San Francisco General Hospital Food as Medicine Food Challenge

By Georgia Sleeth
Community Health Program Coordinator
Community Partnerships Co-Chair, SFGH Therapeutic Food Pantry

In December and January, SFGH providers and residents were posed a challenge: cook with a very limited budget once a week for three weeks. The goal was to engage providers around the issue of food insecurity, which affects approximately 56% of SFGH patients compared to 14% of households nationally, and see if this would affect how providers interacted with their patients around food and nutrition.

The recipe was really easy to make, took fewer than 5 minutes to put together. It was absolutely delicious and those who ate it for dinner couldn’t stop eating it.
— Lydia Leung, Family Health Center Medical Director
Sweet potato fries from EatFresh.org recipe cooked by Family Health Center Medical Director, Lydia Leung.


Sweet potato fries from EatFresh.org recipe cooked by Family Health Center Medical Director, Lydia Leung.

In the SFGH Food as Medicine Food Challenge, hosted by the SFGH Community Wellness Program (CWP) Healthy Food Initiatives, five recipes were sent out each week and residents were asked to cook one recipe a week for the three weeks of the challenge. The recipes were drawn from EatFresh.org, Leanne Brown’s cookbook Good and Cheap, and Leah’s Pantry’s The Tenderloin Cooking School which were all created specifically for people on a SNAP (formerly food stamps) budget. These recipe resources are widely available, which make this challenge easily replicable by any clinic and/or hospital hoping to increase provider awareness about food insecurity.

Providers and residents across six departments participated in the challenge. In reflecting on the experience, Kei Yoshimatsu a second year Psychiatry resident noted, “I don’t often ask about food insecurity. I assume my patients are getting enough food [via food pantries and free group meals]… perhaps that is a false belief… If I knew they were food insecure I would implement more intensive troubleshooting [for their food insecurity].”

From the SFGH Instagram account, @sfghfoodchallenge


From the SFGH Instagram account, @sfghfoodchallenge

In response to the feedback from this challenge, the CWP will be co-hosting a cooking day with Cooking Matters for patients and physicians to further cook with poverty in mind and learn together via interactive nutrition education. The CWP hopes to draw from these challenges to develop a nutrition curriculum in collaboration with Leah’s Pantry for residents at SFGH.