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OVAHCS’ Culinary Magic: Inside the Healthy Teaching Kitchen

Courtney Magierski, MHA, MS, RD, CDCES, Dietitian, Orlando VA Healthcare System provides a Healthy Teaching Kitchen (HTK) demo.
Courtney Magierski, MHA, MS, RD, CDCES, Dietician, Orlando VA Healthcare System provides a Healthy Teaching Kitchen (HTK) demo for Veterans in the lobby of the Orlando VA Medical Center.

“I have a deep sense of gratitude and respect for what Veterans have done for me. I am thankful that I can help them in ways to improve their health and quality of life,” said Courtney Magierski, MHA, MS, RD, CDCES, Dietitian Orlando VA Healthcare System (OVAHCS).

The Dietitian explains that, “Our diet is a central part of our health, and the VHA has more than 40 dietitians in the Orlando area. They serve Veteran patients in a variety of settings, including inpatient, outpatient, home-based primary care, and specialty clinics.”

Magierski is involved with the Healthy Teaching Kitchen (HTK). “HTK is a program that provides Veteran patients with, not only nutrition knowledge, but the guidance and skills to learn how to cook. This is important because making healthy food choices is one of the most important things one can do for their health.” 

The Associate Chief of Nutrition and Food Service at the OVAHCS, Emily Leonard, MS, RD, LDN, explains why HTK exists. “National NFS VA Directive 1438, released in 2019, requires all (VHA) facilities to have a Healthy Teaching Kitchen. This program helps support Veteran patients’ food insecurity and provides an interactive behavior-change program to teach Veterans and their families about healthy cooking and eating skills.”

According to Leonard, the directive is based in common sense. “Good nutrition serves as the building block for fueling your body to work effectively. By improving what you eat, you can improve your overall health. Each decade brings with it specific health concerns and nutrition needs will change.”

HTK Classes are open to VA-enrolled Veterans and a partner if they choose, if desired, the Veteran can bring a family member, caretaker, or anyone involved in helping purchase and prepare food. 

Magierski explains that one of the biggest barriers that people may encounter with eating healthy, is just knowing what is healthy and why nutrition cooking classes are so important.

She continues, “cooking programs are showing lasting effects in patients’ health, in some cases, within just one year of attending classes. Eating at home is typically healthier and lower in calories. The evidence shows that teaching patients how to cook meals at home is an effective medical intervention. It improves diet quality, weight loss, and can prevent diabetes.”

Leonard insists that shopping, food preparation, and cooking can be intimidating for some. 

“If you are new to it. I recommend people start with small steps and remember to be patient with yourself,” said Leonard. “Planning may help relieve mealtime stress and avoid poor choices. What you eat, how you treat your body and how you talk to yourself, reflects the respect you have for yourself.”

Magierski asserts that it is never too late for people to start learning how to cook for themselves. 

“Anytime is the right time to learn to cook! Preparing our own meals not only saves money but it gives us control over how healthy the food we are eating is,” said Magierski. 

Loving her job, Magierski says that showing Veterans that healthy food can also taste good is the fun part of being a dietician. 

“I recently had a Veteran tell me that he didn’t think he liked kale, but he liked it in the white bean and kale soup I had made during a Healthy Teaching Kitchen demo. That made my day, knowing I helped him make a positive health change – it brings me joy and purpose,” said Magierski. 

For HTK content, check out our YouTube link at: Healthy Teaching Kitchen YouTube Channel. To sign-up for classes call: 407.256.8760.

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