Culinary Nutritionist Charlotte Samuel reacts to trying a creamy poblano and plantains sauce. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Food and health experts taught the 30 H-E-B Slim Down Showdown contestants how to cook delicious meals with nutrition in mind Wednesday night at the H-E-B Culinary Academy on South Flores Street. Those skills were promptly put to the test as the contestants, already selected for the grocery chain’s 12-week weight-loss competition, participated in another challenge: the Culinary Throwdown.

Contestants were organized into six groups that received directions from chefs and registered dietitians. Each group was given a basket of mystery ingredients and asked to prepare a meal that followed MyHealthy Plate guidelines.

“MyHealthy Plate helps individuals with meals and portion control,” said Charlotte Samuel, H-E-B culinary nutritionist. The guide reserves 50% of the plate for vegetables, 25% for protein and 25% for carbs.

H-E-B created the Showdown six years ago to encourage its employees (called partners), and then the wider community four years ago, to seek out better dietary choices and exercise opportunities. Contestants from cities throughout Texas arrived in San Antonio on Jan. 17 to attend a week-long FitCamp program that teaches participants the habits they’ll need to live longer, healthier lives.

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Each group presented their final dishes to a panel of judges and described the ingredients and nutritional content of the plates. Teams were judged by their knowledge of the recipe, use of MyPlate guidelines and their dish’s taste, appearance, presentation and creativity.

Following presentations, contestants enjoyed dishes from each group in a buffet-style celebration.

“It’s overwhelming what we have learned,” said H-E-B partner Terry Galbraith, adding that her six godchildren inspired her to get healthy. Galbraith said she wants to be present for major life milestones, but for now, she just wants to shoot NERF guns with her godsons without having to stop and rest. “I’m tired of it, I want to play on the field.”

Each group presented their plates to a panel of judges and explained what made their dish healthier. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Each group presented their plates to a panel of judges and explained what made their dish healthier. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Contestants will continue to learn about fitness and nutrition this week, before they return to their home cities on Jan. 22. The competition’s final weigh-in and award ceremony will be held April 16 in San Antonio, where the participants will show off their progress and get a chance to win a $10,000 grand prize.

“We all came (to the competition) with the same goal, to be in a better health situation,” said Jabbar Al Tameemi, who works in security for H-E-B in San Antonio. “It’s a learning process, I don’t claim to know everything now, but it’s a start.”

Tameemi plans to bring his new favorite healthy foods and eating habits to his family.

“(My family) tried to lose weight together, but we were unsuccessful,” he said. “I’m hoping with this knowledge I can help them.”

There was a general mood of excitement among the participants. Contestants were less concerned with winning, and more concerned about the their cohort’s dishes and experiences; everyone cheered during each group’s presentation to the judges.

“It’s not about the contest, it’s not even about the number on the scale, it’s about you leading a really full life as long as possible,” said Kate Rogers, H-E-B vice president of communication and engagement. “This shows that real people can change, and they can be successful.”

The culinary challenge winner will be announced at a FitCamp graduation on Friday.

*Top image: Culinary Nutritionist Charlotte Samuel (right) reacts after trying a creamy poblano and plantains sauce made by contestants.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

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2016 H-E-B Slim Down Showdown Now Accepting Applications

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Slim Down Showdown: The Road to Health and Happiness


Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events. Follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter or Culture Spoon.