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Food is Medicine: Cooking for Health at Providence Mission Hospital

Community is an important word at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California. For caregivers, it’s about more than geography. It’s a feeling. A bond. A responsibility that extends beyond the building’s four walls. That’s why our chefs and dietitians are sharing how food is medicine at Providence Mission Hospital.

When COVID-19 initially shut down many outpatient hospital operations in early 2020, the food and nutrition services team didn’t just pack it up. Instead, they looked for opportunities to serve patients—in new ways.

The Leonard Cancer Institute opened in January of 2020. Then two months later, many of the community resources were shut down. In the case of the facility’s teaching kitchen, it was never used.

“When I came to this hospital, the demo kitchen was a huge selling point,” said Kailey Proctor MPH, RDN, CSO, Board Certified Oncology Dietitian. “It’s one thing to tell patients what to do. It’s another thing to see it. It’s so beneficial and takes out the guess work.”

Introducing the Teaching Kitchen

Being unable to use the teaching kitchen was a missed opportunity that the team couldn’t stomach. So instead of waiting, they created a video series to teach cancer patients key dietary lessons and tips to manage their health.

“They weren’t able to come to us, so we went to them,” said Julie Barrette, MS, RD, CNSC, Senior Clinical Dietitian, Nutrition Care Services. “From a big picture standpoint, this allows us to have the community outreach we want to have. It’s not just a cancer center. It’s also a community resource.”

Cancer patients have unique needs. It’s common for cancer patients to have side effects from treatment that lead to issues swallowing or changing taste buds. They also need a high protein diet while undergoing treatment.

Ensuring these needs are met, in a sustainable way, takes a partnership between dietitian and chef. Proctor joined forces with Jonathan Gelman, executive chef at Providence Mission, to create custom dishes that tantalize tastebuds and address the challenges of cancer treatments.

“I get the ideas from Kailey Proctor and put together something with fresh flavors and mainstream concepts,” said Chef Gelman. “She gives me an idea on what she’d like to see, and I put it in motion by creating a couple of dishes.”

From the plate to the screen, Proctor and Gelman create a dish, show viewers how to make it, and explain how it meets their dietary needs. Patients often watch these videos while they are undergoing chemotherapy or awaiting treatment.

“I often think nutrition for cancer patients can be overlooked,” said Proctor. “I’m just excited to reach as many people as possible. There is so much information out there from a nutrition standpoint. By bringing this information from a cancer center with a chef and dietitian, patients and families can have confidence in the information they are getting.”

For the first episode, Chef Gelman demonstrated how to make high protein smoothies. It’s a great recipe for cancer patients who may have trouble swallowing. While designed for cancer patients, these videos have a broader appeal and can serve as a valuable resource for family members.

The food and nutrition services team partners with marketing to distribute the videos, which are posted on the hospital website and social media channels.

Patients Shared Recipes with their Families

“I’ve received very good feedback from patients,” said Proctor. “They are sharing with their family members to try to eat healthier. They are often amazed at how easy it is to prepare.”

The nursing staff is another important audience. They have showcased the videos when talking with patients.

“We hope these videos can have a small part in supporting patients and the community. Ideally, we will have patients and community members in person. For now, we are closing the gap through video,” said Barrette.

And there will be more videos. Chef Gelman and Proctor are working to bring more recipes and more healthy eating tips straight to their patients and community.

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