POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. – Eating healthy foods is a proven way to improve and maintain one’s overall health, and the Healthy Teaching Kitchen at the John J. Pershing VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff aims to do just that.
“We started in April,” says Clinical Nutrition Manager BriAnne Riggins of the program, which has a stated goal to “improve health by teaching Veterans and their families how to make healthy food choices and by showing them how to prepare the foods.”
The Healthy Teaching Kitchen is funded through a grant from VA’s Women’s Health Program, with additional funding for food purchases supplied by the facility’s Center for Development and Civic Engagement.
Twice monthly, nutrition staff conduct a live, online video cooking demonstration. At 1:00 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, an event is hosted for both male and female Veterans, while at 1:00 p.m. on the third Thursday each month, a demonstration is available to female Veterans only. Presentations also can be scheduled for departments within the medical center.
Cooking demonstrations tend to focus on specific health issues, such as diabetes, where food that can help manage blood sugar is prepared.
“We typically cover a brief education topic, then we prepare a recipe that falls in line with that theme,” says Riggins, adding “We help them manage chronic conditions with a food-based approach, and we teach people how lifestyle changes can help them manage diabetes and other conditions.
“The fact we’ve seen it come to fruition and we can show these veterans how to cook in their homes and change their lifestyles is pretty significant.”
Many of the dishes are not widely known locally, and that is part of the allure.
“We get to prepare dishes most people haven’t heard of, such as tabbouleh,” says instructor Ashley Aubuchon.
“It’s a great avenue to introduce new foods,” adds Riggins.
The video format of the sessions also is a positive.
“For me, it’s easy to sit in my office and counsel people on what they should do, but seeing it is so much better,” Riggins says.
“We’re taking nutrition knowledge and making it a real-world application,” adds Aubuchon.
Upcoming Healthy Teaching Kitchen events include cancer prevention in September, with tabbouleh and a strawberry banana oatmeal smoothie on the menu, an Osteoporosis session in October featuring pumpkin cheesecake dip and broccoli cheese soup, and a class on “Secrets to Feeding Your Family” in December, with vegetable naan pizza and silken chocolate mousse planned.
Any Veteran patient who wants to attend one of the online sessions, Aubuchon says, is asked to reach out to their medical team to have a link emailed or texted to them. They also can reach out to Riggins at 573-778-4647 or Aubuchon at 573-778-4386 for the meeting link.
As the Healthy Teaching Kitchen program grows locally, Aubuchon says, she hopes to be able to offer face-to-face events “for the hands-on experience.”
The pair also hopes to tie the program into the facility’s current food pantry program. “That’s a big hope,” Aubuchon says.
Anyone wishing to donate for the purchase of food products used in the program is encouraged to reach out to the facility’s Center for Development and Civic Engagement at 573-778-4275.