Here to Help Nourish Students of All Ages


Academic Partner

Osher Center for Integrative Medicine (OCIM) at Northwestern University ascribes to the concept of “food as medicine”, and believes nutrition is critical to disease prevention and treatment. We have been exploring strategies to solve the current lack of adequate training in nutrition in medical school curriculum, with its downstream effect of a physician workforce lacking skills necessary to effectively counsel patients in how to change food-related behaviors. OCIM is a member of the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative, a consortium of 30 influential organizations committed to improving health through healthy eating and cooking. 



Common Threads (CT) accomplishes their mission by offering cooking and nutrition education to children and teachers in underserved elementary and middle schools. Since inception, CT has reached 141,060 students and adults, trained 2800 teachers, and provided over a million snacks and meals with over a million hours of education. CT now operates in eight cities and is projected to reach over 100,000 individuals nationally (25,000 in Chicago) in school year 2017-18. A hallmark of the programming is hands-on, experiential learning by cooking. Past external and internal evaluations indicate that CT programming brings about statistically significant improvements in nutrition knowledge, exposure to, liking for, and consumption of vegetables, communication within the family about healthy eating, preference for home-cooked meals, and confidence in cooking skills. Common Threads’ curriculum has been reviewed and approved by Chicago Public Schools, Los Angeles Unified School District, and New York City Department of Education. They are a proud member of the Healthy Out of School Time Coalition and National Ally of the CACFP program.

Community Partner


Community, Education, Prevention

Common Threads believes cooking is a life skill. Through our hands-on cooking programs and nutrition education, Common Threads provides a preventative health program solution in urban schools to children, families and teachers in underserved communities.




Co-course creator

Dr. Ring is a board certified internist with fellowship training and board certification in the field of integrative medicine. As director of Northwestern's integrative medicine program since 2007, her goal has been to expand our clinical, education and research collaborations across our academic campus. The education offerings now range from undergraduate internships to continuing education conferences- but her favorite is definitely this culinary medicine course! Dr. Ring's clinical research includes integrative nutrition - such as a current study on the impact of juice cleanses on epigenetics and the microbiome.  In 2015 the Osher program was invited to join the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative: a learning network formed by Harvard and the Culinary Institute of America. In 2016 she received a certificate of Completion in Culinary Coaching from the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine as well as a Professional Plant-­Based Cook Certification from the cooking school RouxBe. In her patient care and personal habits Dr. Ring promotes a plant-based diet and the benefits of fasting- but believes nutrition needs to be personalized taking into account a patient's goals, health, current diet and readiness to make change, and individual biochemical / genomic make-up. 



Co-Course Creator

Rupa Mahadevan completed a specialized fellowship in Integrative Medicine through the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University and the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Prior to medical school, Rupa worked as a nutrition counselor, and she is passionate about educating parents to cook healthy, low-cost meals for their children. After her fellowship she acted as Associate Director for Education at Northwestern’s Integrative Medicine Center and helped develop the CUH course.  She is a Pediatrician with a holistic approach to health and wellness and she believes the best medicine is teaching prevention through education.  She has a unique interest in food as medicine and tries to incorporate food prescriptions in all her patient encounters. Her research interests include mindfulness-based therapies for children exposed to stress and trauma, pediatric nutrition, and obesity.


CUH Research Lead

Elaine is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She received her PhD in Social Psychology from Northwestern University and completed a National Science Foundation Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences and Osher Center for Integrative Medicine postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Her program of research investigates the factors that promote psychological adjustment in the context of serious life stress, particularly health-related stress. She has a strong interest in exploring wellness strategies and interventions that decrease the risk of burnout in physicians and medical trainees.



Co-Course Creator

Ms. Folkens began volunteering with Common Threads in 2010 and joined the CT staff in 2011 as a Chef Instructor. Since then she has held the roles of Program Coordinator, Curricula and Quality Assurance Manager, Director of Programs, and currently is the Vice President of Programs. She oversees programs in Chicago, New York, and Pennsylvania as well as the curriculum team. During her tenure at Common Threads she has worked closely with the evaluation team to refine culinary focused programs and piloted, designed and authored the CT Small Bites nutrition education program. Prior to Common Threads, Ms. Folkens worked as a middle school math teacher in Houston, TX, through Teach for America. Ms. Folkens holds a culinary arts degree from Kendall College and a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She serves as a junior board member for Chicago’s Green City Market and as an elected official on the Nettelhorst Elementary Local School Council as a Community Representative. She’s published in several academic journals including the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.