excellent food science instructor who also was a great cook. Even though I don’t have formal culinary training, after decades of practice and taking some group cooking classes, I feel confident giving basic cooking lessons to my clients. Most people aren’t interested in learning to be professional chefs; they just want to cook healthful food that looks and tastes good. They need the confidence to know that they can do it. Working side by side with my clients has been a fun way to learn more about their barriers and skills, expand my services, and share my love of cooking and food in an intimate way. If dietitians are to truly be seen as food and nutrition experts, we have a responsibility to help our clients change their behaviors—starting in the kitchen.
— Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD, is president of Southern Fried Nutrition Services in Atlanta, specializing in food allergies and food sensitivities, digestive disorders, and nutrition communications. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as @DietitianSherry and at www.southernfriednutrition.com.