Food Exercises for Picky Eaters

by Alexandria Garcia, Graduate Dietetic Intern at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio
reviewed by Celina Parás, MSc, RDN, LD, Nutrition Education Specialist, CHEF, The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio 

Most children have a tendency to dislike food based on its texture, appearance, taste, and smell. If your child is a picky eater, then this is all too familiar. Having healthy meals may be a challenge, but working together with your child can be the start to expanding their palette.

Be Adventurous
Involve your children in choosing new foods. This will give your child a sense of control. Go to a grocery store and pick out a new fruit or vegetable. The produce section can be colorful and is the perfect place to explore. Go home and research interesting facts about the new food. For example, where it grows, what vitamins it has, and how you can cook it.

Test Out Textures
Texture may be the main reason your child does not enjoy a food. Remember, texture is how a food feels in the mouth as opposed to its flavor. For example, the squishiness of a fresh tomato. Chop it up and make salsa or blend it to smooth out the texture. Use this mixture to make pasta sauce and use it on our Bolognese Zucchini Pasta for a better-for-you Italian style meal.

Take Your Time With Tasting
Tasting a new food can be scary for your child, so be patient. Go through the motions of eating from plate to mouth one meal at a time. First, by lifting the food to the mouth and then touching to the tongue. Next, by taking a small bite, big bite, and finally, eating it all. Offer these new foods with some they already eat to make it less stressful.

Cook Together
Cooking together is another creative way to tie in all of these exercises and engage their senses. Pick a healthy recipe and cook it for fun at home or try out one of our CHEF classes. Be creative and play around with different shapes by using cookie cutters. Let your child be a scientist and create a new flavor. Take this time bond and learn about how healthy eating can be an overall positive experience. Lastly, enjoy the food you have prepared as a family.

Although these exercises may not cure your child’s picky eating overnight, they are a great way for your child to build a positive relationship with food.

Tanner A, Andreone BE. Using Graduated Exposure and Differential Reinforcement to Increase Food Repertoire in a Child with Autism. Behavior Analysis in Practice. 2015;8:233-240.
Nutrition Therapy for Selective Eaters. Public Home Page – Nutrition Care Manual.

Fuel Your Family’s Outdoor Adventures

By Rachel Brownlee Kurita, MS, RD, LD
CHEF Kitchen Lead & Community Dietitian, Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio/Mays Family Clubhouse

Warm, sunny weather means the perfect time to take your family to a nearby park for an afternoon of playing, hiking, and picnicking in the bluebonnets! Packing food to fuel your family that is convenient, healthy, and fun for your picnic can be a little tricky. Here are some ways to make healthy food a part of your outing:

Grab Bags:

Instead of buying potato chips and fruit snacks on your grocery store run, grab ingredients to make trail mix and a bag of fresh fruit like oranges or apples. You can put a handful of trail mix into a zipper bag for each member of your family and give the fruit in the bag a quick rinse before heading out. These snacks are easy to transport, and the salty/sweet, juicy/crunchy combo make them satisfying! Try our Make Your Own Trail Mix and Spice-Roasted Almond recipes for tasty and convenient snack options.

Throw Everything on the Grill:

Bringing food to grill at the park offers a great opportunity to relax and socialize around the picnic table. Grilling is not only a great way to cook up lean meats like chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, or top round beef—you can make a complete meal by grilling veggies along with your choice of protien! Choose colorful veggies such as zucchini or yellow squash, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions. To prepare ahead, cut longer vegetables into strips or planks about 1/2 inch thick, brush lightly with olive or canola oil, and sprinkle with your favorite dried herbs or spices (Italian seasoning with garlic powder work well). Pack the veggies in aluminum foil, and you have a pre-made cooking container to put on your hot grill at the park.

Keep Foods Cold:

If you are going to grill up some marinated chicken and veggies, make sure to transport everything in a cooler bag surrounded by ice. Keep raw meats in a separate bag from fruits, veggies, and grains. This should keep your food safe to eat for the time it takes to get to your relaxation spot and set up camp.

