CHEF Cooking Camps at the San Antonio Botanical Garden

by Tori Parsons, R.D.
reviewed by Katy Bowen, Community Outreach Director, CHEF      

At the San Antonio Botanical Garden (SABOT) CHEF Cooking Camps, children learned basic cooking skills while creating healthy recipes using produce found in SABOT’s Culinary Garden! But the children went beyond simply cooking a nutritious meal. Chef Dave Terrazas, the Culinary and Wellness Program Specialist and CHEF Lead at SABOT, encouraged campers to apply all five senses throughout harvesting, cooking, and eating to develop a whole new appreciation for their meals.

Sight: We eat with our eyes. Looking into the Culinary Garden, campers were exposed to a variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers. The children’s natural tendency to choose colorful produce in the garden led to vibrant, appetizing meals on their plates.

Smell: In the Culinary Garden, there are a large variety of herbs, from cinnamon basil to chocolate mint, and the different varieties can all look very similar. Chef Dave encouraged his students to smell the different herbs and decide which would be the best complement to their meal.

Touch: Think about the texture of curly kale or the softness of cooked root vegetables. We use this sense to explore textures, evaluate the ripeness of produce, or create the right consistency in recipes. During the CHEF cooking camps, the children touched their food (with clean hands, of course!) throughout the cooking process to make the connection on how properly cooked food should feel.

Listen: From the sizzle of onion in the skillet to a knife rapidly chopping against the cutting board, we are surrounded by sound in the kitchen. Many chefs overlook this sense, yet it can tell us so much. If there’s no sizzle when you add your vegetables to sauté, it can tell you the heat is too low while the uncontrollable crackle and pop of oil in the skillet can warn you to bring the heat down.

Taste: Always taste as you cook. Does this dish need more salt, more acidity, more sweetness… how can you adjust it to make it better? Seeing the children develop this attention to detail in the taste of recipes and adjust as needed, was truly incredible!

At your next family meal, make it a game to see how many different senses your kids can name throughout the cooking process.

Back to School Lunches

By Megan Hamilton, Texas A&M Nutrition Sciences Intern
Reviewed by Katy Bowen, MS, RDN, LD, Community Outreach Director, CHEF
Edited by Andi Champion, Program Coordinator, CHEF

Summer is winding down and school is almost back in session! Help your children thrive this school year and get them excited about healthy eating habits by providing them with fun, tasty, new lunch ideas. Our better-for-you inspiration is sure to get you an A+ in the lunchroom!

Turkey and Cheese Roll-up:

Take two pieces of turkey lunch meat and a slice of cheddar cheese and place them on a whole-wheat tortilla. Roll the tortilla up and you’re done! Add a side of yogurt & fruit or hummus & veggies for a simple, yet filling meal.

Avocado Chicken Salad:

Place 1 cup of finely chopped chicken, 1 ripe avocado, 1 apple peeled and finely chopped, ¼ cup of finely chopped celery, and ¼ cup of finely chopped red onion into one bowl. Mix the ingredients with a fork. Then add 2 tbsp of finely chopped cilantro or parsley, 2 tsp of lime juice, ½ tsp of table salt, a pinch of ground pepper, 2 tsp of olive oil, and mix. This healthy spin on the classic chicken salad can be enjoyed on whole-wheat bread or tortilla, in lettuce cups, or even by itself!

Vegetable Cheese Pasta Salad:

Boil ½ cup of whole-wheat bowtie or other small shaped pasta. Add the cooked pasta to a bowl with 1/3 cup of diced red bell pepper, 1/3 cup of diced steamed green beans, 1/3 cup of diced feta cheese, and mix. In another bowl, combine 1/3 cup of low- fat plain yogurt, 1 tbsp of balsamic vinaigrette, and a pinch of salt. Blend the dressing well, add to the pasta bowl, and keep chilled. This plant-based protein dish will keep your child fueled and focused!

For side dishes, skip the chips! Instead, paint your child’s plate with colorful produce such as apples, strawberries, bananas, kiwis, carrots, and celery. Make sure they stay hydrated by ditching sugary beverages and sticking to plain water.

