UCLA Teaching Kitchen Class

More than Cooking: UCLA Teaching Kitchen Offers Students the Chance to Learn, Connect, and Get Comfortable with Food

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”Anne Isabella Ritchie

These words perfectly encapsulate the UCLA Teaching Kitchen. Having recently completed the second iteration of a new pilot program with a group of health professional graduate students from Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health, the UCLA Teaching Kitchen has now taught nearly 50 students “how to fish.”

UCLA Teaching Kitchen Program for Health Professional Students

Launched in Spring 2017, with support from the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative and David Geffen School of Medicine, the UCLA Teaching Kitchen is part of the national Teaching Kitchen Collaborative, which promotes teaching kitchens as “catalysts of enhanced personal and public health across medical, corporate, school, and community settings.”  

At UCLA, the program was developed for our unique mix of health professional students. Modeled after classes developed by dietitian Dolores Hernandez of UCLA Dining, two UCLA dietitians, Janet Leader of the Fielding School of Public Health, and Kaitlin Reid of UCLA Student Health Education & Promotion, adapted and further developed the original curriculum with help from medical student Stephanie Gall. This collaboration resulted in a three-class series: Egg-cellent breakfast, Healthy Lunches on the Go, and Freshly Bowled —which aim to help students gain knowledge and skills in the following areas: cooking on a budget; creating quick, easy, and healthy meals/snacks; stocking a kitchen; preventing chronic disease and promoting healthy lifestyles/weight maintenance; kitchen and food safety; and knife skills.

The hands-on, experiential classes are held at Sur La Table in Westwood and led by a chef, alongside dietitians Leader and Reid. Under their guidance, students work in interdisciplinary groups to create recipes from scratch—chopping, stirring, tasting, salting, and building as they go. Between recipes and while enjoying their creations, students learn from Leader and Reid about the nutrient composition of various foods, healthy fats, building healthy meals, reducing sodium, eating mindfully, creating a healthier relationship with food, reading nutrition labels, benefits of fiber, and more.

Program Impact

With support from EatWell’s Hannah Malan and Miranda Westfall, both doctoral students in the Fielding School of Public Health, the program is undergoing an IRB-approved evaluation to assess its effectiveness in achieving desired changes in participants’ knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. So far, preliminary findings show positive results, with students reporting improved nutrition knowledge and confidence in knife skills, incorporating fruits and vegetables into meals, preparing meals on a budget, and advising clients about food and cooking. In addition, students report enjoying the social connectedness that comes from cooking together.

Food is communal and cooking can be therapeutic. During classes, students connect to peers, laugh, eat, and learn together. It’s a chance for them to escape the academic rigor of their respective graduate programs. Research done right here on campus suggests cooking classes are a possible solution to address the stress and challenges around food that many students experience. This kind of practical training offers an opportunity for students to develop skills they can use in both their personal and professional lives. In fact, between classes many students report they tried to make at least one of the class recipes at home and some students already used what they learned to educate patients in community settings.  

Cooking Classes Growing on Campus

Cooking classes and demonstrations on campus, while few in numbers, are not new. Just last January, UCLA Dining offered weekend cooking classes in one of the dining hall kitchens and had over 600 students sign up. The UCLA Teaching Kitchen has seen similar numbers, with over 400 health professional graduate students signing up to take part in the pilot program. And while the program can’t support that amount of interest yet, the program leaders have every intention to one day support that number.  

UCLA faculty and staff from all over campus have also come out to observe class. The dean from each health professional school, in addition to David Baron, the Senior Executive Director of the Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center, and Wendy Slusser, the Associate Vice Provost of the Healthy Campus Initiative, along with physicians from the UCLA Department of Integrative Medicine have been among the guests.

Following the completion of this successful pilot program, the UCLA Teaching Kitchen leadership is exploring ways to expand the program to serve students throughout the campus community. We have applied for additional funding to give more students the opportunity to take a basic nutrition and cooking classes during their time at UCLA and hope to eventually reach all who are interested. One day, you may be among those who learned “how to fish.” In the meantime, if you’re interested in having a go in the kitchen yourself, try this simple recipe from class or take a look at this website to explore numerous ways to become more comfortable with food preparation.  

