How a hospital plans to use culinary classes for patient outreach

Boston Children’s Hospital saw its cafeteria overhaul as an opportunity to impress parents and patients with the caliber of its culinary talent.

When guests at Boston Children’s Hospital stop at the cafeteria that opens June 30, they’ll be able to grab some cooking knowhow along with their Starbucks latte. The renovated facility includes a Chef’s Playground station where the hospital’s chefs will conduct cooking sessions for guests and host programs for patients during nonpeak service hours. The initiative is intended not only to teach guests about cooking techniques but also create a reprieve from spending long hours in a hospital.

“Its really an [opportunity] for our chefs to engage the patients and allow them to feel like their out of the hospital for the moment and have fun around food,” says Shawn Goldrick, senior director for Patient Support Services.

When designing the new cafeteria, Goldrick saw an opportunity to create a unique space that supports the hospital’s existing cooking programs while adding new options that foster healthy cooking habits among parents and healthcare foodservice internships for culinary students. “Now, we’re going to have a better venue with more options and more ability to educate and cook,” he says. Below, he outlines some of the ways that they’ve taken their culinary programs to the next level.

1. Providing a proper venue for culinary classes

Cooking With Kids is held in a makeshift kitchen in a playroom, requiring the foodservice staff to transport a cartful of supplies from the kitchen. The range of foods that could be used was limited because of the lack of refrigeration. Additionally, staff has to schedule the program around other events, such as story time or bingo.

In the new space, six to eight children can come to the Chef’s Playground station to interact while a chef prepares customized quesadillas or fruit kebabs for them. “It’s really an ability for our chefs to engage the patients and allow them to feel like they’re out of the hospital for the moment and have fun around food,” Goldrick says.

2. Including options for parents

Goldrick’s staff is also expanding the scope of its culinary education to parents. In the new station, chefs will host educational cooking demonstrations so parents can glean healthier cooking techniques. Between lunch and dinner services, chefs will be conducting sessions tailored to specific illnesses such as diabetes or celiac disease. The space is also outfitted with microphones and video screens so that guests can view a live cooking demonstration from throughout the cafeteria. Goldrick says cooking demonstrations will also be broadcasted so families can watch from patient’s rooms, as well.

The Chef’s Playground station will also become the new locale for the hospital’s already existing Parent’s Night Out program, designed to give parents a temporary reprieve. Once a month, Boston Children’s Hospital would convert a conference room into a fine dining setting and host a multi-course meal so that parents could have a respite without leaving the hospital. In the new space, up to eight couples will be able to gather around the action station and converse with the chef as he prepares a five-course meal for them.

3. Creating training sessions for culinary students

Boston Children’s is also opening up the renovated space for culinary students who want to gain experience in healthcare foodservice. Through a partnership with local culinary schools, students will be able to partake in an internship at Boston Children’s Hospital that will include training sessions to prepare them to take on roles in healthcare foodservice. “We feel that we’ll have the venue and the ability to help these culinary schools better advance their curriculum to bring more talent into the healthcare field,” Goldrick says.

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