10 Tips for Healthy Holidays

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2014 has been a fun and crazy year.  We can hardly believe we are already heading into the holiday season. It seems like we were just putting out Easter eggs. Still, we need to face the inevitable; the holidays are upon us. Facing this realization also means dealing with the dinners, parties and gift baskets of food. Thanksgiving alone can put you in a food coma through the next holiday.

With holiday cards to write, presents to buy and parties to attend, we all need to remember to try to eat healthy during the holidays or face the sluggish effects of our bad choices. I'm not kidding. Last year, I dove into the candy dish at a holiday party and just woke up to write this post.

ElvesPie.jpgSo, to learn from my mistakes, I've compiled this list:

10 Healthy Eating Tips to Survive the Holidays

  1. Trim Back The Trimmings - Unlike a Holiday Tree, you don't need to trim out your plate with everything. A little discretion here can save you pounds of guilt later. Avoid empty calories in cookies, chocolates and processed foods. 
  2. Don't Be A Scrooge - At the same time, don't be afraid to indulge in your sweet treat, be it fruit, nuts or even a chocolate truffle, if that's your thing. Moderation is key. Food, like life, is meant to be enjoyed, especially around the holidays. Just remember that gluttony will not look pretty come summer.
  3. Be A Food Snob - It's the one time it's okay to be a snob at a party.  If you don't love it, don't try it. Only fill your plate with food you love. If you don't see anything you like, grab a glass and raise a toast to your host. You don't need to bend your elbows at the buffet.
  4. Fuel Up For The Festivities - Just like you don't go to the grocery store hungry, don't go to a holiday party that way. You'll find yourself better able to resist temptation if you aren't imagining the other guests as a crunchy treat.
  5. Be Merry, Drink Then Eat - Before you head for the food, grab a drink, circle the room and mingle. You may find you won't even end up at the food trough.
  6. Step Away From The Chocolates - If sweets are your trigger, then don't stand next to them. Out of sight, out of mind has been a winning mantra for years. If it's in front of you and you can reach it, you'll be eating it. Treat those sweets like an ex that owes you money. You don't even want to see it!
  7. Walk Don't Skip - If you over-indulge in one meal, up your daily exercise and/or lessen the next, don't skip meals. Surviving the holidays is about making healthy choices. Don't fall into unhealthy practices. 
  8. It Isn't All About The Cookies - There are lots of fun activities we can do with the family that don't involve baking cookies and pies. You can make wreaths and cards, but if you are going to make cookies, then check out some of our healthy recipes.
  9. Fill Your Home With Good Goodies - Instead of having bowls of sugary treats out on display for the family and guests, keep healthy, nutritious alternatives around. Eating several meals a day can be healthy provided the options are healthy.
  10. Enjoy What You're Eating - Nutritious food is meant to be shared, appreciated and celebrated. Savor it and enjoy the experience. Don't cram it down in between anecdotes. Treat your standing cocktail party the way you would a lovely sit down. Don't rush, stop to enjoy, savor and celebrate.

Have more tips to add to the list? Share them below!

Michael Pearce is one half of the amazing duo completed by husband Matt Burrus. They round out their happy home with daughter, Estelle, age three, and newest addition, baby Winston. Michael and Matt share more of their adventures in parenting over at the Gayby Boom blog.

VOM FASS Grand Opening

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VOMFASS-Grand-Opening-Agenda.jpgThere's a new spice shop in town, and they want YOU to join them for the grand opening of their Rice Village location. We want you there, too, since VOM FASS has generously offered to donate FIVE PERCENT of sales from their entire opening weekend to Recipe for Success Foundation, starting Thursday. Even better are all the FREE activities and tastings going on for the celebration. Check out the lineup and plan to stop by and doing some holiday shopping for your favorite food lovers, Thursday, November 20 through Sunday, November 23... See you then!

Learn more about VOM FASS here.

Q&A with My Favorite Holiday Food Writing Contest Winner

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I recently sat down with My Favorite Holiday Food Writing Contest winner David Gallegos, a fourth-grader from MacGregor Elementary School. His essay about his grandmother's fried cauliflower, a New Year's Eve tradition in his family, captured the heart of the storywriting contest's official judge, Houston's own Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda. She said that out of all the essays, David's had the best "flow and tone."  Each year the winner gets to play chef for the day at The Houstonian with Chef Neal Cox. Read David's thoughts on winning this prestigious prize and prepare to be charmed by this little chef! 

When did you start taking RFS classes?

First grade.

When you are out in the garden, what do you like to do?

Water the plants.

What is your favorite plant to grow in the garden?


Yum! Do you like to make any special recipes with watermelon?

I like the taste of it plain, but sometimes I like to it eat it with this hot powder. Me and my grandmother call it, "pica."

