Let it Go: Monarch Edition

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Recipe for Success takes full advantage of our Recipe Gardens, utilizing the bounty in our culinary classes. However, it's not just students and school staff who love our homegrown harvest. The week before Thanksgiving, students caught countless monarch caterpillars munching away on the Mexican milkweed in our RecipeGarden at MacGregor Elementary.


A hard freeze in Houston was in the forecast and the kids were worried about the future of all these soon-to-be butterflies. Sympathizing with their anguish, I was talked into becoming a foster parent of four caterpillars, which I was informed, was not nearly enough. Evidently, our garden caterpillars faired just fine. When we returned in December, the once very lush milkweeds had not a leaf in sight!


 Over the following weeks, my classes observed these caterpillars turn into chrysalises, from dewy green to black and orange. One reflective Pre-K student commented that the chrysalis was like the butterfly's sleeping bag, a perfectly apt (and adorable!) association for their curious minds to grasp.


Kindergartener watches a butterfly emerge in its makeshift habitat.

  Never before had I held captive chrysalises and I found myself being just as rapt with their life cycle as the kids, particularly when the butterflies emerged! One particular kindergarten class squealed with delight as the emerging drama unfolded before them. A couple hours later, the fifth graders released the butterflies from their netted cage. Shy to start flying at first, they were serenaded by the class singing "Let It Go" and "I Believe I Can Fly" in complete earnest and support of these tiny creatures. When finally the radiant orange wings took off into the wind, the class erupted in cheers. One student asked, "Can we plant more milkweed?" Absolutely. 


Benihana to the Rescue!

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RFS Board Member Helen Bow is passionate about healthy eating and exercise.  With one son who's an adventurous eater (Greyson) and one who's a selective eater (Miles), it is always a challenge to please everyone at the dinner table. Often, it requires a little creativity.

teppanyaki.jpgMy 13-year-old son Miles has been selective about what he consumes from the get-go.  When he was old enough to start drinking milk from a cup, he refused to do so.  The kiddo hasn't had a full serving of milk in 12 years.  I'm not kidding.  That includes ice cream.  Yes, that's right.  My son will not even eat ice cream; and yet will opt for sorbet or gelato. To make sure he's getting the nutrients that milk provides, I've learned to compensate, offering him lots of cheese or sneaking milk or cream into mashed potatoes or mac and cheese.

Oddly, Miles loves onions and will eat them raw and cut up like an apple.  I'm always at a loss on what to cook to please the kiddo, to get him to eat healthy foods.  Last weekend, I decided to capitalize on the fact that he loves onions and drew inspiration from a recent trip to Benihana, famous for its teppanyaki-style cuisine.  Miles loves the place and gobbles up the soup, chicken fried rice, shrimp and beef.  So at home, I decided to make him chicken fried rice and included onions, carrots, peas and red and green bell peppers--and he loved it!  I also boiled carrots, onions and green bell peppers, cayenne pepper with soy sauce in organic chicken broth to create my own version of the Benihana soup and he devoured it, veggies and all.

What's more, the leftovers were plentiful so we could enjoy it for a few more days.  Thank you--or arigatou--for the inspiration Benihana!

Have you ever re-created one of your children's favorite dining experiences at home? Tell us in the comments! Or try this healthy stir-fry that uses a surprising technique!

TV Magic with Chef Randy Evans!

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ChefRandyChopsticks.jpgChef Randy demonstrates how to use chopsticks. 

Chefs in Schools™, which matches celebrity chefs as guest instructors for fourth-grade classes, is one of the most exciting aspects of our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program.   Our volunteer chefs are getting a kick out of putting their own unique stamp on this year's curricular theme: Eat It! Food Adventures with Marco Polo.  Just yesterdayChef Randy Evans took fourth-graders from MacGregor Elementary on a culinary adventure to China. On the menu for the day were Far East Cauliflower Bowls, a revamped version of the ultimate take-out comfort food champion, Chinese fried rice.

Chef Randy showed students how to make "rice" with cauliflower, upping nutrient levels and lowering calories, all while sending the tastiness factor off the charts.  Kids were impressed that with only a few pulses of the food processor this wonder veggie could be transformed into a better version of the grain. 

Since 2006, Chef Randy has volunteered in our classrooms, charming and educating students with restaurant secrets and the finest culinary skills. Thursday was no different, except for one detail: the kids' beloved chef is now a TV star! As Chef Randy led students on the epicurean exploration, he regaled them with stories of his Kitchen Inferno episode "Milk and Cookies: Get Ready to Crumble", which debuted this past week on the Food Network. He even divulged a TV magic secret - it took 8 days to film the one hour episode.  The kids were delighted to get the inside scoop!

