What’s Culinary Medicine and What’s the Dietitian’s Role?

Culinary Medicine - Lady chops up spring onions into a frying pan

Culinary medicine is an exciting new field that’s breaking ground in both clinical settings, online courses, and community programs. Keep reading to learn more!

With a primary focus that fosters sustainable, at-home cooking for optimal health, culinary medicine is elevating the way evidenced-based food and nutrition information is shared with patients and the general public. If you’re looking to practice culinary medicine, here’s the breakdown about what it is, who it helps, what’s the RD’s role, and what basic knowledge and skills you need.

What is Culinary Medicine?

Currently, there’s no formal definition for culinary medicine. But it is essentially a practice that takes evidenced-based nutrition guidelines and combines it with cooking-related education and strategies which is why some advocates of health-related culinary education refer to the discipline as culinary nutrition.1,2

While culinary medicine promotes cooking from home, its scope goes way beyond just teaching patients how to develop their cooking skills and is very effective in helping people improve their dietary habits.3,4,5

The association between therapeutic diet adherence and better health outcomes due to preparing meals at home is well-documented.5,6 As is the positive influence culinary education has on reducing common barriers to cooking at home including lack of time, limited cooking skills, low cooking confidence and even food insecurity. 6,7,8

But what really sets culinary medicine apart from other nutrition education efforts, is its ability to take a more personalized approach to patient advice and guidance.2 The practice empowers people to make wise food choices based on their individual needs like lifestyle, budget, cultural beliefs, and taste preferences to successfully align with their treatment plan or health goals. 4,8

What is the Role of the Dietitian?

Thanks to the mounting evidence that healthy eating habits are linked to a lower risk of chronic disease, both college and professional health provider organizations have begun to revamp their educational offerings to deepen the level of nutrition and culinary information that’s being taught to both students and clinicians.

Prominent health and education organizations including the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Association of Academic Health Centers, and the American Heart Association have recently pushed medical education programs to expand their training to include interprofessional education. 9,10 Since then much emphasis has been placed on nutrition, leading to more medical schools providing culinary medicine as an elective.

Despite its name, the practice of culinary medicine isn’t restricted to only physicians. With the proper training, other professionals like dietitians, physician assistants, nurses practitioners, registered nurses, diabetic educators and even pharmacists can practice in the field too.9

However, because of the registered dietitian’s expertise, they most often play a leading role in the field. Dietitians are often culinary medicine instructors in medical schools and in other health professional education programs as well as the linchpin of multidisciplinary teams in clinical scenarios.9 Other areas where this specialized culinary nutrition skill set is invaluable includes working one-on-one with patients, running a teaching kitchen, or creating education materials and digital content.

While it’s not necessary for dietitians to attend culinary school to practice in a culinary medicine or have culinary education role, they should at least receive some additional education through college electives or post-college training to acquire the following basic knowledge and skills:

  • Culinary terminology and food science principles
  • Food selection, substitution, shopping, safety and storage
  • Basic preparation skills including knife skills, measuring, and mixing techniques
  • Basic cooking techniques
  • How to read, interpret and follow recipes
  • Meal planning11

Culinary training for dietitians and other health professionals should serve to help hone skills and boost kitchen confidence so they’re comfortable teaching hands-on cooking classes.11 Ultimately, this knowledge will also assist them with offering practical food prep advice and guidance as well as empower their patients to adopt at-home cooking and to make smart personal food choices to reach their health goals.


  1. Polak R, Phillips EM, Nordgren J, La Puma J, La Barba J, Cucuzzella M, Graham R, Harlan TS, Burg T, Eisenberg D. Health-related Culinary Education: A summary of representative emerging programs for health professionals and patients. Glob Adv Health Med. 2016;(5)1: 61-68.
  2. La Puma J. What Is Culinary Medicine and What Does It Do? Popul Health Manag. 2016; (19)1:
  3. Reicks M, Kocher M, Reeder J. Impact of Cooking and Home Food Preparation Interventions Among Adults: outcomes and implications for future programs. J Nutri Educ and Behav. 2014; (46)4: 259-276.
  4. Tiwari A, Aggarwal A, Tang W, Drewnowski A. Cooking at Home: A strategy to comply with U.S. Dietary Guidelines at no extra cost. Amer J Prev Med. 2017; (52)5: 616-624.
  5. Mills S, Brown H, Wrieden W, White M, Adams J. Frequency of Eating Home Cooked Meals and Potential Benefits for Diet and Health: Cross-sectional analysis of population-based cohort study. Inter J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017; (14)8: 109-120.
  6. Allen-Winters S, Wakefield D, Gaudio E, Moore S, Boone K, Morris S, Schwartz DL. “Eat to Live”: Piloting a culinary medicine program for head & neck radiotherapy patients. Support Care Cancer. 2020; (28)6: 2949-2957.
  7. Polak, Rani, et al. Improving Patients’ Home Cooking: A case series of participation in a remote culinary coaching program. Appl Physiol Nutr and Metab. 2017; (42)8: 893-896.
  8. Ridberg R, Bell J, Merritt KE, Harris DM, Young HM, Tancredi DJ. A Pediatric Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program Increases Food Security in Low-Income Households. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2019; (51)2: 224-230.
  9. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Interprofessional education in nutrition as an essential component of medical education. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017; 117: 1104-1113.
  10. Aspry K, Van Horn L, Carson JS et al. Medical Nutrition Education, Training, and Competencies to Advance Guideline-Based Diet Counseling by Physicians: A science advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2018; 137: e821-e841.
  11. Barkoukis H, Swain J, Rogers C, Harris SR. Culinary Medicine and the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist: Time for a leadership role. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2019 (119)10: 1607-1612.
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Andrea Kirkland, MS, RD

Andrea Kirkland is a Registered Dietitian, food writer, and culinary educator who was born and still lives in the deep south. Due to her southern roots she knows a thing or two about good home cooking and also knows all too well about how food choices can either positively or negatively impact health. Continue reading...