You've been cooking for a while now, what is your favorite recipe to make in this class?

Beet brownies!

What is your favorite food in the whole world?

(Without missing a beat) Fried cauliflower.

davidgallegosedited.jpgDavid Gallegos with Chef Neil Cox at the Blue Plate Special Awards Luncheon on November 5, 2014. 

How did it feel to receive the My Favorite Holiday Food Writing Contest award at the Blue Plate Special Luncheon?

Nervous and exciting.  I liked the lunch. The pecan-crusted chicken was good, but I would have changed the sweet potato mash to cucumbers instead.  (In the S2P culinary classes, we encourage students to say what they like about a dish and things they would change about it. Let the creativity fly!)

What do you think about spending an entire day with Chef Neal? You're going to learn and cook so many yummy things!

I am excited. Hopefully I don't get a stomachache!

Is there any particular dish you'd like to make with Chef Neal at the Houstonian?

I want to try and make my very own recipe with Chef Neal. Not sure if it it's going to be a dessert or a main meal.

Do you think you could teach Chef Neal how to make fried cauliflower?

If my mom shows me the right ingredients to use first, then sure!


What a fun day is ahead for this budding chef and writer! Stay tuned to hear what good food David cooks up with Chef Neal Cox at the Houstonian in January!

Want your kids to participate in the 2015 My Favorite Holiday Food Writing Contest next fall?  Follow us on FB and Twitter to stay up to date on contest registration announcements and other fun RFS activities.

'Food desert' thing of past

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Chron-HopeFarms.jpg"Seeds of change have been planted in the Sunnyside neighborhood, where healthful eating has long been inhibited by a lack of grocery stores and fresh food.

Sunnyside is one example of Houston's food deserts, where the nearest grocery store is almost twice as far as the nearest convenience store or fast-food restaurant.

Gracie Cavnar, founder of Recipe for Success, knew something had to be done, so she created Hope Farms, a food-access project meant to empower Sunnyside's residents to provide healthful foods to their children."

Read the full story, published in the Houston Chronicle Star section on November 7, 2014, at Chron.com.

Composting Mr. Fuzzy

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This year was the first time in eight years I decided to carve a jack-o-lantern. Goodness, was I proud of it. The days leading up to Halloween, I let the sinister eyes and bat-shaped mouth sit a glow on my stoop, lighting up my inner childlike glee.

jackolanternrevised.jpgPromptly on the morning after Halloween, there they were -- the darkening spots, the little fuzzy hairs of mold.  October was over and November wasted no time in getting rid of the past.

compost.jpgFortunately, this month in our Seed-to-Plate curriculum is the time we teach our students about composting.  I brought in my proud yet somewhat slumping, jack-o-lantern into MacGregor Elementary to show my students.

"What should I do with my pumpkin now that it's old and moldy?" I asked my first graders. One young girl raised her hand "You need to throw Mr. Fuzzy in the trash." Aha! The teachable moment, all of us teachers hope for. Off to the compost area we went. 

Students learned that Mr. Fuzzy would eventually break down into a crumbly,  "chocolate" looking mixture, rich in nutrients, for healthier, bigger veggie plants in our Recipe Garden.  Healthy soil makes healthy crops, which ultimately means healthy us!


At the end of the lesson, it was a little bittersweet for the students (and me!) to bury Mr. Fuzzy under decomposing vines. Yet, the event energized students to bring their own jack-o-lanterns from home to put in our school compost. Sad pumpkins can make some very happy plants and kiddos.

I challenge you all to do the same with your leftover pumpkins this holiday season!

For pottage and puddings 
and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips
are common supplies.
We have pumpkins at morning
and pumpkins at noon.
If it were not for pumpkins
we should be undoon. 

Pilgrim verse (c.1633)

Food Day Plant-a-Palooza!

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KIPP carrots.jpg

People have been gathering over food for millenia. It should be no surprise then on October 24 every year thousands of events all around the country bring Americans together to celebrate Food Day, a day to enjoy and support the movement for affordable, sustainable, real food.

 Official Food Day Houston organizer Recipe for Success Foundation added an event to the list of celebrations with #HoustonDigsRealFood, a citywide plant-a-palooza. What better way to appreciate real food than by planting, growing, harvesting and preparing vegetables yourself?

 Houstonians of every age were encouraged to plant veggie seeds in patches of soil located in offices, window boxes, yards, community gardens and, of course, school gardens. Thirty-five Houston-area schools participated in the event!

Check Presentation, group with kids.jpg

 MacGregor Elementary hosted the grand finale of the festivities. In a public ceremony with the Mayor's office and local dignitaries, Wells Fargo presented a grant of $200,000 to Recipe for Success Foundation in support of their Hope Farms™ urban agricultural project. After the ceremony, participants including councilmembers Steve Costello and David Robinson, the City's Director of Sustainability Laura Spanjian, planted beet seeds in the school gardens. I see beet brownies in our future!

