Bramling Cross, a trendy restaurant in Seattle, was buzzing with unusual action this past Sunday morning. Chef Sarah Adams was leading large team of cooks, all working hard on preparing a Thanksgiving themed Feast. But these are not regular cooks. These are children, some so young they needed to stand on a little stool to reach the bowls they were stirring on the counter.
While the children were hard at work in the kitchen, their parents were gathered in another part of the restaurant, exchanging stories and sharing advice with staff from Seattle Children’s Hospital. This was an unusual break for these parents, who are used to spending many weekly hours in their own kitchens at home, preparing special dietary foods for their children. Everyone here adheres to a special diet known as the Specific Carbohydrates Diet (SCD).
SCD is a nutritional therapy that removes grains, dairy, processed foods and sugars, except for honey. The diet focuses on natural, nutrient rich foods including vegetables, fruits, meats and nuts. This is a healthy and balanced diet, but the many restrictions require serious habit-adjustments and mandate a lot of work in the kitchen to prepare homemade foods.
Practicing this diet requires a lot of dedication and self-discipline, but the results are exceptional. The diet clearly helps many children in reducing inflammation markers, reducing symptoms, and increasing energy levels. It can reduce the need for medications in some cases, and is beneficial also for children who must combine diet with medication to better control the disease.
Professor David Suskind, a gastroenterologist at Seattle Children’s and a leader in the research and implementation of dietary therapies for IBD used to actively lead some of the cooking classes. He said: “The cooking classes are one of the ways we use to empower patients and help foster a community for young patients with IBD and their families in the pacific northwest.
As medical professionals, we hope resources like these will allow patient to become proactive and engaged in their care. We understand the challenges that families face when beginning the diet, and we see that having a community is central in supporting children and their families in using dietary therapy. This cooking class has been a grassroots effort by parents and patients, which makes it all the more exciting. The credit goes to the families and kids who participate. Our first two teen leaders, Avi And Sarah, have done an excellent job of pushing these classes forward.”
Jasmine Rush, the program coordinator at Seattle Children’s Hospital, has been instrumental in creating the collaborations with leading food establishments in the Seattle area. Jasmine recalls: “The first SCD cooking class took place on March 2017 in the teaching kitchen at Seattle Children’s. After several more classes at the hospital we partnered with PCC Community Markets, Ethan Stowell Restaurant Group and Juniorsous.com.”
The stated mission of the SCD Cooking Group is “To provide a welcoming environment that brings together patients and families who use the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) therapy. The objectives are to share resources, provide emotional support for patients and their families, develop new SCD cooking skills, reduce distress about the diagnosis and support the psychosocial benefits of ongoing peer interaction.”
The classes are held 4x a year and are very popular among the local families who use dietary therapies to manage pediatric IBD.
A mother and son team, Avi Shapiro and Ingrid Elliot, spearheaded the first peer-to-peer cooking classes together with the IBD team at Seattle Children’s Hospital. When Avi graduated and moved away for college he passed the leadership role to Sarah Kenny who had participated in prior cooking groups. (Avi, now a student in the East coast, founded a similar cooking program in a hospital near Boston, and plans to expand the program to NYC in the future)
Chef Sarah Adams, that now leads the SCD cooking classes, is a professional Chef and founder of Juniorsous.com . Sarah said: “I love working with Seattle Children’s Hospital. I am so inspired by this program. Food as medicine has been a personal belief of mine for years and I am so happy to be helping these families! I worked in restaurant kitchens for 8 years before starting Junior Sous with my business partner, Brianna. We are both incredibly passionate about teaching children how to cook. We believe is empowering children by giving them the knowledge and environment to explore in the kitchen. Fostering healthy eating habits has always been one of our core values at Junior Sous. My background with Ethan Stowell Restaurants and teaching through Junior Sous lead us to this partnership with SCH. On a personal level I have always been passionate about creative eating, modifying recipes to fit specific dietary needs, and making healthy food taste delicious. I have also used food and diet to heal my body and understand the struggles of trying to feel normal while also nourishing your body. This partnership with SCH is so special to us. Teaching these kids how to cook, feed themselves, modify recipes, and feel like they can eat delicious food will be an important foundation as they grow up.
I tell all parents to get kids in the kitchen from a young age. No knife-skill are needed at first. Tearing salad greens or kale, stirring/mixing/measuring, scrubbing produce, let them help plan the menu, take them shopping with you. Have them start with easy to cut foods: strawberries, bananas, cabbage, green beans, zucchini… kitchen can be a fun and creative place at any age.”
Teen leader Sarah Kenny, who was helping guide the children in the class this year, enjoys combining her love of cooking and her skills as a mentor: “My love of cooking started long before I was diagnosed with IBD. Once I was old enough to cook, I helped my mom and my grandma make holiday dishes. Seeing the effect of good food made with love as a kid became a passion for cooking as a young adult.
What helped me, personally, to get used to a grain-free diet was finding recipes that were an SCD version of dishes I loved, such as pancakes, bread, and cauliflower rice mashed potatoes.
I always worked really well with kids. I volunteered with a summer camp and I worked this past summer as a day camp counselor. Cooking is a valuable skill that I love teaching to younger kids. When I hear a parent explain how their child begins to show interest in helping in the kitchen after attending the cooking class, I am grateful for this opportunity to show kids how to be comfortable in the kitchen.”
Susan Kenny, mother of the teen leader Sarah, shared her point of view: “Sarah started attending when Avi was the teen leader. When we realized that he was graduating from high school and going to college out of state, Sarah asked Dr. Suskind if she could step in as teen leader. Dr. Suskind, who is her GI doctor, agreed.
Chef Sarah Adams works so well with the kids. My daughter and her create the class theme. They collaborate on recipes. Chef Sarah then works with the Seattle Children’s GI nutritionist for SCD ingredient approval.
I send out the class invites and reminders to parents. Jasmine, from SCH, manages the RSVP and the permission and consent forms. At the class, I bring coffee and moderate the parent chats. It has been an honor to be part of this project. I love hearing from the parents how the classes encourage and motivate their kids to embrace SCD. Some of the kids take ownership with some of the meal prep and cooking at home, often inspired by the class. It’s wonderful to watch the kids work together and enjoy the meal that they prepare.
The Thanksgiving theme of holiday side dishes empowers the families to substitute items that all of their holiday guests can enjoy. Last year one of the themes was summer treats, and these can easily be brought to a birthday party, class party or when a child has a play date.
This way we help address one of the biggest challenges for a child who is on a medically prescribed diet: what to do in social gatherings that involve food.”
After two hours of intensive kitchen work the children finished preparing all the dishes. They gathered around for a feast, enjoying the delicious food they made. Parents were given a taste too, and everyone was admiring the smells, tastes and textures. Many kids left the class determined to prepare the same recipes at home, so they can enjoy these foods again.
All the parents and children are very appreciative of the opportunities that these cooking classes provide. Families are thankful for this project and for all the partners that allow it to happen. It was very symbolic that the last class of 2019 was themed around Thanksgiving, as this project generates a wonderful sense of gratitude for everyone who took part in it.
The recipes in today’s class were created by Chef Sarah Adams and approved by the GI dietitians at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Links to media coverage that have highlighted the SCH cooking classes:
- Seattle Times-SCD Cooking Group
- Evening Magazine- Kids learn to cook food that helps them heal
- Kids with IBD Cook
- SC Delicious: Recipes for the Specific Carbohydrate Di