Breakfast Burrito

Serves 4

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ small red onion, cut into a ¼ inch dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into a ¼ inch dice
  • 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and strained
  • ¼ cup salsa
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 (10-inch) whole wheat flour tortillas
  • 1 cup shredded Jack cheese

Place the eggs and milk in a medium bowl and whisk until completely combined. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and sauté onions and bell peppers until soft, then add the beans and eggs. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently with a silicone spatula. Place the tortillas in the microwave and cook on high for 10-20 seconds or warm in a separate sauté pan.

Place a tortilla in the center of each plate and spoon the eggs down the middle of each tortilla. Sprinkle the cheese over the eggs and fold the sides of the tortillas over the eggs to close. Turn the burritos seam side down and add your favorite toppings.  

By: Kaitlin Reid, MPH, RDN, CHES; Nutrition Health Educator, UCLA Student Health Education & Promotion


How To (Not) Stress Eat During Exam Season

Whether it’s midterms or finals, exam season can be overwhelming. During these times, it can be difficult to keep up with a healthy eating schedule, especially with nutritious foods that will keep your brain and body energized and prepared for your exams. Stress can cause some students to eat excessively and others to not eat enough. Fortunately, there are some ways you can help ensure you’re eating a healthy amount.

This article provides helpful tips to make sure you get the nutrients you need during finals week, whether you’re snacking through a night-time study session or rolling out of bed early for an 8 a.m. test.

1. Eat on a schedule

Yes, between attending review sessions and office hours and hiding away in Powell it can get a little difficult to eat regular meals every day. However, sitting down to some yummy food is a great way to not only recharge your body, but give your mind a nice break from studying as well.

If you’re someone who eats a lot during stressful times, eating regular meals will help your body get the proper nutrients it needs so you will naturally get full and stay full. This can help to prevent overeating later.

If you’re someone who eats less during stressful times, eating regular meals will help your body recognize when you need to eat, even if your body isn’t sending you its regular cues.

These meals should consist of a whole plate, with various types of nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and vitamins) to ensure that your body has everything it needs to carry you through your long study sessions.

2. Pack healthy snacks

When sitting in Powell, YRL, or wherever you like to study, it’s important to have good food on hand. Your brain is doing a lot of work, so your body may get more drained than usual, and require more sustenance than just your regular daily meals.

Fortunately, healthy snacks don’t have to be bland, there’s a variety of snacks full of flavor to keep your taste buds and intellect alive. Here are a few healthy snacks you can try:

  • A handful of nuts and blueberries: Nuts offer a variety of health benefits, whether you’re into almonds, cashews, or walnuts. Blueberries help to provide your body with fiber, natural sugars, and antioxidants that can help to keep you focused and are even said to improve memory).
  • Dark chocolate and peanut butter: Dark chocolate is not only delicious, but studies show it can help memory and thinking skills. Peanut butter offers protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. Plus, it may satisfy that crunchy, salty craving that might usually drive you to potato chips.
  • Carrots and hummus: The beta-carotene in carrots can not only improve memory, but will keep your vision sharp as well. Pair that with hummus full of nutrients to keep your energy up, and you’ll be ready to take on your exams.

3. Hydrate

Hydration is one of the most important aspects to keep your brain alert, your body energized and your appetite under control. Caffeine-fueled late night study sessions can cause your body to become more dehydrated than usual, so it’s especially important during these times to make sure you’re drinking enough water.

Drinks such as coffee and tea are shown to not cause dehydration when consumed in healthy amounts. However, energy drinks can not only cause issues with dehydration, but also make it difficult to focus.

Dehydration can often be mistaken by your body as hunger. This can cause your body to crave food even when it’s not hungry. Making sure to stay hydrated is another great way to keep your body’s cravings in check.

Make sure to keep your body and brain energized with healthy and nutritional foods during exam season so you can bring your A-game!

Aurora Finley is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in English. Along with blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she is the Sexperts Executive Director for the 2017-18 academic year. She is also a regular volunteer for UCLA’s Habitat for Humanity chapter and blogs for the online UCLA Odyssey community.