By D. K. Christi

As visitors enter the Lee Health Coconut Point facility, an enticing aroma may waft from cuisine being cooked up by patients-turned-chefs participating in the FARMacy RX Cooking Series at the Healthy Life Center Demonstration Kitchen. The class teaches simple, healthy meals with a gourmet touch.

Although it targets cardiac rehabilitation patients, this cooking series is open to anyone who is interested in answering the question: What does a healthier diet actually look and taste like, and how do I get started?

Roger Hatch and Michael Domina prepare the pineappleChef Aikaterina “Kat” Galeos, a Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN) and Lee Health community outreach dietitian, provides hands-on instruction to her students — all sporting matching aprons — as they chop fresh vegetables, “rice” cauliflower and process ingredients for the day’s heart healthy meal, which typically includes an appetizer, entrée and a dessert. She aims to take the mystery out of healthy eating and make it fun, entertaining and educational.

Hearty flavors from fresh vegetables, healthy grains and herbs replace sodium, sugar and unhealthy fats. The Healthy Life Center’s garden, a partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University’s Food Forest, provides fresh herbs.

Cardiac rehabilitation programs emphasize exercise, heart strengthening and lifestyle changes. Teaching nutritious habits through a hands-on approach is a new addition at Lee Health and includes the spouse or significant other.

“The classes add another dimension to the program and help our patients prepare heart-healthy meals that contribute to their recovery,” explains Marion Harris-Barter, Lee Health system director of cardiac rehabilitation.

A grant pays for cardiac patients to participate, but the cooking series is also open to the public. The entire five-week series is $100. This includes weekly, three-hour classes of about a dozen students. The format is a brief health lecture followed by hands-on food preparation and delicious dining.

Lee Health Director of Clinical Nutrition Heather Wayco, a registered dietician and passionate cook, says these “off-the-grid” recipes are new and exciting for class participants. Camaraderie is a stress-reducing bonus.

As Chef Kat describes choosing dates to incorporate into a pie crust, one comedic student evokes laughter by calling out: “Good dates are hard to find!” So are perfect cooks. A garlic clove took flight when pressed. Grilled and tossed asparagus pieces slipped in the tongs. It’s all part of learning.

The course encompasses shopping skills, basic knife and kitchen safety, food prep tricks and pleasing presentation. These sample menus may whet the appetite for heart-healthy meals:

  • Watermelon Feta Mint Salad, Spanish Quinoa, Shrimp Veracruzana & Apple Crumble
  • Salmon, Cauliflower Rice, Japanese Green Beans & Vegan Truffles
  • Turkey Meatloaf, Roasted Butternut Squash, Grilled Parmesan Asparagus & Sweet Potato Pie.

Here’s a tip to hold those “onion tears” at bay: grasp the onion by its “head,” the root hairs at the end of the bulb, until the dicing is done. And how about this takeaway on hydration: need varies per individual, and generous quantities of fruits and vegetables help boost a person’s overall water intake.

Chef Kat demonstrates proper knife skills as Sue and Tom Kerekes watch

“I love the class,” says Carol Graver, whose cardiologist is vegan and encourages heart-healthy cooking. Graver is taking small steps as she learns new techniques like squeezing juice from diced vegetables to make them dryer for recipes.

Vera Harlan joined the class with her mate, Mason, to make a positive difference in their diet as they deal with diabetes and heart issues. They are taking their folder full of tasty recipes back to North Carolina this summer.

Fellow participants Tom and Sue Kerekes, married 54 years, changed their food habits after Tom had a heart attack. He now chooses fish over beef and vegetables over potatoes. Meanwhile, Michael Bonish, who attends the class with wife Betty, says he’s slimmed down by 30 pounds following his recovery from a cardiac event.

Adds fellow participant Hal Korbee: “My wife cooked for the 56 years I pursued a career, and it’s my turn to cook for her.” He recently surprised visiting relatives with an entire meal learned from his cooking class.

Former cardiac rehabilitation patient Lucy Kasson attended the first cooking class at the Healthy Life Center with her husband three years ago and now serves as a volunteer, assisting Chef Kat. Her current lifestyle is a testament to the effectiveness of this class, with its engaging, subtle approach to teaching healthy habits.

Participants of the FARMacy RX cooking series are unlocking the mystery of preventing illness. The winning recipe is a smart diet coupled with exercise and stress reduction techniques.

While the current cooking series focuses on heart health, the demonstration kitchen’s future may include plant-based cooking, family cooking and summer camps for youth. The next FARMacy RX Cooking Series for cardiac patients begins July 11. Community classes will take a break for the summer and resume in September. To register or to learn more about course offerings, visit the Lee Health website at or call (239)468-0050.

Teriyaki Salmon with Grilled Pineapple

Iteriyaki salmon with grilled pineappleNGREDIENTS

12 (6 oz) wild salmon filets, skin removed

6 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce



3 Tbs. water

3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

4 Tbs. sesame oil

3 tsp. white vinegar

1.5 tsp. honey

3 cloves fresh, minced garlic

3 tsp. fresh, minced ginger


  1. In an 8-by-8-inch baking pan, mix together the marinade ingredients gently with a fork. Add salmon filets. Cover with foil and marinate in the refrigerator at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
  2. When read to cook, remove the fish from the fridge and preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  3. Place the baking pan with the salmon in the preheated oven and bake until salmon is almost fully cooked, about 10 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness. Increase the heat to “broil” and broil the salmon another 2 to 4 minutes to brown. Fish is done when easily flaked with a fork.
  4. Use spatula to transfer the salmon filets to plate (serve over cauliflower  rice, if desired). Pour teriyaki sauce from the pan over salmon. Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.

Grilled Pineapple

grilled pineapple

2 pineapples

6 Tbs. honey

2 Tbs. lime juice

1 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Cut pineapple into 1/2 inch rings. In a small bowl, combine honey, lime juice and black pepper. Brush glaze onto each slice of pineapple, coating completely. Preheat barbecue grill. Oil the grill rack and place pineapple wedges on the grill. Cook approximately 7 minutes on each side, until the pineapple becomes fragrant and starts to dry out on the surface.


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