Second-year medical students at Baylor College of Medicine are taking a break from their white coats to don aprons as a part of a new cooking elective.

Inspired by a national news story on the importance of medical students and physicians knowing how to make healthy eating choices and passing this knowledge on to their patients, BCM medical students Jasdeep Mangat and Amy Cobb established the CHEF (Choosing Healthy, Eating Fresh) organization.

Promoting healthy eating, living

The first goal of the organization was to promote healthy eating and living among second-year medical students.

"Because second-year medical students at BCM are about to enter their clinical training, it's important for them to know about self care. This will also help them when they are counseling patients," said Mangat.

Mangat's regular trips to the Urban Harvest Farmers Market in the Houston area led to his introduction to the executive chef of Ruggles Green, German Mosquera, who does cooking demonstrations at the market. Mosquera agreed to teach a cooking class once a month at BCM for students.

Grant supports class

With a grant through the local chapter of the American Medical Association, they are able to purchase the supplies and groceries needed for the class. Each month, the student lounge at BCM is transformed into a kitchen with tables full of vegetables, spices, pots, pans and even portable gas stoves.

Each class begins with a lesson from a BCM faculty member, with topics ranging from cardiovascular disease to diabetes.

Mosquera tries to use as many organic, plant based ingredients as possible and teaches students recipes specific to the topic the faculty member addresses on that day.

"This is a very unique opportunity for me," said Mosquera. "There is a true nutrition aspect behind each recipe and everyone can get what they want out of the class."

Set an example

Dr. Mary Brandt, associate dean of student affairs, said learning to cook is important for students – for more than one reason.

"It's an important skill to have during the stressful time of residency and beyond. In addition, it makes it much easier to counsel patients on nutrition and healthy eating. If you don't eat well yourself, it's hard to convince a patient to do otherwise," Brandt said.

The next goal for the organization is to establish farmers markets at Harris County Hospital District clinics around the city to provide patients access to fresh, healthy foods.

"In the Houston area, we have something called food deserts, where there is no access to grocery stores for people to get fresh foods, so we want to bring the food to our patients where they can easily access it," said Mangat. "We also hope that health care professionals in the clinics can set an example by purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables from the markets as well."