Baked Veggie Fritters

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The holiday season means plenty of celebrating centered around sharing favorite food traditions with loved ones. But after the big meal's been eaten and the party fun's been had, you may find yourself drained of inspiration to create but one more inventive meal.

In a kitchen just like yours, in circumstances just like this, is how the veggie fritter was born. At least we assume so since its simple genius is perfect for such an occasion. 


This month Chef Jon Buchanan of Trevisio baked veggie fritters with Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ students at MacGregor Elementary, inspiring him to recreate the dish in technicolor for a family meal with his staff (pictured here).

In Britain, fritters take the form of "bubble and squeak", so called due to the sounds they emit as they sizzle in a hot pan, and take advantage of what remains from Sunday supper. Roasted root vegetables, soft and sweet, are lazily mashed and combined with some egg and flour before being dropped into a pan and refashioned into beautifully irregular savory pancakes. It's exactly the end your holiday meal leftovers dreamed of. And requires the tiniest bit of effort, lucky for you.

Of course, fresh vegetables work swimmingly, as well. Whatever you have on hand, really, no matter the season, just shred, mix with back bone-providing elements, liven with herbs and aromatics, then into the pan they go.

To lighten up this version, we send forgo pan frying and instead send our "fritters" into the oven to finish the transformation from humble ingredients to humble yet satisfying comfort food. While you wait, whip up a tangy, bright sauce that will awaken the whole dish, as well as your house guests.

Baked Veggie Fritters


For the fritters:

1 cup zucchini
1 cup carrot
2 cup potato (russet or sweet), cooked
2 eggs
½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs 
½ cup parsley, chopped
½ cup mint, chopped
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt 
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the yogurt sauce:

1 cup plan, lowfat yogurt
2 tablespoons yellow mustard (or whichever kind you have will do)
2 tablespoons fresh herbs (such as parsley, dill, mint, cilantro or a mix)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste


To make the fritters:

  • Preheat oven to 450°. Lightly oil a baking sheet and set aside.
  • Scoop cooked potato out of skin and mash with the back of a fork. 
  • Cut zucchini into small ¼-inch cubes (or grate). Add to bowl with potato.
  • Peel and grate carrots. Add to bowl with potato and zucchini.
  • Crack eggs into a separate bowl.  Whisk with a fork before adding to bowl.
  • Add chopped mint and parsley, bread crumbs, cumin, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
  • Measure 1 heaping tablespoon of mixture, roll into a ball and place on baking sheet oiled baking sheet. Repeat until all of the mixture is used.
  • Using the bottom of a glass or cup, flatten each ball until about ½-inch thick.
  • Bake at 450° for 6 minutes, flip each fritter and bake another 6 minutes.

To make the sauce: 

  • Peel and mince garlic, chop herbs and combine with yogurt, mustard and lemon juice. Stir to combine.
  • Taste and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Thin with a small amount of water if needed.
  • Serve each fritter with yogurt sauce and enjoy!

Find even more ideas for healthy, delicious recipes for any occasion on our Pinterest boards.

'Tater Takeover!

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Move over Pumpkin Spiced everything, it's sweet potato season! Since school has started, the kiddos in our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ programs have been ripping up verdant vines and submerging their small hands in soil. It's the ultimate treasure hunt, sifting and clawing through the deep unknown of our garden beds, sometimes unearthing a host of interesting living things from "alien" looking moth pupas to red onions from seasons past.  When sweet potatoes are found they are notoriously plump, disfigured giants, delighting the young discoverers. It's no easy feat hoisting batatas like these from such deep depths.

GiantSweetPotato.jpgStudents hold up a monstrous sweet potato harvested from their Recipe Garden at Rodriguez Elementary School. 

After all this hard work, the bellies began to growl. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and so many kids have marshmallows and mashed sweet potatoes on the brain. But here at Recipe for Success, we are digging deeper with our recipes.

In our showcase culinary classrooms we motivate kids to step away from the candied nuts and sticky melted 'mallows by instead making a flavorful Turkish dish called Sebze Müscveri, or Baked Veggie Fritters, as part of our Marco Polo curriculum, adapted from the Eat It! Food Adventures with Marco Polo cookbook by RFS Founder, Gracie Cavnar. Traditionally made with russet potatoes, we utlized our harvest bounty to boost the vitamin punch. To balance its sweetness, the kids made a yogurt-garlic sauce to drizzle on top and then added a garnish of garden fresh radish slices for extra crunch. YUM!

Let us know how you are healthily enjoying the sweet side of this season's best ingredient!

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)

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