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A Visit to Dr. Yum Means a Checkup and a Cooking Class

  • Faiza Elmasry

Imagine going to the doctor and getting a cooking lesson! That's what happens at a doctor's practice near Washington D.C. Dr. Yum Pediatrics is half doctor’s office, with waiting area and exam rooms, half kitchen. Food is an important part of her approach to treatment.

In the exam rooms, she explains to her patients and their parents the crucial importance of eating nutritious meals. In the kitchen, she shows them how to prepare those meals.

Dr. Fernando’s goal is to help children establish good eating habits and inspire families to prepare nutritious meals with the ingredients they have in hand.

Food for good health

Fernando has seen first-hand the connection between what kids eat and their well-being.

Pediatrician Nimali Fernando, "Dr. Yum," leads a cooking class for new parents at her practice near Washington, DC.
Pediatrician Nimali Fernando, "Dr. Yum," leads a cooking class for new parents at her practice near Washington, DC.

“In the first glance, you think of diet-related illnesses, mainly just pediatric obesity, and it’s true that 30 percent of kids in our community and nationwide are obese. And that’s a pretty staggering number," she says, adding, "but as I paid more attention to a lot of the symptomology that I was seeing in kids who even weren’t obese or overweight, I was seeing that those symptoms often traced back some way to the diet.”

To help change that, the pediatrician co-authored a book, Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook. She also started a blog and a website.

“I simply posted recipes on that website and when I would see patients in the office and felt like I didn’t have enough time to go over the nutrition topics with them I would point them to that website."

In 2012, she went a step further, co-founding the Dr. Yum Project. She developed a curriculum that preschool teachers can use to introduce nutrition lessons in their classrooms. Inside her practice, Fernando leads cooking classes.

Cooking with your doctor

Young patients, their parents and members of the community are invited to cook with Dr. Fernando and her team. They try different recipes and use different tools that make cooking an easy, fun everyday experience.

“Maybe it’s using our menu planners to see how they can make meal planning easy for them,” Fernando explains. “Maybe it’s using budget-friendly recipes to figure out how to eat really healthy on a budget. Maybe it’s our baby food options so that they can see how they can feed their babies the same food they’re eating.”

Staff members at Dr. Yum Pediatrics help out during the cooking classes.
Staff members at Dr. Yum Pediatrics help out during the cooking classes.

Yara Esquivel, a working mother of two, has been taking cooking classes with Dr. Yum for more than three years. “Even my husband and I are eating better because we’re making sure the kids are eating better," she says.

Almost all of the ingredients used in the cooking classes come from the clinic’s garden.

“As part of our classes, we really want to create a playful experience around feeding and eating," Fernando says. “We also want to create a rich sensory experience. So taking kids out to the garden where they can grow food, plant food and harvest it and bring it to the kitchen, then cook it with their own hands, it really inspires them and makes it easier for them to accept new foods because they’re invested in it.”

Delicious, Healthy Meals Made Easy

Dr. Yum co-founder, Heidi DiEugenio, says all the recipes are taste-tested and posted online. “Every single recipe is tasted by our families and we have the real feedback from some families, parents and kids about the food. We tagged all those recipes, making it very easy for them to find.”

The Dr. Yum Project mixes medicine and nutritious meals.
The Dr. Yum Project mixes medicine and nutritious meals.

The ultimate goal of this project is to change the culture around kids’ food.

“There is a lot going in the media, kinds of advertising and things going around that say kids food, like ‘lunchables,’ kids like processed food, kids wouldn’t eat fresh carrots, they would eat Doritos,” DiEugenio says. “You have to remember that these messages are out there because those companies are trying to make money. But it’s not necessarily the case. It’s a matter of being able to be patient with your kids, you have to learn how to try new foods all the time.”

The Dr. Yum team hopes to inspire pediatricians around the country to start cooking lessons to help families enjoy real, nutritious meals.

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