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Culinary Medicine Program

Food is Prevention, Food is Medicine, Food is Community

Food plays a central role in shaping the health of individuals, families, and communities. Our everyday food choices are an essential component of self-care for the prevention and treatment of many chronic conditions as well as the promotion of our physical and mental wellbeing. Yet, few US medical students and providers are adequately trained on how food can be used as a prescription for their own self-care and the care for their patients. 

The Culinary Medicine Program was established in 2018 as a joint initiative between researchers at the OU-TU School of Community Medicine and the OU College of Public Health thanks to generous support from the Ardmore Institute of Health and the Tandy Family YMCA. The program’s mission is to improve the health of local communities through the power of food by teaching medical students, residents, physicians, and patients essential cooking skills for making healthy, affordable meals and the practice of mindful eating. 

Food is Medicine

The evidence is clear: the current American diet is high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat, and low in essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. This dietary pattern is a primary cause of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart disease, and stroke, and may also contribute to poor mental health.

The physiologic mechanisms leading to these outcomes are complex, and include an overload of our bodies’ ability to absorb and process excess calories, increased inflammation causing damage to vital organs, and nutritional deficiencies that make it hard for our bodies’ to regulate themselves and to fight infection.

The good news is that the solution is simple.  We can combat all of these problems, and live longer, healthier lives when we take the time to feed ourselves well. 

What is Culinary Medicine? 

At least 80% of all US healthcare costs are rooted in lifestyle and modifiable social risk factors, including poor nutrition, physical inactivity, tobacco and alcohol use, chronic stress, insufficient sleep, and social isolation. As a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle, the OU Culinary Medicine Program focuses on the health benefits of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, and other plant-based whole foods as the foundation for a healthy diet.

This type of eating pattern is consistently associated with overall longevity and recommended for the  prevention and management of many chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Despite the evidence, many people do not achieve these healthy eating goals. The OU Culinary Medicine research team studies sustainable solutions for promoting healthy food access to those communities that need it the most, while simultaneously teaching people the skills, joys, and rewards of whole foods cooking.

Watch Our Shape Your Future Healthy Kitchen Series with KJRH

Food plays a major role in shaping the health of individuals, families and communities. Shape Your Future, the OU Culinary Medicine Program and KJRH-TV (Channel 2, Tulsa) are joining forces to bring easy, healthy recipes to life for Oklahoma families. The Shape Your Future Healthy Kitchen strives to teach Oklahomans how to eat better, get creative in the kitchen and fill half their plate with fruits and veggies. Join in as Chef Valarie Carter prepares healthy recipes every Sunday during the 8 a.m. news hour and again on Monday at noon.

Cooking Cures in Your Kitchen Cook Book

Cooking Cures in your Kitchen is a must-have resource for anyone who wants to learn more about preparing fresh vegetables more confidently and deliciously. Our book makes a great gift for anyone embarking on their personal journey towards improved wellness. To purchase a book, visit here.

Learn More About Our Cook Book

Community Classes 

Classes are available at no charge to OU-TU School of Community Medicine students and residents, physician assistant (PA) students, and OU-Tulsa campus staff.  Community classes are also regularly available to Tandy Family YMCA members.  

The Culinary Medicine Program is expanding to better meet the needs of the Tulsa community.  Please complete this web form if you are a medical provider or employer who is interested in Culinary Medicine classes for your patient population or employee wellness program, if you are an individual who is interested in receiving updates on future classes, or if you are interested in sponsorship opportunities for this initiative.

Culinary Medicine Recipe Guidelines

  • Unprocessed/Minimally-Processed Foods: All culinary medicine recipes use unprocessed (beans and lentils, vegetables, intact whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices) or minimally-processed foods (e.g., mustard, sparing use of canola or olive oil). 
  • Low-Cost, Easily Accessible Ingredients: Our recipes feature ingredients that are obtained easily at standard discount grocery stores (e.g., Wal-Mart) and avoid use of specialty ingredients that may not be accessible to low-income consumers.  
  • Nutrition-Dense: Our recipes are well below daily limits for saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium (as established by leading medical groups and the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans) and are excellent sources of dietary fiber, which is an important determinant of overall calorie control and healthy weight. 
  • Expert-Developed and Well-Tested: Each recipe is co-developed by a chef credentialed in public health and an advanced-practice registered dietitian to ensure optimal taste and nutrition. All recipes have been pre-tested extensively through our culinary medicine community and healthcare student classes.
  • Technique- and Method-Driven: Research shows that cooking at home is associated with better health outcomes. Our recipes demonstrate one or more basic cooking techniques and methods that can be applied to preparing healthy meals.  Through a series of culinary medicine class sessions that include demonstration and hands-on learning, participants acquire knowledge to apply fundamental cooking skills and methods for preparing unprocessed foods without reliance on recipes. 

Community Collaborations

The OU Culinary Medicine Program regularly collaborates with community nonprofits and healthcare providers to improve client and patient access to good nutrition for healthy living.  Much of our work with community partners is funded through grants and private donations.  Support for current and past projects has been graciously provided by the Ardmore Institute of Health, the Hille Foundation, the Oxley Foundation, and the Tandy Family YMCA.

Donate Now to Support Staffing & Food Costs

Contact Us

If you are interested in receiving more information about our culinary medicine program, reserach, learning opportunities or supporting our community classes, please email us at

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