Employing Food as Medicine
In recent years, pediatrician Julia Nordgren began to notice an alarming trend. More and more children were encountering health problems usually found in adults and the elderly. “I was part of a larger practice as a general pediatrician for eight years and I saw so many instances of weight problems and poor health in young kids,” says Dr. Nordgren. “I started focusing on kids with high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and weight issues. I found many families in need of basic culinary education with no idea where to start. Food is the foundation for good health. It’s so basic, but a lot of parents don’t have the skills to cook real food.”
Julia has always loved cooking and, despite her busy schedule, mindfully prepares healthy meals and snacks for her husband and two young boys. She firmly believes that what you eat is the key to overall health. “If the kids chose the menu, they would have candy for breakfast,” she says. “Fat, salt, and sweet are innate tastes for kids. You constantly have to introduce fresh produce, fruits, and whole grains to expand their palates.”
With that objective in mind, Julia traveled to The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in 2008 to attend the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives: Caring for Our Patients and Ourselves conference. The four-day program presented the latest findings in nutrition research and combined it with hands-on classes in selecting and preparing healthy foods. “I absolutely loved the program. It’s the only conference out there geared towards physicians and cooking,” she says. “I became even more convinced that as physicians we need to help bridge the gap between the science of health and the practical application of everyday culinary skills. We need to do a better job helping our patients make sustainable lifestyle changes.”
Her excitement didn’t end with the conference. “With encouragement from my colleagues, I began to look for a program where I could combine my medical training with culinary school,” she says. “I looked at every school up and down the east coast but didn’t find anything that compared to the CIA. I feel it is the place to get the absolute best culinary education. The CIA is involved in several great initiatives regarding healthy cooking and has a vested interest in playing a larger role in addressing the obesity crisis. It’s the only school sitting at the table of the larger movement in the restaurant industry to develop better foodservice for children.”
Julia’s decision to enroll in the ACAP was a difficult one that came with personal sacrifice—St. Helena is 3,000 miles away from her husband and children in Guilford, CT. However, “the Greystone campus was an amazing place to be, and the Napa Valley is the epicenter of food and wine. The other reason the program was well-suited for me was the time frame. It’s only eight months, and then I could get home to my family,” Julia explains. “Plus, the chefs were talented, experienced, and knowledgeable, and they were invested in our professional development. We learned solid skills and a conscious, objective understanding of the sources of ingredients and how we as chefs support the environment. There is a very strong sense of professionalism and commitment to excellence at the CIA. I feel the students were all motivated to learn and there was a great sense of support and camaraderie. Everyone was there for the love of food and wine, and the connections you made will stay with you long after you attained your certificate.”
Now that Julia has completed her classes and returned home to the east coast, her goal is to combine her medical knowledge and culinary skills by teaching and writing cookbooks. “I plan on teaching private cooking classes to families with children who have special health and dietary needs,” she says. “I’d also like to be a children’s menu design consultant to restaurants.”
With Dr. Nordgren on the case, a healthy future for hundreds of children will most certainly be on the menu.