Kingston Hospital throws successful ‘Cook & Eat’ class for young people with Type 1 diabetes.

What did you have for dinner on Monday 1st October? On the menu for a team of nine enthusiastic cooks was pea and lentil curry, sweet potato and chorizo hotpot and chili con carne. This ‘Cook and Eat’ event was organised by Kingston Hospital Paediatric Unit and was held for teenagers with Type 1 diabetes to learn to cook quick and healthy meals.

Type 1 diabetes isn’t linked with age or obesity; that’s Type 2 diabetes. However, having a well-balanced diet does help people with Type 1 diabetes to control their blood sugar and lead a healthy lifestyle. That’s why this event was so useful to all who went, giving them easy-to-follow recipes so they could learn how to cook healthy food independently.

Working in small groups, in the food tech lab at Coombe Girls’ School, made the event less intimidating and while overseen by the doctors and nurses, the conversations were led by the participants. This meant the young people felt able to talk openly, making the atmosphere seem less clinical and more conversational and everyday.

Sue Thomas, a senior dietician at Kingston Hospital, described the recipes as “cheap and easy to make, well balanced and pre carbohydrate counted to make it easier for the cooks to calculate their insulin doses”. Having support with carbohydrate counting can help relieve some of the pressure on teenagers with diabetes. All agreed with one person saying that the event had given them “reliable recipes for school lunches, which are causing the worse spikes and lows” in their blood sugars.

Just as important as the food though, was the opportunity for friendship. Type 1 diabetes is a demanding condition that can be hard to control and mentally exhausting to live with. Diabetics have to regularly inject themselves with insulin, count carbohydrates, figure out doses, measure blood sugar and combat low blood sugars. As Sue noted “who better to understand what it’s like being a teenager who has diabetes, than another teenager in the same position?” Having a chronic illness can be a very isolating experience, so having the chance to talk casually whilst cooking and sharing stories was a great help for all who came.

Hopefully, this kind of proactive outreach with young people where they can learn new and transferable skills to help them better manage their conditions, in a comfortable environment and with others who face the same challenges, will lead the way for other such innovative events.