Bring Water:

It is easy to get so into our hike or outdoor activities that we forget to drink until we are thirsty! In general, for low-intensity to moderate activity of an hour or less, water is the perfect thirst quencher to keep our bodies cool and working right. If you are a go-getter who climbs up hills for hours on a hot Saturday morning, carry a cool sports drink with you on your trek. Be sure to remind the kids to take water breaks with you! Our Cucumber Mint Infusion is a refreshing option to keep you cool.

CHOSA Sizzles Through Healthy Innovations

by Christina Acosta
La Prensa
March 7, 2018

The Culinary Health Education for Families (CHEF) program at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio (CHOSA) celebrated their Innovation Award with a healthy cooking demonstration.

The award was presented at the annual Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives Conference in Napa, California this month. The award recognizes the nation’s leading health professional training programs providing innovative nutrition, physical activity and obesity counseling education to their students.

Parents and children had the opportunity to look at Maria Palma, program director and chef at the CHEF program, make a vegetable frittata and Greek yogurt with fruit. For Palma, it is very important to include the most essential cooking skills that families need to have and recipes needed to go along with those cooking skills.

“We teach families how to cook with cauliflower rice instead of white rice, just whole wheat flour instead of white flour,” said Palma. “We believe that they are small changes will lead to bigger improvements. My philosophy is to help to educate others.”

Statistics show fewer than 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum number of hours of education in nutrition and exercise science recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. While 94 percent of physicians agree nutritional counseling should be a part of a patient visit, only 14 percent of doctors feel they have adequate training to do so.

Since CHEF’s launch in 2015, the program has offered culinary medicine training in a teaching kitchen to physicians, registered dietitians, allied health professionals, hospital associates, patients and their caregivers. Classes are led by a specially trained team, where they teach basic nutrition and practical cooking skills to eat away diet-related diseases.

To date, CHEF has provided hands-on culinary medical training to more than 160 physicians. In turn, physicians have made more than 730 clinical referrals to the CHEF program at the hospital. CHEF at The Children’s Hospital is part of a larger CHEF network of community teaching kitchens in San Antonio, made possible with funding from Goldsbury Foundation.

Recognizing that physicians receive virtually no formal nutrition education and no training in healthy cooking, CHEF is a uniquely valuable resource for health care providers committed to stemming the tide of diet-related diseases. CHEF trains and certifies physicians and other medical providers in culinary medicine so they may incorporate CHEF teachings into their practice.

“We want doctors to understand that this is not only available to their patients, but also a tool to use as a part of their intervention,” said CHOSA medical director Dr. Julie La Barba, FAAP. “Most doctors in this hospital don’t have an hour to spend for on food, so they create a jump off point with patients and say they want them to go to the teaching kitchen and they prescribe that.”

According to North Dakota State University, family meals allow parents an opportunity to be aware of and monitor their children’s moods, behaviors and activities with friends. Parents know what their kids are doing, who they are with and where and when their activities are taking place.

Family meals make a positive impact on young children’s language acquisition and literacy development. Family meals furnish a daily opportunity for a parent or sibling to speak to an infant or toddler, and help them learn words, understand language and build conversation.

There is wide-ranging evidence that family meals are an important “protective factor” in the lives of children and teenagers. Family meals are associated with a variety of positive outcomes that improve child well-being. These include a decreased risk of substance use or delinquency, heightened personal and social well-being, and better academic performance.

Anna Gafford, along with her eight and 12 year old daughters, are on their third class with CHEF and enjoying new options for the dinner table. Her daughter Diana was referred to the program after going through speech therapy for feeding issues.

This program has given Diana not only the opportunity to try two new vegetables, but also creates a sense of independence  and ownership of her family’s health.

“I think in all we are excited that they are giving more options and expanding their palettes in different ways and so for us that is a big deal,” said Anna Gafford. “It was quite successful and there were some textures that she did not adapt it to yet. She had previously refused the process of being responsible for herself and has expanded her palette.”

For more information about the program, visit