Have your clients ever asked:

“What should I cook for dinner?”

“How should I prepare it?”

“What if I have to cook a healthy meal for my family?”

A 2012 study found that 52% of Americans believed that doing their taxes
was easier than figuring out how to eat healthfully (Matthews 2012).
Imagining some of your clients in the kitchen might seem scary, but
think of all the benefits that come from knowing how to prepare a
home-cooked meal: fat loss, improved health, sustainable energy, family
togetherness and the value of teaching cooking skills to the next

What if teaching clients how to cook became part of your training? What
if a cooking class could help you recruit new clients into your
facility? What if a teaching kitchen program could add dollars to your
bottom line and create buzz in your community?

Putting a kitchen inside your gym can make all that happen.

Before you start envisioning eggshells on the floor and flour all over
your machines, consider what we have learned at my business—Avenu
Fitness & Lifestyle in Houston. We began teaching quick cooking classes
on a simple folding table with a plug-in skillet and a blender smack-dab
in the middle of the training floor.

It wasn’t anything fancy, but we wanted food front and center in our
business. We wanted to help our clients begin thinking real food first
and training second. We wanted to skip over all the protein bars, shakes
and supplements and teach people how to prepare healthy, home-cooked
meals on a realistic budget with respect to both money and time.

Letting Go of the 
Status Quo Gym Model

A lot of trainers are tiring of standard solutions for fixing our broken
relationship with food. Yet if you look around the industry for examples
of gyms winning the long-term food battle, you’re likely to come up
short. The more you search, the more you find the same answers:
supplements, bars, shakes and fixed meal plans. Some gyms offer a “free
nutrition consultation,” but few pay much attention to the long-term
educational process required to change behavior and get people eating
real food.

But why?

Time and again, fitness professionals’ biggest frustration comes down to
our clients’ diets. We know clients can’t improve their fitness, burn
fat and enjoy great health without getting food right. We know that when
they eat better, results come more quickly and we look like rock stars.

So if food behaviors are so vital to the long-term success of our
clients, our careers and gyms everywhere, why don’t we teach more
about real food—the right way to prepare it and the right way to eat it?

Ask gym leaders this question and you’ll get responses like these:

  • “We need quick fixes.”
  • “We keep food logs and take pictures of meals.”
  • “Most people don’t have time to prepare food.”
  • “Most clients are overwhelmed by the idea of what healthy food is, so
    we just keep it simple.”
  • “People are too busy. The best options for fat loss are bars and

Ask individual trainers, however, and more vulnerable and truthful
answers emerge:

  • Some don’t know enough about real food to teach.
  • Some feel uncomfortable talking about food, because their own food
    habits are not the best.
  • Some give clients a computer printout to follow because it’s easy.
  • Some feel they can’t legally talk about real food in their state.
  • Some say they are paid to burn as many calories as possible and don’t
    have time to talk about real food.

We faced these issues at our gym and figured out that when it came to
maximizing our clients’ investments and delivering the long-term results
they wanted, we had to do something about their relationship with food.
Namely, we needed to teach them to make their own.

Planting a New Seed

Those of us who know how to cook typically learned by helping our
parents in the kitchen when we were growing up. We picked up on little
pointers, burned some toast, learned how to eyeball a measurement and
prepared recipes passed down through the generations. Developing a
comfort level in the kitchen requires practice—spending time there
planning, preparing and serving meals (and washing the dirty dishes!).

As time passed and life became busy, we lost the confidence our parents
gave us while teaching us the basics. When we stopped trying to cook,
the kitchen became daunting and confusing, so we began looking for the
easy way out.

After realizing this, I had a eureka moment.

If we could recreate a kitchen environment inside our training facility,
we could teach our community how to feel comfortable again with breaking
out pots, pans, knives and measuring cups—the true keys to lasting
health and fat loss. We could empower people with basic skills for
preparing real food. We could teach simple meals, along with tips and
tricks a professional chef would use.

