This Shorewood naturopathic doctor is offering cooking workshops because food is a ‘powerful medicine’

Dr. Sarah Axtell has long believed in teaching her patients to skip processed foods and cook at home. She wants everyone to get cooking. 

a woman sitting at a table with a plate of food: Dr. Sarah Axtell works in her recently created cooking space at Lakeside Natural Medicine in Shorewood. The cooking space was added when they moved to a new location in March.

© Courtesy of Sarah Axtell
Dr. Sarah Axtell works in her recently created cooking space at Lakeside Natural Medicine in Shorewood. The cooking space was added when they moved to a new location in March.

She started blogging about food and recipes while in medical school, and kept sharing recipes when she moved to Wisconsin. In 2011, she opened Lakeside Natural Medicine, 3510 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood.

In March, the clinic moved to a larger space and Axtell fulfilled another dream: her own kitchen to teach healthy cooking and offer workshops. Now, the naturopathic doctor is offering demonstrations and workshops in the space, beginning with a virtual “Food Is Medicine Workshop” on Oct. 17. Cost is $39, and includes a cooking demonstration and recipes. Registration is required, call (414) 939-8748. 

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Question: What is your background? 

Answer: I’m originally from Cincinnati and went to UW-Madison for undergrad, where I studied nutrition. Upon graduation, I could either go to medical school or become a dietitian. Both fields felt like they were lacking. I did my research and found naturopathic medical school. I attended the oldest naturopathic university, in Portland, Oregon, National University of Natural Medicine. My husband is actually from Milwaukee, so that’s my connection …

I opened a clinic in 2011, Lakeside Natural Medicine. It is a family business. My husband, Chris, is the business manager. … We now have two other naturopathic doctors with us. We just moved and doubled our size in a new building. I have a kitchen now. That was always my dream. 

Q: What exactly do you mean by food as medicine?

A: My goal working with patients is to teach them which foods work for them and which foods don’t work for them. Food can be the source of what is ailing us, but it can also be the most powerful medicine to heal. 

Q: What is the biggest challenge teaching about food from your perspective? 

A: The food industry is a big challenge. I’m going against that. Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore, or expensive, or difficult. We’re told that with ads that cooking is hard. There are all these prepared, hyper-processed foods that that can really work against us. I work with patients to get to the basics of eating just real, whole food. 

Q: How much time to do you spend cooking every week? 

A: I probably spend three hours on a Sunday prepping for the week. It is self-care time for myself, but also for my family. I am setting us up for the success of the week. I don’t have time during the weekdays to cook elaborate meals. I chop the vegetables. I make soups that easily freeze. I make collard green wraps that my girls love. I blanch collard greens and fill them. That is an ultimate win as a parent. I’m getting greens into my kids, and it is an easy weeknight meal. 

Q: What’s something that you’ve learned to make mealtime more successful? 

A: I make a menu every Sunday. Mondays are always salmon Mondays. That ensures we get salmon once a week. I change up the sides. Tuesdays are taco Tuesdays. It makes it easy to streamline. 

a living room filled with furniture and a large window: The cooking space was created at Lakeside Natural Medicine as part of Sarah Axtell's longtime dream to teach clients cooking and nutrition.

© Courtesy of Sarah Axtell
The cooking space was created at Lakeside Natural Medicine as part of Sarah Axtell’s longtime dream to teach clients cooking and nutrition.

Q: What’s one recipe everyone can or should learn? 

A: Making a green smoothie. I teach most of my patients to make a smoothie with greens. Not everyone will cook, but to get greens in everyday is essential. … The key to a smoothie is greens and a protein source. To keep you full, it is not just fruits. 

Q: Who is the target audience for food as medicine?

A: Anyone. We all have to eat, and anyone who is ready to take their health in their own hands, it starts in the kitchen …  

I also started videos with my kids during quarantine. We’d come into the clinic and whip up healthy foods. That’s a passion of mine, getting kids in the kitchen. If we can teach kids to cook from an early age, with real food, that’s prevention. The goal of this new space was to gather in this teaching kitchen. 

Q: How do you help people create new eating habits?

A: Adding a new habit on to an already established habit will help with long-term success. I talk about food as medicine, but I also try to get people to exercise. If you’re used to having coffee or tea, while it is brewing you have three to five minutes. Get on the floor while no one else is around, do a plank. Now you’ve added a new healthy habit to an established habit. 

Q: Who are your mentors and inspiration? 

A: Dr. Mark Hyman. He’s a functional medical doctor and subscribes to similar philosophy. He wrote “Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?” (Little, Brown) and the corresponding cookbook, “Food: What the Heck Should I Cook?”

Q: When and why did you start your blog?

A: I started blogging about nutrition when I was in naturopathic medical school. I was nursing my oldest daughter, Cece. That took it to a whole different level. I’m feeding another human being, but I’m super hungry … 

I got back to Milwaukee, and I knew people were going to want a resource of recipes. Any time I create in the kitchen, I post it and blog. 

Q: What can people expect from the upcoming “Food Is Medicine” virtual workshop? 

A: I’m doing three different recipes for the workshop: almond crusted chicken, a fall harvest salad with maple tahini dressing, then a no-bake brownie bite, just five ingredients. People can follow along and make it during this livestream workshop. I get a lot of feedback from people who love simple recipes.

Q: What is always in your pantry or refrigerator?

A: Lean proteins, organic ground turkey, organic chicken, wild caught salmon, walnuts. I eat walnuts every single day. You can use them as a base of a pesto, on top of salads, or just combine with dark chocolate chips and you have a healthy trail mix. And produce, plants — 75% of my diet is plants, and that’s what I encourage people to eat. 

Table Chat features interviews with Wisconsinites, or Wisconsin natives, who work in restaurants or support the restaurant industry; or visiting chefs. To suggest individuals to profile, email [email protected]

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: This Shorewood naturopathic doctor is offering cooking workshops because food is a ‘powerful medicine’

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