The Barnstable Brown, UK Food Connection team collaborates to offer healthy cooking classes

The Barnstable Brown, UK Food Connection team collaborates to offer healthy cooking classes

Lexington, Kentucky, (September 28, 2022) – UK Healthcare Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center (BBDC) Medical Director Kristen Stacklen, MD, often asks patients which vegetables they enjoy eating. She says it’s a way for her to learn about their eating habits and check if they are eating any vegetables in their diet. One day while having this conversation, her patient described macaroni and cheese as one of their favorite vegetables.

“I remember thinking, ‘We still have a long way to go here,'” Stacklen said.

That encounter really prompted Stacklen to think about how many patients don’t eat vegetables or even know what they are, but they probably don’t know how to prepare them even if they store them in their kitchens.

“I often get an upturned face when I ask which vegetables people like to eat. Like people assume they taste too bad for them to be good for you, which isn’t true at all,” Stacklen said.

After that, Stacklen reached out to Chef Tanya Whitehouse, Program Manager for Kitchen Learn Food Connection in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Learning Kitchen is a state-of-the-art kitchen venue on the UK campus that provides a welcoming environment for all those interested in learning about and how to enjoy locally sourced, seasonal foods. Prior to joining Food Connection in the UK, Chef Tania Whitehouse was Assistant Chef for the Holly Hill Inn at Chef Ouita Michel.

With Whitehouse on board, Stakelin asked if she could focus some cooking lessons on vegetable meals to demonstrate that vegetables can taste good, show people everything that can be done to prepare them, and expose participants to vegetables they may not be familiar with. Classes cover everything from basic kitchen and knife safety to ways to season vegetables without adding salt. Classes also include a brief presentation on nutrition by a specialist in diabetes care and education at BBDC. Tammy Ross, a registered dietitian and part of the education team, enjoyed seeing participants’ faces light up when figuring out which vegetables are the healthiest for controlling blood sugar. The group discussed practical ways to fit more of these vegetables and got creative ideas from each other. Tami recalls one post saying that the cooking classes were the highlight of her month! She said she learned a lot, made a new friend, and enjoyed the time spent around the table eating prepared foods.

“I love spreading the word about local food and how delicious, nutritious and great for us. I try to showcase a variety of vegetables to encourage people to explore new tastes and new ways of preparing vegetables they are already familiar with,” Whitehouse said.

The chef says she’s on a mission to make sure people don’t miss out on great flavors because they haven’t tried anything before, or had a bad experience with it.

“More than anything I want to show these bold chefs that you can eat within specific dietary guidelines and can be delicious and satisfying,” Whitehouse said.

The goal is for participants to walk into their kitchens with confidence and not have to stress what they are going to eat for dinner that fits the guidelines.

“Interacting with the participants is my favorite part of the job — it makes me host these classes on a monthly basis,” Whitehouse said.

So far, the Whitehouse team and the BBDC team have hosted four of these classes, again scheduled for November, that will focus on the upcoming holiday season.

“I was nervous and dizzy on the first day of the study. However, my nerves immediately faded when I noticed that I was surrounded by like-minded people who wanted to be more trained in their health,” said Jane Lohorn, who co-stars in the series.

As someone with prediabetes who loves being in the kitchen, Lohorn says she was excited to learn about the classes and get involved.

“I guess you could say the kitchen is one of my happy places where I can get lost in the smell of fresh bread or take my frustrations out on a hard day and chop, chop, chop those poor peppers and onions,” Lahorn said. “On day one we learned the best way to chop onions, and it really changed the life of the whole class.”

Both Whitehouse and Stakelin say the positive feedback they received from participants is why they are keen to schedule more classes. They say that many of those who attended the lessons not only gained confidence in the kitchen, but also formed new social connections.

“I would like to commend Dr. Stacklin and the entire team at Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center,” Whitehouse said. “They are so committed to improving outcomes for their patients that they have moved beyond their already busy careers to apply for these grants and work so hard to make this experience enjoyable and successful for patients.”

It’s a concept that Stacklen says she believes many disciplines can benefit from.

“Culinary medicine is an upcoming resource,” Stakelin said. “The UK now offers a culinary medicine certification program, and many chronic diseases can benefit from eating a certain way.”

Stakelin says she hopes to collaborate with some other areas within UK HealthCare to expand the programme.

The BBDC was able to offer these free cooking classes to healthcare patients in the UK with type 1, type 2 or prediabetes. Stakelin hopes in the future it can be offered to all patients. Funding and support for these cooking classes is provided by the Kentucky Kentucky Health UK Healthcare Initiative.

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