Our program started with a simple folding table. After a few years of
successful mini-classes and positive feedback, I took the plunge and
dedicated 300 of our gym’s 4,500 square feet to the creation of a simple
kitchen environment. It looks and feels as though you just walked into
someone’s kitchen at home. It’s an environment that delivers more value,
more connection and a unique experience that has changed our community
for the better and, most importantly, for the long term.

The benefits we have experienced along the way are wide-ranging:

  • sustainable fat-loss nutrition habits
  • renewed hope among clients that they don’t have to train for hours if
    the food is right
  • more people talking openly about real struggles with food
  • a tripling of food-coaching sessions
  • real-food challenges and recipe sharing within the community
  • in-house lunch-and-learn sessions
  • 15- and 30-minute meal-preparation sessions
  • partnering with chefs to teach cooking lessons inside homes so clients
    see what’s possible with their current setup
  • a new profit center with classes and coaching
  • a great lead-generation and feeder program for introducing new clients
    to our facility
  • Bonus: Our story has been featured in multiple industry
    magazines and local newspapers, and has opened the door to consulting
    with businesses and fitness facilities around the country.

How to Build Your Kitchen

You don’t have to be a certified chef or have a bachelor’s degree in
home economics to build a successful teaching kitchen program in your
facility. You don’t have to stress out over expensive permitting from
the city, build-out delays or budget excesses. There’s no need to fret
over installing gas lines or dredging concrete to run a water line
through the middle of your gym floor.

Building a teaching kitchen can be as simple as setting up a table,
cleaning out a break room or repurposing a juice bar area. If there’s no
space in your current facility, you may want to host lessons at your
home or at a client’s home. And if those options are out of the
question, you can rent space from a restaurant or a commercial
food-preparation kitchen and teach your lessons there.

For our setup, we use only plug-in skillets, burners, warmers, mixers,
slow cookers and, occasionally, the microwave. Sometimes we prepare the
ingredients during a class but have the finished dish waiting in a
warming tray (it’s what your favorite cooking show does, right?). This
simple setup has allowed us to teach everything from slow-cooked recipes
to quick-and-easy 15-minute meals.

Six Steps to 
Finding Great Teachers

The key is to find chefs, farmers, foodies, RDs and clients who are
great cooks, have the heart of a teacher and are willing to teach rather
than tell your clients what to do. That teacher mindset makes the
lessons invaluable, especially because clients can begin applying what
they’ve learned in their cooking classes later the same day.

Here are six steps you can take to discover unique food teachers in your

  1. Ask clients. The best way to build community is to allow
    clients who have a passion for simple healthy cooking to teach a lesson.
    They can also encourage their friends to come!
  2. Ask your favorite healthy restaurant. If it’s your local
    farm-to-table venue, ask to speak to the chef. If the chef is
    unavailable, a sous-chef will typically be able to fill in.
  3. Schedule a session with an RD. Like trainers, registered
    dietitians have different methods of achieving the same results. If you
    walk through a series of sessions with an RD, you can see if this one
    teaches or tells, and whether the approach aligns with your philosophy.
  4. Search www.localharvest.org. Discover local farms and
    scheduled community food events. If you find a farm you like, call up
    and ask to visit so you can see the farm operating. If they give you a
    2-hour tour, sign them up. They have a heart of a teacher.
  5. Visit a local farmers’ market. Get to know the farmers,
    their personal stories, their vision for what they are trying to do.
    Find a farmer you like, and ask to visit the farm.
  6. Start a “food mastermind” group. After you meet
    all these people, bring them together and spend time figuring out how
    everyone can collaborate. Farmers are always looking for chefs. Chefs
    are always looking for local food. RDs are always looking for healthier
    options. Simply schedule a 2-hour window and facilitate a conversation.

