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Cooking with Dakota

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It's hard to keep patient Dakota away from the kitchen, and thanks to the Nutriolicious cooking classes at St. Jude, he doesn't have to be away for long.

St. Jude patient Dakota loves to cook. He learned his way around a stove at his grandmother’s elbow, but now, at 12 years old, “he pretty much takes over the kitchen,” said his mom, Tricia.

St. Jude patient dakota smiling

Since he discovered the Nutriolicious cooking classes at St. Jude, Dakota has upped his culinary chops and seen his passion for cooking kicked up a notch.

Combining the nutritious and the delicious, the Nutriolicious program gives St. Jude kids and families tools for healthy eating, along with a heaping helping of fun.


Families, like Dakota's, will never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food.

St. Jude patient  melanie

Classes are open to all patients with an interest, but clinicians may specifically enroll patients who are at risk for obesity as a result of their disease or its treatment.

  1. St. Jude patient dakota at a cooking class in 2018

    St. Jude patient Dakota at a cooking class in 2018.

    For example, kids with Dakota’s disease, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of blood cancer, are at high risk for weight gain due to the steroids required in their treatment.

    But healthy eating can act as both prevention and treatment when it comes to weight.

    The best way to eat right is to learn to cook.

    St. Jude patient dakota at a cooking class in 2018

    As a regular at Nutriolicious, Dakota has learned to whip up irresistible vegetarian options, like homemade guacamole and vegetable quesadillas.

    Other recipes learned in class, like fish tacos and healthy blueberry muffins, he has brought home to the family kitchen, which doubles as a test lab for his own creations, too.

    St. Jude patient dakota with his sister, Breken, at a cooking class in 2018

    St. Jude patient Dakota with his sister, Breken, at a cooking class in 2018.

    His mom, dad and sister, Breken, serve as his volunteer tasters.

    Breken gets to take part in Nutriolicious classes too, and this is a real benefit, because at 7 years old, she has no choice but to come along to St. Jude on long summer days packed with appointments.

    Activities like the cooking classes keep her, and other patient siblings, feeling entertained and included.

    Dakota with Stephanie Dixon, MD

    Dakota with Stephanie Dixon, MD, in 2018.

    It’s just an overall morale booster. Dakota does a lot of fun stuff and makes friends in the middle of all the yuck of cancer treatment.

    Tricia, Dakota's mom

    One of the program’s guest chefs is teen Logan Guleff, who has won many culinary contests, including the nationally televised MasterChef Junior.

    “This class takes them away from whatever problems they’re having, and it takes them into the kitchen," said Logan. "It gives them a lot of control over their environment, a thing that they don’t really have a lot of.”

    Honorary pin flag caddie St. Jude patient Dakota celebrates a putt on the 18th green at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational on Sunday, July 28, 2019.

    Dakota served as an honorary pin flag caddy at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational in 2019.

Nutriolicious Muffin Recipe

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (mix 50/50 whole wheat and white or use whole wheat pastry flour, for fiber)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce (takes place of oil)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/3 cup milk or non-dairy alternative


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). 
  2. Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.
  3. Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking powder
  4. Place apple sauce into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup. Mix this with flour mixture. 
  5. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture.
  6. Cook @ 400 degrees, bake for 20-25 minutes

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St. Jude patient melanie with her mom

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