It's Déjà Vu All Over Again

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birthday_cupcakes__58456.1405367087.1280.1280.jpgAn Editorial for the Houston Chronicle, by Gracie Cavnar.

In 2004, I celebrated the news that Susan Combs, Texas Agricultural Commissioner at the time, had wrestled control of the school lunch program from those who supported the idea of soda machines in elementary schools and Sara Lee on the lunch line.  I was proud that Texas, which was leading the nation in childhood obesity rates, was also leading the way on meaningful reform to help reverse the epidemic. Last month, I got a headache when I read that Sid Miller, our current Texas Agricultural Commissioner, is on a campaign to reverse those rules and will probably succeed, despite protests from health experts, teachers and parents.

It had been a heads-up from Susan about vending machines in schools that sparked my own fight to save the next generation from a lifetime of obesity.  Now Mr. Miller was using time-tested political tactics to distract Texans from the real issues surrounding school food with his high-profile crusade to allow Moms to bring birthday cupcakes from home to little Johnny's class. The indignation of it all! Guvmint rules prohibiting dearly held family traditions of classroom birthday celebrations! The cupcake wars were a red herring, a non-issue. In fact birthday cupcakes have always enjoyed a waiver in both state and federal school nutrition rules.  But let's not let the facts get in the way.

School lunch is a hot potato--or should I say French fry--and always has been. There is a whole lot of money involved.  We spend over $10 billion annually on the National School Lunch program. That's big business. So, no wonder politicians like to ignore the Surgeon General's warnings.
Food in schools has always been controversial.  Started in 1946 in response to the nutritional deficiencies of U.S. military recruits, the school lunch program soon became embroiled in serial struggles among food and drink companies, farmers, agribusiness, school administrators, and nutritionists.  They fought over who could regulate what, where and when. It was all about the money.  Remember the ketchup and pickle relish controversy in the early 80's?  That was nuthin compared to efforts made by the soda industry to break into the lunch line.  In 1983, acting on a suit brought by the National Soft Drink Association, a panel of judges ruled that the USDA could regulate drinks only in public-school cafeterias, and only at mealtimes. As long as soft drink and candy companies had the permission of local school boards and administrators, they could sell anything, any place at anytime.  Vending machines began to multiply like bunnies in the hallways and gymnasiums of our schools.

It was bad enough that parents were already dealing with the cartoons, the toys and cross marketing that motivated the tiniest tots to demand sugary cereal and chicken nuggets.  But now, even if they limited TV, parents could no longer shield their kids from junk food access.  No matter what the home-rule, a five year old with money in his pocket could buy his own soda at school or have nothing but chips for lunch.  And what a coup for the snack food giants! Snaring a cradle to grave customer while making millions.

At the same time, obesity rates skyrocketed: Between 1980 and 2000, rates doubled and obesity has now eclipsed smoking as the number one health hazard in America.  Today, over half of all Americans are obese and 10% of us have Type II Diabetes.  This year, 400,000 Americans will die from diseases linked to their obesity and one million of our feet will be amputated. Sadly, every year the obesity epidemic reaches further down the age charts. 23 million American kids are already obese. Now, its not unusual for a six year old to develop chronic diseases that we used to only see in their grandparents: Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, liver disease, kidney failure and even cancer. 

Obesity is not just killing many of us; it's costing all of us--$270 billion in 2011 alone.  That's not only in healthcare, but also lost time at work, disability payments and increased insurance premiums for everyone.
The map to turn this epidemic around has been in our hands since 2005, when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Institute of Medicine published a sweeping manifesto. After four years of gathering reports from over 60 top health researchers and documenting obesity trends along with its financial and health impacts, their action plan laid out recommended interventions at every level of our society, from home, to neighborhood, to school, town, city, state and federal.  They considered schools one of the most influential settings to encourage healthy behavior. The group, along with the American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics called for an overhaul of school lunch guidelines along with elimination of all sugar-sweetened beverages, snacks and low nutrient food from vending machines and campus cafeterias.

By then, over 21% of elementary, 62% of middle and 85% of high schools had vending machines on campus and 83% of them offered a-la-carte foods on the lunch line from vendors like Taco Bell, Subway, Domino's and Pizza Hut.  School districts across the country pushed back. They counted on the extra revenue from vending and food contracts--typically upwards of $125,000 a year per school, and so did the big soda and snack food companies.  A raft of advertising ensued--$52 million annually directed at kids alone, to promote exercise as the best way to stay healthy, while celebrating American's freedom to eat what we want.  Go ahead; you deserve a break today!

Research indicates that what we eat and the way we eat it is at the root cause of obesity, so the school cafeteria is a great place to start changing habits.  American taxpayers foot the bill for 21.5 million kids to eat free meals at school every day.  For 80% of these children--16 million who are food insecure, it's often their only meal.  I'm wondering why we would agree to line the pockets of the junk food industry on the taxpayer's dime to feed our most vulnerable kids high-calorie, nutrient-poor food that contributes to their chance of becoming obese and practically ensures that we will continue to pay for a lifetime of their chronic diseases?  One of the most effective disruptors to the poverty cycle is good health.  Wouldn't the taxpayer dollar be better spent to guarantee healthy school lunches?

Shame on Mr. Miller for signaling to Texas schools that it's OK to go back to the old, profitable unhealthy ways; but shame on us for letting him get away with it! Cupcake anyone?

Snack Time

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If you are someone who only eats at meal times, power to you. Around 3 PM on most days, I am struck with an intense snack craving akin to someone on a two hour hike. As a teacher, I know I am not alone in that feeling. The last bell of the day rings and kids are off scavenging for snacks like leopards on the hunt. Unfortunately, many students settle for highly processed, fire hydrant red powdered "cheese" puffs and other snacks with a similar dirth in substence. Parents, fear not! We have an easy and delicious alternative: Chewy No-Bake Granola Bars. 