Build the Relationship First

It’s vital that you take the time to truly get to know the farmer, RD,
chef and other foodies. Over a few years before our kitchen was built, I
had developed a business relationship with a local chef who was a
“healthy eating specialist” at a local grocery store. We referred
clients back and forth, collaborated on small videos, and hosted food
and fitness challenges along the way. We developed mutual respect. My
clients enjoyed the way this chef took time to teach the basics,
breaking down complicated steps into small, bite-size ones.

After we established our kitchen, she was a natural choice to bring in
and begin teaching our cooking classes. She also has clients invest in
having her come to their homes and teach them how to demystify their own
kitchens—showing people what they can do with their current setup. This
has naturally added another revenue stream for our facility.

The more we establish relationships, the more the real-food movement
will grow. But fostering relationships, not only between you and your
team of teachers, but between these teachers and your community, takes
leadership on your part.

Plant Your Own Seed

As you think about adopting the teaching model, don’t expect overnight
success. It takes an investment of your most precious asset: Time. But a
year from now will come regardless of whether you decide to waste, spend
or invest your time. What would a teaching kitchen do for you? For your
clients? For your business?

Don’t overcomplicate the process of implementing a teaching kitchen into
your facility. Simply start small with the basics, within your current
setup, and then challenge these basics in imaginative and creative ways.

We can continue to provide nutritional quick-fixes for our communities’
immediate needs, or we can challenge what’s possible within a gym and
build a sustainable, healthy future by teaching people about real-food
behaviors. Let’s first discover our purpose for creating a teaching
kitchen, and then go out and have fun changing lives for the better by
teaching people about real food in our own kitchens.

Most Successful Cooking Class: 15-Minute Meals

We constantly hear clients saying, “I don’t have time to cook.” To challenge this objection, we connected with a local chef, who prepared four simple 15-minute meals in under an hour.

After we sent an email blast and posted fliers around our studio to raise awareness, we quickly sold 15 spots for the $30 class. In this unique demo-only class, our chef was able to teach the how-tos and give clients tastings of each simple meal.

The returns from this simple class have been amazing:

  • Clients are preparing these meals on their own fortheir families.
  • Parents are getting their kids involved in preparingthe simple meals.
  • A few clients are preparing two of the meals duringone of their favorite 30-minute TV shows.
  • People are investing more time in cooking more meals, which means they are preparing healthieroptions than they were eating when dining out.

What we learned most from this class was to keep numbers small. Initially we had wanted 20-30 participants. This class helped us to realize we needed an intimate environment where clients felt comfortable asking questions, opening up about fears in the kitchen and becoming vulnerable enough to be honest with their excuses for not preparing home-cooked meals.

5 Steps to Hosting a Dinner
  1. Theme. Decide between a community potluck and ameal prepared by a local chef.
  2. Budget. Multiply the dollar amount per plate by thenumber of invitees.
  3. Plan. Determine how many tables, chairs, napkins, cups,and sets of silverware you’ll need, and figure out who’sgoing to serve and clean up.
  4. Community. On the night of the event, encourageconversation by introducing and connectinglike-minded clients.
  5. Artistic touch. Think what extra(s) would make the nightmemorable. Maybe it’s a coffeehouse serving a local brew, or a box of ingredients and the recipe for the meal your clients just experienced.

Pricing and Budgeting Dinner Events

Our facility has offered free and paid dinners. For the free event, we invited more than 100 people; we envisioned it as a community-building, cllient-generating dinner.

  • total investment for dinner and wine: $1,500
  • total investment for tables, chairs, silverware, linens: $1,100

Spending that $2,600 created more buzz locally and nationally than I could ever have imagined. It was the best business investment I’ve made thus far for producing new leads and generating buzz for our facility.

For our two paid events, we invited only 40 people each time. We wanted smaller, more intimate environments, and we charged $100 per head for each event—a pig roast, and a lamb dinner.

Our cooking classes come in three varieties:

  • free
  • $30 per class
  • $1,000 for a unique series of classes on specific topicsover a 4-month period.