Family Fun at the Farmer’s Market

By Jacqueline Weiss, Cornell Nutrition Sciences Intern
Reviewed by Katy Bowen, MS, RDN, LD, Director of Community Outreach, CHEF
Edited by Andi Champion, Program Coordinator, CHEF

Exploring your local Farmer’s Market is the perfect Saturday morning family activity and a fantastic opportunity for your children to learn where real food comes from! Allow your children to pick out one or two pieces of produce and use it in a recipe that you can cook together. By letting them have a hand in the meal planning process and helping pick out your families’ produce they may be more willing to try new foods.

The Farmer’s Market is also a terrific way to learn about eating seasonally. With your children, pick out a fruit or vegetable to be the main ingredient for your meal and then find recipes centered around that item. For example, watermelons are in season from May through November. This refreshing fruit is a great way to beat the Texas heat and the recipe possibilities are endless! Check out our healthy, delicious, and CHEF-Approved “Fruit Ceviche” or Jicama, Cucumber, and Melon Salad to make with your kids. Or, replace the strawberries with watermelon in this spinach salad!

For more healthy inspiration, stop by the CHEF tent every Saturday at Pearl Farmer’s Market.

What Type of Fat Should I Cook With?

By Jennifer Reha, UTSA Graduate Dietetic Intern
Revised by Celina Paras MSc, RDN, LD.

“Cook with this fat. Don’t cook with that fat.” With so much information on the internet changing daily, it can be confusing when trying to make better nutrition choices. Fats are an important part of our diet; they keep our cells happy, help us absorb vitamins, and are needed for keeping our body, including our brain and heart, at 100%. So, what fat should you cook with?

Types of Fats

All fats contain 3 kinds of fatty acids that have different effects on our body. Fats that contain mostly saturated fatty acids are primarily solid at room temperature. Sources of saturated fat include palm oil, butter, beef fat, or chicken fat. Fats that contain mostly unsaturated fatty acids are usually liquid at room temperature. Sources of unsaturated fats include olive, canola, peanut, soybean, corn, or sunflower oils, seafood, or avocados. Essential fatty acids, which must be obtained via diet, are found in unsaturated fats. Research suggests that excess saturated fat may be associated with a higher risk for heart disease, whereas unsaturated fats may decrease one’s risk; this is why it is important to know which type of fat you are cooking with.


Some fats are more fragile than others. Fats have a smoke point, which means the point at which the fat molecules are broken down and smoke is produced. After this point, there may be undesirable flavor and compositional changes. Reheating of fats to reuse in the cooking process is not recommended as this may alter the composition of the fat, lower the smoke point, and increase the risk for production of unstable compounds. In degrees Fahrenheit, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has a smoke point around 375, canola oil has one around 400, flax seed oil has one of around 225, butter has one around 250, and avocado oil has one of around 570.


At the grocery store, there is an extensive selection of various oils with an wide range of cost. To maximize on an oil’s properties, make sure to buy a pure form of the oil and not a blend or refinement. Along with cost, the type of dish and method of preparation must be considered, especially if one is also considering the flavor of oil to use. For example, if one owned EVOO and canola oil, one may use canola oil when stir frying because the oil flavor will not be as noticeable compared to adding an oil directly on to pasta to consume, which EVOO may be a better option to enhance the flavor. This would be cost and flavor effective.

In general, cooking at home with family is a positive experience. With the goal of healthy eating patterns in mind, swapping saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat may increase potential health benefits. Keep these tips in mind next time you are strolling down the cooking oil section or trying to decide which fat to cook with!


  1. USDA & HHS. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed, 2015:
  2. Mishra S, Manchanda S. Cooking oils for heart health. J Prev Cardiol. 2012;1:123-131.
  3. Katragadda HR, Fullana A, Sidhu S, Carbonell-Barrachina ÁA. Emissions of volatile aldehydes from heated cooking oils. Food Chemistry. 2010;120(1):59-65.
  4. Moncel B. Smoking Points of Fats and Oils. 2018; Accessed March 30, 2018.


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  1. HHS Ua. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed2015:
  2. Mishra S, Manchanda S. Cooking oils for heart health. J Prev Cardiol. 2012;1:123-131.
  3. Katragadda HR, Fullana A, Sidhu S, Carbonell-Barrachina ÁA. Emissions of volatile aldehydes from heated cooking oils. Food Chemistry. 2010;120(1):59-65.
  4. Moncel B. Smoking Points of Fats and Oils. 2018; Accessed March 30, 2018.