Poverty and food deserts can play a role in producing poor health outcomes, prompting some hospitals to turn to the teaching of cooking and nutrition firsthand to empower families to improve their diets.

That was the impetus last year for Scripps Mercy Hospital and Rady Children’s Hospital to begin to offer what they call “Let’s Get Cooking” classes. Running six weeks, the San Diego hospitals are targeting the reduction of diabetes, asthma and heart-related conditions, which are disproportionately high in City Heights, the neighborhood where the classes are held. The program offers meal-planning advice and teaches hands-on cooking techniques to combat the spread of these diseases.

“The feedback we get from our families is that they are bringing the lessons back to their homes,” says Lisa Vandervort, Scripps Health manager, City Heights Wellness Center. “They’re eating more fruits and vegetables, relying less on fast-food and growing more confident in preparing and introducing new meals that are simple and inexpensive for their families.”

Of the approximately 400 mothers and their children who have enrolled in these courses, about 85 percent have graduated and, according to Scripps officials, they say that they’ve gained nutritional wisdom and transferable cooking skills in the process. The courses focus on the importance of increasing fruit and vegetable intake, how to buy and prepare foods in new ways and general nutrition. The classes are part of the Teaching Kitchen, an umbrella program housed in the Wellness Center that provides classes, workshops and camps tailored to the financial and language limitations of participants.

Similarly, Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., and its hospital food service partner Morrison Healthcare developed crEATe, a teaching kitchen program to promote wellness within its workforce and eventually the community at large. Launched in March 2015, Morrison provides the food and instruction at no cost to participants.

Taking place within Truman Medical Center’s existing dining facilities, the program is specifically aimed at helping patients with such chronic diseases as congestive heart failure, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases to learn what foods to buy and where to find them, as well as meal preparation skills. Classes, which run 25 minutes or less, are currently available to employees of Truman Medical Centers, but are expected to be open for patients and the community in the fall.

“Overall health is not possible without a healthy diet,” says Lynda Donegan, vice president of professional health services at Truman Medical Centers. “CrEATe aims to instill this knowledge in a fun and exciting way.”