Nutrition 101 — Using Teaching Kitchens to Educate Members

teaching kitchen

Incorporating a teaching kitchen into your gym.

As professionals in the fitness industry, you have one primary goal: to improve the health and wellness of your members. While some might naturally assume the primary way to achieve this mission is through exercise, this is a misconception. Revamping one’s health and wellness includes many components beyond movement. Another essential factor is nutrition.

“I think in the fitness world, we give off the message, ‘It is more important to grind it out on the treadmill, go to a Group X class and schedule a 5 a.m. personal training session. If you are moving more, you are going to be successful,’” said Brent Gallagher, the owner of Avenu Fitness in Houston, Texas. “When in reality, if you are not eating right, it doesn’t matter how many times you go to the gym.”

In order to convey the importance of nutrition and overall wellness, Avenu Fitness built a teaching kitchen within its facility. “When you walk into the facility, you see the kitchen,”said Gallagher. “It is a beautiful space. It was not an afterthought. Time and money were invested into making sure this space had the right look and feel. True health is built on eating real food. Putting this kitchen environment in plants the seed in people’s minds that this is something they need to pay attention to.”

Avenu Fitness is based on the 30-minute workout model. The facility is not intended for members to come in to log long hours on the treadmill, trying to burn off the unhealthy meal they ate the night before. As Gallagher explained, in order for members to optimize results, it is essential to involve a nutritional component. “We want to get them off all the supplements, protein bars and shakes, and really begin to talk to people about real food and getting back into the kitchen,” he added. “That was the initial vision for it. We wanted to get people comfortable cooking very simple, basic meals that take 10 to 15 minutes. That way we can really help our community embrace the food aspect of things.”

In order to maximize use of the space, Avenu Fitness offers a wide variety of programming in the teaching kitchen. According to Gallagher, they initially started by offering small group sessions — two to six people — with a local chef. “It gives them the opportunity to connect with the chef and ask them questions so they feel comfortable going home and replicating each simple recipe,” said Gallagher. “Those are always the guidelines that we give to the chef. It needs to be something that is quick. It is for the moms and dads who have kids at home — they have been stressed at work all day and the last thing they want to do is worry about putting together a lot of ingredients. We wanted to keep it simple and basic.”

The teaching kitchen at Avenu Fitness first opened in 2014 and since then they have expanded the programming even further. “We tried to think of other ways we could bring food and wellness together in the space,” explained Gallagher. “We have brought in food educators, dietitians, local farmers and other chefs to come in and simply give talks versus always preparing food.”

Educational sessions are free, but cooking sessions with local chefs are typically $35 per person. While Avenu Fitness hosts numerous sessions each year, the frequency depends on the season. “Our brand is built around convenience, and everything we do we want to make sure is at convenient times for our community,” said Gallagher. “So in the summer we might only have one or two sessions because people are traveling. In the fall we might do one a week when everyone is back to the grind right before the holidays. If you are a larger facility with a greater number of people coming in, you could probably have more frequency in the sessions. But for us as a smaller training facility, we had to decide when we could get the maximum usage of the space.”

While developing a teaching kitchen might seem like an enormous task, Gallagher suggested starting small, as well as using resources within your community. “I get a lot of push back that I am not a dietitian or chef,” said Gallagher. “They are right, I am just a curator. I am simply bringing the people in that know about it and are licensed to do it. I am just the middle man. It is important to start small and bring outside people in. Then after you gain enough momentum, the time is right, the space is right and the budget is right, then you can go about expanding.” 

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