You are what you eat: The CHEF course at Baylor College of Medicine

Imagine, for a moment, being an incredibly busy medical student, trying to balance studies, patients and personal lives. It can be a challenge to find time and energy to accomplish everything, and much easier to reach for less-than-healthy fast foods, frozen foods, energy drinks or other convenience items.

Students learn how to treat others from illness and teach them about wellness but often don’t spend enough time taking care of themselves by eating healthy and exercising.

Three years ago, the CHEF (Choosing Healthy, Eating Fresh) elective course was born at Baylor College of Medicine as a step toward solving this problem. Medical students Jasdeep Mangat and Amy Cobb collaborated to establish an organization to promote healthy eating. They targeted second-year medical students, as they are about to enter clinical training and work with patients.

CHEF experience

The CHEF course takes place over five classes, and each features a different theme, such as diabetes, heart health, obesity, cultural competency, or personal health/budgeting. At the beginning of every class, a faculty member is invited to lecture in a more informal manner on the topic at hand.

Then, a chef takes over and teaches the students three recipes, which correlate with the theme.

“The classes don’t emphasize the scientific part of nutrition like the breakdown of chemicals in food,” says CHEF officer Lauren Anderson, MS4, “Instead, it focuses on practical information that we need to know, and we come away with recipes that we can make again at home.”

Recipe for success

The recipes are intended to be simple enough that students will want to replicate them on their own time, but are special enough that it keeps the “magic” of being in a cooking class, says Jasdeep Mangat, MS4.

One recent class taught students the recipes for chimichurri mushroom and bean tacos, pumpkin “hummus,” and butternut squash orzo risotto. Student officer Emily Rutledge, MS3, says that this elective has become a “student favorite” and it’s easy to see why.

The students invite a variety of chefs from the Houston community who all have different focuses and format each class differently, so it’s never the same each time. Classes are held in the student lounge with a set of kitchen supplies, including butane burners, pots and pans.

Bringing healthy eating to the community

Their course has expanded to the CHEF organization, which hosts community outreach projects such as cooking classes in coordination with the Texas Children’s Hospital bariatric surgery program for the patients and their families. Recently, they’ve set up a farmer’s market co-op system to provide students with easier access to fresh, local produce, and are working on expanding this program.

“The main idea of the course is to provide a practical knowledge of healthful eating so students can provide better care for themselves and their patients,” says Mangat. “The real push needs to be a change in the way we think about food and how nutrition is taught in the medical curriculum, which lays the foundation for our careers. As physicians we need to model ourselves to patients and walk the talk.”

-By Jordan Magaziner

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