There’s more than food cooking in our new teaching kitchen

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The Floating Hospital’s new kitchen will offer hands-on lessons in nutrition and food prep

When it opens in spring 2021, patients arriving at The Floating Hospital’s new clinic might ask “what’s cookin’ ” as part of their check-in routine. And with good reason. At the heart of the clinic will be a modern teaching kitchen where families can attend hands-on workshops on healthy food selection and preparation designed for challenging living situations.

Under the direction of chief medical officer Shani Andre, MD, and health-education director Meghan Miller, the kitchen will serve patients from both the community and family homeless shelters, giving kids and their parents lots of reasons and ways to eat their veggies.

“It’s important to get kids on board with vegetables because educating them makes the parents eat better as well,” Meghan said. “If kids are in the grocery store and tell their parents they like a vegetable they’ve tried in the kitchen, the parents are more likely to buy that.”

Nutrition education is but one part of The Floating Hospital’s health-education programming, which also includes leadership and relationship building, lessons in sexual health, peer pressure—all coupled with tutoring, exercise, arts and crafts, and recreation. Currently, kids can drop into the health-department classroom and partake in those activities, depending on patient flow, social-distancing guidelines and what’s on the menu. But without a demonstration space, the food and nutrition programming presently is limited to what staff members make at home and bring in for families to sample.

In the new place, families will be able to participate in preparing the foods. “We’ll be able to cook it right there in real-time, show families how it’s done and then how it tastes,” Meghan explains. Education will include simple ingredients to find and store—a common issue in shelters without refrigeration; menus of EBT-eligible items easy to find in bodegas, and healthier fast-food choices when that’s the only option.

meghan

Though not a kitchen-trained chef, Meghan draws on her Peace Corps experience in Uganda, where, working with Child Care and Youth Empowerment Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO), she organized youth health clubs and camps, focusing on nutrition, life skills, family planning and sex education.

“We did a lot of work with the teenage mothers to make sure that they were feeding their babies properly,” she said, adding “What I did in the Peace Corps directly informs what I do here.”

Now working on her doctorate in public health, Meghan adapted much of that programming for her work at The Floating Hospital, managing a team of six educators. A signature event is Camp Rise Up, the week-long summer sleepaway youth camps focused on healthy lifestyles, diet, exercise, leadership and personal skills. Adapted for Covid conditions, Camp Rise Up this year was conducted locally as day sessions with daily workshops, healthy meals and afternoon field trips and recreation.

The new kitchen will double the team’s current space and can be partitioned for demonstrations and table-side learning, with a reading nook and stations set up for tutoring, health education and crafts—all monitored for compliance with social distancing guidelines.

“We’re are still working out ideas, including treating the kitchen as a drop-in center for adults,” she said, noting the proximity of the Queensbridge Houses across the street. “I’m hoping a lot people who live there will be some of our heavy hitters in our cooking classes because it’s really easy for them to just come by.”


The Floating Hospital’s health-education programming, including Camp Rise Up and the new teaching kitchen, is funded in part through private grants from foundations, and is not billable to any insurance program, government or private. To find out how you can support this vital programming, please contact Ellen Barker, ebarker@thefloatinghospital.org

Since 1866, The Floating Hospital has been the largest provider of healthcare to families living with homelessness. We provide free and secure transport to and from more than 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

The Floating Hospital operates a main clinic in Long Island City with satellite clinics at family homeless shelters and public housing complexes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

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