Clients can also pay $200 for online access to all of our recorded classes.

Hosting a Community dinner on the Gym Floor

An innovative way to build a unique community environment within a fitness facility is to host a community dinner right on the training floor. No kidding: In the middle of the dumbbells, kettlebells and cardio machines, we set up the white-cloth tables, chairs, silverware and a few candles to add the right touch for five-star dining.

Picture the faces of your clients as they walk into your facility and take in the dining experience that awaits them—the smell of fresh local veggies, farmraised meats and possibly some local bottled wine. This is one of the best ways to gain momentum for creating a healthy and sustainable eating change within the community.

This “long, slow, healthy dinner” is also one of the best tools for developing friendships with others from the community who are on the same journey.

Recreating the restaurant experience within our facilities forms a true community environment. It’s as if time almost stands still on the gym floor. Clients begin letting down their guard, shifting emotional baggage to the side. Trust, openness and vulnerability develop.

Sustainable Fat Loss With Food Coaching

When we began our sit-down consultations with clients around food, we talked long and hard about what to call the sessions. Should we go with “food consults,” “nutrition talks” or “food therapy”? We settled on “food coaching” because it seemed to have the most impact.

We don’t limit our coaching to protein levels and nutrient timing. Our goalis always to make lasting change, and that begins with addressing habits and behaviors that clients exhibit on a daily basis. People sit down at their first session expecting a prescription of boiled chicken with a cup of steamed broccoli and are surprised to learn about the larger impact of their behaviors—how their quick pace of eating leads to excess pounds, for example.

Not only do we want to help our clients understand how their behaviors affect their waistlines, but we want to do that in an environment that is comfortable and might help them visualize some of their mistakes. What better place to do this than in our teaching kitchen? This allows our clients to sit in the kitchen itself, ask questions about their own kitchen environments and feel at ease while doing so.

President Reagan said it best: “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”

Think of Expenses as Investments

Building a kitchen environment within your facility has so many benefits that it’s tempting to call it a priceless investment. But we have to be realistic about expenses.

We keep our kitchen simple for two reasons: to show our clients they don’t need a fancy setup to prepare healthy food, and to keep our costs low.

This was our initial up-front investment for the kitchen equipment:

  • countertop portable single burner: $115
  • Vitamix blender: $450
  • plates, cups and utensils: $100
  • serving bowls: $50

That’s it.

When we work with our chefs, we tell them what space and equipment we have so they can prepare before coming to the gym or provide their own equipment if necessary.

Budgeting for Classes

We set a class budget of $150-$175 for food and chef.

Our goal is to keep meals simple, with only a few ingredients. This builds confidenceamong our clients, stays true to our philosophy and limits our cash outlay.

But how do we keep chef fees low? Remember, you are opening your community to anoutside vendor looking for more customers. You are providing a marketing platform.

Chefs can create a partnership with you and promote their in-home cooking ormeal-preparation services through your classes. Potentially, you can negotiate a set percentage from any business a chef does with your clients—or negotiate lower fees by allowing chefs to pitch their services at the end of the class. Either way, it’s a win-win.


Matthews, J. 2012. 2012 IFIC Foundation Food & Health Survey. Food Insight. Accessed Apr. 17, 2015. www.foodinsight.org/2012_IFIC_Foundation_Food_Health_Survey_Media_Resources.

Brent Gallagher, MSS

Brent Gallagher is the owner of Avenu Fitness & Lifestyle, a brand measuring the quality of the life one can live, not just their biceps and waistline. He has created a one-of-a-kind, unorthodox, 30 minute approach to training, nutrition and life thatÔÇÖs an unsuspecting experience from the typical workout. Brent invests time coaching high performing leaders and challenging fitness businesses to come to blows with the status quo by redefining whatÔÇÖs possible for the communities they serve. See more information at www.BrentGallagher.com

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