Yale Nursing students create menu for better community health

“Sam is a 15 year old with type II diabetes. He eats a whole pizza every day, so we made him a smaller portion, with healthier ingredients.” Just one of the hypothetical patient scenarios – and a possible solution – concocted by Yale School of Nursing students this week as they took to the farm at West Campus.

Part of the Community Health Nursing and Public Health course for students in the first year of the Graduate Entry Prespecialty in Nursing (GEPN) program, the students set to harvesting vegetables and creating their own healthy meals to better understand how to recommend a healthier diet.

The practicum is a partnership with the Yale Landscape Lab, which provides opportunities on the West Campus for numerous workshops on the importance of food systems and access to healthy foods, among other sustainability-related research topics. 

“Being able to come out of the classroom, and onto the Farm adds so much to the class.  Today, we have discussed nutrition counseling and practicing motivational interviews based on certain case scenarios. The opportunity to then plan and cook a meal and for hypothetical patients, while considering budget, food availability as well as culture, family, taste preferences, really creates an impactful lesson,” said Michelle Kennedy, APRN, who runs the training in the GEPN Community Health Nursing course.

The class runs twice a year, once in late winter when students learn about food availability across the different seasons, and in early summer when the first harvest are on offer at the farm.

The outdoor sessions combine hands-on harvesting and cooking exercises with discussions and a lecture session designed to help the students explore their personal connections with food as a way to empower them to promote healthy lifestyles. In small groups, the students devise menus for different hypothetical patients with health challenges such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Fifteen year old Sam’s mini “pizza”, for instance, used polenta as a base, topped with freshly-picked vegetables sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Other groups used rainbow chard, kale, radishes, edible flowers, and a variety of herbs to create colorful salads and nutritious tacos.

“Our partnership with nursing is a great example of how we can use the landscape for the benefit of scholarship at Yale, and ultimately, with these future paractioners and changemakers, for real-world impact,” said Justin Freiberg, who directs efforts at the West Campus Urban Farm, one of a number of initiatives within the Yale Landscape Lab.

Vanessa Correira, RN, CLC, YSN ’19, a second year MSN student, and teaching assistant to Michelle Kennedy, commented, “As someone advocating for plant-based nutrition in the YSN curriculum, I started leading the lecture portion of this class last Spring. Michelle and Justin have opened doors for curriculum change and I’ve seen with my own eyes the impact on students’ understanding of holistic wellness, both for their patients and for themselves. It’s outstanding.” Using her certification in plant-based nutrition, Correira has worked at the Landscape Lab as a cultivate health intern and now oversees the Nutrition That Heals event series, sponsored by YSN.

The Landscape Lab – a five-minute walk from the School of Nursing – provides access to 136 acres of mixed urban and natural environment for synergistic projects in health science, food systems, ecology, energy systems, entrepreneurship, and land use, which now connect over 20 professional schools, departments, organizations, and student groups across Yale.

By Jon Atherton