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It’s Nutritious…
It's Delicious…
It’s Nutriolicious!

A fun, informative cooking class offers a delicious smorgasbord of benefits for patients and families.

By Elizabeth Jane Walker; Photos by Ann-Margaret Hedges

Marley Harris with cooking utensils

Twelve-year-old Marley Harris loves to paint and color and draw. So it’s no surprise the sixth-grader embraces the tactile pleasures of creating beautiful and delectable foods. Clad in a colorful apron, she brandishes a spatula during a recent cooking class at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

 “I absolutely love this class,” she tells her mom. “I love it, I love it, I love it!”

Led by dietitians in St. Jude Clinical Nutrition Services, the twice-weekly Nutriolicious class is designed to help improve the nutrition of patients and their parents while instilling knowledge about healthful food choices. Parents say the activity helps their children regain a sense of normalcy, hone valuable skills, meet new friends and have fun.

Participants have prepared dishes ranging from fish tacos and pancakes to vegetable quesadillas and pasta.

“The best way to eat right is to learn to cook,” says St. Jude Registered Dietitian Karen Ringwald-Smith. “If we can teach patients healthful behaviors while they’re cooking in a fun, hands-on way, it might stick. If they enjoy the experience, they’re less likely to choose fast food and more likely to cook wholesome food at home. And if we involve the parents in the class, then we teach both the parents and the children.”

Marley Harris cooks pancakes under the guidance of St. Jude Clinical Nutrition student Hannah Cox.

Kids in the kitchen

Marley Harris cooks pancakes under the guidance of St. Jude Clinical Nutrition student Hannah Cox.

Although open to all St. Jude patients, the class is also being incorporated into the hospital’s newest clinical trial for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and lymphoma.

According to St. Jude oncologist Hiroto Inaba, MD, PhD, children with ALL are at high risk for weight gain because of the steroids required to eradicate their cancer. Unhealthy eating habits, combined with excessive weight gain, could place them at high risk of long-term medical problems. The 12-week cooking class for new patients in the Total 17 clinical trial is aimed at breaking that cycle before it begins.

Marley and her mom say the sessions offer a break from the proton therapy treatments required to treat ependymoma, a brain tumor.

 “I like to bring her so that she can learn techniques of the kitchen,” Marley’s mother explains. “The classes teach her to be self-sufficient, help her gain organizational skills and teach her about healthy food alternatives.”

For Marley and her mom, those benefits are like icing on the lowfat cupcake.

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