The School of Medicine is partnering with the Yale Sustainable Food Program to teach medical residents how to cook healthy and affordable food.
The program, called the Community Engagement Curriculum, was launched by the medical school in July 2014 to help residents educate their patients about healthy lifestyle skills. This year, with the new partnership, residents will step out of the classroom and onto the farm. The practical immersion aspect of the curriculum will give residents hands-on experience harvesting and cooking produce, said Sanjeet Baidwan, chief resident of the Primary Care Internal Medicine Residency. Before, the curriculum had no practical element, she said.
“Instead of the doctors saying, ‘Hi, eat healthier, go,’ we want to make sure we are giving doctors specific information that can be more user friendly for patients,” said Julie Rosenbaum, professor of medicine and co-director of the Community Engagement Curriculum.
The workshops involve a half-day visit to the West Campus Urban Farm, where residents pick fresh vegetables and prepare a meal from scratch using Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap recipe book, a free recipe book that only includes meals that would cost less than $4 — the daily allowance that people on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, can use to buy food. The residents are taught the differences between canned and fresh food and how to prepare meals efficiently.
The program was inspired by Baidwan’s interest in the social determinants of health. Not all aspects of what makes people healthy are related to what happens when they see a physician, said Baidwan.
Elements such as diet, exercise, stress and socio-economic class also have an impact, she said. Baidwan said that having residents experience the process of cooking fresh food will make it easier for them to communicate to their patients exactly how to incorporate healthy foods into their diets.
Rosenbaum said that switching from canned food to freshly grown food is possible for even for New Haven’s poorest residents who have access to farms like the New Haven Farm and the West River Community Garden.
Justin Freiberg, West Campus Urban Farm and Sustainability Manager, said New Haven residents can also look to organizations like local farmers’ markets and the community gardens run by the New Haven Land Trust. Many of these places accept WIC — the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — and SNAP, he added.
During the program’s first farm visit on Aug. 7, the 25 residents in attendance were given an in-depth introduction to nutrition guidelines. They then picked the ingredients to make a pizza, which they ate with kale salad. Baidwan acknowledged that time is a barrier for lower-income people who are trying to eat well because they are often working multiple jobs. She said the pizza recipe took roughly 30 minutes to prepare from scratch.
Baidwan said residents now know to advise their patients to designate a couple days a week to cook and prepare dishes in batches to be eaten throughout the week.
“We often fall into giving lifestyle and diet recommendations without having the tools to provide specific programming, rules and interventions for our patients,” Baidwan said.
Paul Adamson, a first-year resident in the Primary Care Program, said that though he has not yet visited the farm, the practical workshop was one of the main reasons he enrolled in the residency program.
A second group of residents will visit the farm on Oct. 23.