Health & Spirit

Future doctors and nurses learning to treat patients with food

Allie Shah, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Health & Fitness

The click-clack of knives chopping on cutting boards and the savory smell of sauteed onions filled the air on a recent evening.

Eight students from the University of Minnesota training to be doctors, nurses and counselors raced around the classroom, donning aprons instead of lab coats. Their assignment: Prepare a delicious, healthful meal to treat patients' specific health problems.

"Smells like a steak," Theodore Wang said, as he sprinkled a pinch of salt over shiitake mushrooms simmering in olive oil.

It was his last class in the six-week course, Food Matters for Health Professionals, which pairs the art of cooking with the science of using food as medicine.

Taught by a doctor and a chef, the novel course, offered through the university's Center for Spirituality and Healing, reflects a growing awareness of the link between food and health.

Instructors Dr. Kate Shafto and Jenny Breen developed the class to teach aspiring health professionals how to care for both their patients and themselves through nutritious meals and mindful eating habits.


For too long, Shafto and Breen say, information about how to cook and eat healthful foods has been the missing ingredient in health care education. They're in the vanguard of a culinary medicine revolution. Nationwide, at least 10 medical schools teach culinary medicine, according to the medical journal Population Health Management.

"There is a growing movement across the United States to incorporate cooking and food into health care," said Shafto, an assistant professor at the U's Medical School. "Food is one of the most important things, because it's something we engage in every day of our lives."

The chef and the doctor joined forces after discovering they shared a passion for food and its power to heal.

Breen, who has a master's degree in public health, had connections to the Good Acre, an agricultural hub in Falcon Heights that provides space and support to local farmers. The class for health professional students takes place in the Good Acre's teaching kitchen and uses fresh produce grown by the local farmers.


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