Weisman, who teaches a class called "health meets food," gave 60 first-year medical students a fully hands-on experience in culinary medicine.
“What’s cool with doing it virtually is the students are more involved,” Weisman said. “They’re in their own kitchens, they’re buying their own food, rather than just standing around watching somebody else do it.”
In past years, Weisman taught the culinary side of medicine by taking students to Wynn Las Vegas for a seminar. The hotel’s chefs shared their insights about developing nutrient-rich menus and provided a tasting for students before they learned about the hotel’s employee dining room and a system they created to inform workers which foods are best for health.
The pandemic forced the school to sideline the field trip, but not the drive to make culinary medicine a core element of UNLV’s medical education.
In stepped Dr. Marc J. Kahn, the dean who came to UNLV from Tulane University. He connected Weisman with Dr. Timothy Harlan, a former colleague who had originated the health meets food curriculum at Tulane. His course was designed for small groups of about six students in a professional-grade kitchen.
Weisman, Harlan, and Kahn spent three months planning a course that could be delivered to all first- and second-year medical students at UNLV.
“Our program ended up shifting the bar a little bit because all 60 of our students are doing it,” she said, which means all of UNLV’s medical school graduates will have experience with culinary medicine and nutritional concepts.
During the 3.5-hour weekly class, students log onto Zoom from their kitchens to make a meal together. The class is presented with a specific medical case to address and then students break into small groups to create a dish that addresses the medical condition of their patient.
While they’re cooking, a faculty member facilitates the discussion on the importance of the ingredients, how they would counsel the patient, and how to apply different nutrition techniques to the case. The groups then come back together, present their plates, discuss the process of making it, how it tastes, and how it benefits the patient.
Some of the recipes they’ve created have included spicy braised chicken thighs with black-eyed peas, fish tacos, veggie burgers, and pancakes topped with fresh blueberry compote.
“As much as I’m teaching it, I’m learning so much too,” Weisman said. “My family cooks at home a lot more now because of the pandemic, but also because of this class. I’m curious to find out if the students doing this in their own homes impacts their decision to cook more for themselves or helps with their awareness of what they’re eating.”
As people are increasingly aware of and focused on diet and nutrition, it helps underscore what a foundational element food is to overall health.
“I think we get excited as a species with surgeries and pills. We forgot that most of our health boils down to what we’re putting in our bodies and things like drinking enough water, movement, sleep, relationships.Nothing has changed there,” Weisman said. “It’s still the same stuff that it has been for thousands of years.”
Now she hopes to expand healthy eating concepts into the school’s residency program, across UNLV, and eventually out into the community.
“Food is something that each of us consumes every day, and if we could work together to improve nutrition, access, and even literacy in the kitchen, we could significantly improve our health outcomes.”