 Farmers MarKIDS stand.jpg

During the event, MacGregor fifth graders prepared and served crispy sweet potato fries with homemade zesty ketchup to entice guests to shop for school-grown veggies like bok choy, mustard greens, herbs, and sweet potatoes at their farmers marKIDS™ stand. It was quite the garden party!

 Did you plant seeds for #HoustonDigsRealFood? Share what you planted in the comment section below! 

Learn more about farmers marKIDS here.


The Trick-or-Treat Toy Test

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This year health-conscious, sugar-avoiding Houston mama Becky Flechsig decided to test the trick-or-treating waters and see whether Halloween would sink or float without the focus on candy. See how it went...

mermaid.jpgI used my trick-or-treaters this year. I started to wonder what a non candy Halloween would look like and the next thing I knew I was on Amazon buying mini gliders, spider rings, glow in the dark bugs, glow stick  bracelets, and mini bubbles. And I was excited like a nerd about it.

I had a lot of apprehension about the possibility of an old fashioned egging or making small children cry, so on October 30th I went out and bought a mixed bag of mini M&Ms, Snickers and Skittles. The candy lived inside of the ghost (a decoration my grandmother made with paper mache, a balloon & a milk jug) and the toys were in an open bowl. 

halloweencandy.jpgAt the end of the night the candy was gone, but I will have no problem with the possibility of not buying it next year. EVERYONE was nuts over the glow bracelets. I didn't make them into bracelets, just kept them straight like little sticks. Kids were running around with them and when we handed them out, the reactions were fantastic.

The runner up non candy giveaway was the mini bubbles. Everything else was kind of meh. The reason the candy was gone is because after they picked a toy, I was like "and take some candy, too" because I did not want that stuff lying around the house. But next year, we'll probably skip the candy without regret.

This post was originally published on Becky's blog over at Raising Texas.

How do YOU handle the trick-or-treating debacle? Any successful ideas you've tried or seen? Share in the comments!


High Fashion with Sachin & Babi

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D4DSaks-SachinBabi-Invite.jpgOn October 29, join chairs Leisa and Laura in launching our first runway show of  Dress for Dinner, Season VI, featuring personal appearance and fashion presentation by Sachin & Babi, followed by an exclusive VIP dinner with the designers.

Tickets for runway show and reception are $50; dinner is an additional $300.

Season show tickets are available for a special Early Bird rate at 10% discount through the night of the event. All season ticket holders will be included in a drawing to win two tickets to Houston Fashion Week.

Learn more about VIP packages and purchase tickets here.  

Homemade Granola

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Granola.jpgWe welcome the cooler breezes that autumn brings, but with the reprieve from the sweltering summer heat comes the frenzy of back-to-school, holidays and an inevitably overflowing schedule. Ensuring your family stays fueled means packing a few nutritious, energizing recipes in your back pocket. This one, you'll love.

If you've never made granola at home, you'll be  surprised at how simple it is, not to mention cheaper than storebought varieties. Granola from scratch also means you control what goes in; skip the refined sugar, corn syrup and preservatives and customize flavor combos to the whims of you and your favorite snackers, who will love helping make this snack.

Granola, of course, is good on the go as a pick-me-up snack, but it's also a filling way to start the day - simply add your favorite milk or top with yogurt and fresh seasonal fruit. 

Easy-peasy Homemade Granola
Yield - 3 ½ cup (Approximately 14 ¼-cup servings)

2 cup rolled oats
½ cup sliced almonds
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
3 tablespoon canola oil
¼ cup honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon


  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Line 2 quarter sheet pans or 1 half sheet pan with parchment paper.
  • Place oil, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Stir to combine.
  • Chop the pecans with a knife and place in a medium bowl.
  • Place oats, almonds, and sunflower seeds into the bowl with the pecans and mix until combined.
  • Pour the honey mixture onto granola mixture and mix with a spatula until well coated.
  • Turn out granola onto the prepared cookie sheet(s).  Spread the mixture evenly on the cookie sheet in a thin layer.
  • Cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven. Stir the granola. Return the pan to the oven. Cook for 10 more minutes or until golden and crunchy.
  • Remove from the oven. Let cool completely.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Have your own favorite granola flavor combinations? Share in the comments!

Seed-to-Plate on PBS!

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PBSspecial.jpgRecipe for Success Foundation's Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ was featured in an excellent PBS special about reviving school lunch and connecting students with healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Take a look!

(The whole segment is well-worth the watch, but if you're antsy to see us, skip to 10:00!)

This episode aired on PBS and was originally published here.

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