CHEF Serves up a Healthier Yuletide Alternative

Maria Palma is the Program Director and Chef of Culinary Health Education for Families (CHEF) in San Antonio. Chef Palma heads up a state-of-the art teaching kitchen at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio which aims to fight the growing trend of childhood obesity by inviting children and their parents to learn about healthy cooking.

We recently asked Chef Palma to help us answer some questions about her favorite CHEF-approved Christmas recipe. And, true to form she didn’t let us down.

Maria Palma, Program Director & Chef of Culinary Health Education for Families (CHEF) 

Check out her recipe for Christmas Ponche

This is a warm holiday punch, an easy holiday beverage that smells as good as it tastes.

Why did you think of this recipe in connection with Christmas?

Chef Palma: I was born in Guatemala.  Growing up, my mother would prepare Ponche during Christmas.  She learned this recipe from my grandmother.  This version is an adaptation of my family’s recipe.  Ponche is a warm, spiced drink that is made by simmering apple, pineapple and prunes together with cinnamon stick, cloves and allspice.  The smell of Ponche takes me back to my childhood and instantly reminds me it’s Christmas!

Will you be preparing this at Christmas at the hospital?

Chef Palma: My  team will prepare this for our patients and families who attend classes during the Christmas season and talk about how to prepare this at home, emphasizing how the Ponche gets its flavor from the fruit and spices.  We like to prepare infused waters to educate our patients and families how to add flavor to water.  This will be a warm version of that.  Usually, punches and other seasonal beverages can have lots of added sugars.  With my recipe, I add half a cup of brown sugar (or quarter cup of agave syrup) for 6 quarts (24 cups) of liquid.  The sweetener can be easily omitted as well.

Any other thoughts or sentiments you’d share about food/Christmastime at the hospital?

Chef Palma: CHEF is a Culinary Health Education Program that teaches patients and their families how to prepare meals that are nutritionally sound and tasty.  We have a teaching kitchen located in the lobby of The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.  Patients are referred to CHEF by their pediatrician or other medical provider.  Patients are scheduled for six classes, and can bring up to three family members.  Usually classes are attended by the patient, a parent and a sibling.  The family first learns about the day’s recipe through an interactive cooking demo.  During the demo, we discuss the nutritional components of the recipe and highlight the cooking techniques used to prepare the dish.  Then, families wash their hands and work at a station where they have a hands-on experience and practice preparing the recipes themselves.  The class ends with our families eating together at a communal table.  It is amazing to see how families not only learn about nutrition and cooking, but also bond together in the kitchen.  CHEF’s long-term goal is to motivate individuals and communities to adopt and sustain healthier eating habits, and we get to do that every day at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Teaching Kitchen.