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Program: Culinary Class Serves up Medical Training


A program that capitalizes on the knowledge of medical students and the culinary skills of older adults is adding a valuable intergenerational component to how future physicians are trained.

In 2016, the faculty at Penn State College of Medicine (Hershey, PA., U.S.A.), introduced a culinary medicine course in their program. The pilot program trains future physicians in nutritional science. And through participation in hands-on cooking lessons, it provides direction on how to help patients of varying socioeconomic backgrounds make healthier choices.

Program organizers, Tomi Dreibelbis and Daniel George, profiled the pilot program in an article in the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships (Vol. 15, No.2, 2017).


So how does the program work?

The culinary medicine course involves four medical students and four adults from the community, who act as mentors. Classes take place in the kitchen of the local senior centre.

The course consists of eight sessions, extending over two weeks.

Each three-hour session is organized as follows:

Hour 1: Students examine the role of diet in chronic disease through case-based discussions.

Hour 2: Older adults and students prepare recipes related to the days' lesson. Whole-wheat spaghetti with vegetables and lentil sauce, for example. As well, they discuss meal planning, shopping and eating on a budget.

Hour 3: Students and their mentors taste-test the recipes and revisit nutritional concepts from the first hour. For example, they might discuss the advantages of adhering to a Mediterranean diet.

Twice during the course, an executive chef from a nearby hospital provides lessons on food preparation and knife skills.

At the end of the course, the students and their mentors provide written reflections on their experience.

Lessons learned

Participating medical students reported that they:

  • gained insight into how eating habits are established over a lifetime, and how they can be difficult to change
  • increased their awareness of nutritional challenges faced by lower-income people
  • improved their nutritional counseling skills, and
  • picked up cooking tips. As one future physician wrote, "[Older adults] had lots to offer as teachers."


  • increased their knowledge of nutrition. As one older adult wrote, "The course certainly inspired me to focus on nutrition and all the benefits of healthy eating. I will try to increase my fruit and vegetable intake, and it re-motivated me to be aware of my own calorie intake."
  • developed strong bonds with students. "Just cooking and preparing food together set the stage for creating a working friendship," one woman wrote. "And interacting with students made everything easy and fun."

Looking ahead

Medical students applauded the program, claiming it helped them integrate theory with everyday medical practice.

In future, they suggest students:

  • teach nutrition facts learned in the first hour of the course to their mentors
  • offer talks on nutrition to the community through the senior centre, and
  • that faculty help students unpack their preconceptions and concerns about working with older adults, prior to the program.

Dreibelbis and George underscore the benefit of similar-type programs for trainees in other health related fields, such as nursing, occupational therapy and social work. Studies have shown that working with older adults in nonclinical settings can improve trainees' attitudes toward this population.