These bars are the perfect refueling snack for children (and adults too!) who need the energy for afternoon activities like tutorials and sports, without the excessive sugar and salt. The nuts offer great protein while the wheat germ adds a nice fiber boost! Enjoy. 

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Chewy No-Bake Granola Bars

Recipe by Justin Kouri

 Ingredients

 1c Rolled oats

½c Pecans, roughly chopped

¼c Shredded coconut

2T Coconut oil

1/3c Honey

1T Brown sugar

1t Vanilla extract

2T Wheat germ

½t Sea salt

¼c Dried cranberries

PROCEDURE

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Line a 9"x5" loaf pan with parchment paper so that there is an extra 2" on the long sides of the pan. This will make it easier to remove the finished product from the pan.

Place oats, pecans and coconut on baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes, stirring the ingredients every five minutes.

Meanwhile, over medium-high heat, combine coconut oil, honey, brown sugar and vanilla in small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Right when it begins to bubble, remove from heat.

 Once the oat mixture is toasted, place in large metal bowl. Add wheat germ, salt and dried cranberries to the oat mixture. Add the warm honey mixture to the bowl and stir until everything is combined.  Pour into prepared pan, and press with spatula so that the mixture is uniform. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then wrap with plastic and chill for 45 minutes, or overnight. Pull the granola loaf out of the pan, cut into 6  uniform bars and serve.

 Yields: 6 servings

Prep time: 5 minutes

Active cooking time: 15 minutes

Inactive cooking time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Skill level: Easy

Let us know how you and your kiddos like them in the comments below! What would you add?  

Why We Are Front & Center @Bayou Green Day

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VegOut! festival.jpgWe want to celebrate the historic legacy of Houston's bayous as the first food highway into town at the city's inception and to bring some cultural relevance into the connection of land, water, and the vast diversity of Houstonian's foodways.  The RFS team will be at three parks on Saturday, April 4 as part of the Houston Parks Board Bayou Green Day. 

We helped create an event passport as another salute to the original gateways to Houston, so we will be stamping passports at all three of our booths:  At Gragg Park folks can stop by to share their Favorite Holiday Food Stories on video and earn a passport stamp.  Then, at Spurlock Park we are helping folks write original poetry and enter our Garden Haikus for Earth Day contest, which will be judged by Rich Levy (Poet and Director of Inprint.) Poets will earn another passport stamp.  At our #HoustonDigsRealFood booth located in Mason Park, we will have all the necessary materials to make a plant pot, plant a veggie from seed and earn another passport stamp   Snaring three stamps will win the passport holder a prize from Success Rice & Mahatma Rice, which will be givenout at all three Recipe for Success booths.

It's just another food adventure with Recipe for Success Foundation that reflects our efforts to celebrate and share our appreciation for fresh, nutritious food and inspire a culture where healthy eating is the norm.  Here is a link to all the other things happening during this event.  Send us you pictures and have fun.

FOURTH-ANNUAL GARDEN HAIKUS FOR EARTH DAY CONTEST

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Earth Day Haiku Contest.jpgWe are celebrating the bounty of spring with poetry contest.

Celebrate National Gardening Month, National Poetry Month AND Earth Day this April by taking part in the fourth-annual Recipe for Success Foundation Garden Haikus for Earth Day Contest. Students and adults are invited to enter the citywide contest online. Houstonians can also pick up flyers and submit haikus on April 4 at the Recipe for Success booth at Bayou Greenway Day along Brays Bayou, on April 11 at the RFS booth at Earth Day Houston at Discovery Green, and on April 18 at the Veggie Riot VegOut! Wrap-up & Chef Showdown at Houstonia House in the Heights.  Or you can enter online HERE.

Rules for Contest:  Submit your poem in the traditional haiku format to reflect spring garden themes or the fun of growing and eating healthy food. Winners will be selected from three categories: Seeds (Age 5 to 11), Sprouts (Age 12 to 17), Blooms (Age 18+). Multiple submissions welcome. Entry deadline is April 30.
 
Prizes:

Seeds (Age 5 to 11) & Sprouts (Age 12 to 17): Farmer-for-a-Day with Tommy Garcia-Prats of urban farm Finca Tres Robles, plus an Eat It! Food Adventure with Marco Polo cookbook. Winners will spend a day learning about planting and harvesting, greenhouses and market stands at Finca Tres Robles, located in the East End of Houston.

Blooms (Age 18+): Organic Fresh Vegetable Basket from Houston-based Sown & Grown Farm, in addition to John Besh's Cooking From the Heart cookbook. Sown & Grown is an inner city farm, dedicated to land stewardship and creating beautiful, healthy ecosystems which feed our Houston communities.

The Outdoor Classroom

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 This past week, third-grade students at Westwood Elementary were able to connect the textbook with the real world as they learned about the plant life cycle in the context of their own school garden. Led by Olga Miles, students practiced the words maturation and germination as they toured the garden in search for plants in those stages. At the end of the tour, they got their hands dirty harvesting carrots and radishes and planting potatoes and flowers. 

Westwood ES.jpgLead instructor Olga Miles harvests a mature carrot with students. 

Westwood Elementary School is a member of our Affliate Partnership Program. Want to bring the Seed-2-Plate Nutrition Program to your school and become a Recipe for Success Affliate Partner? Click here for more details. 

Schools Get Involved In Better Nutrition

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McG kids make a salad.jpgHouston Chronicle reporter, Rebecca Hennes wrote about our work in the HealthZone section on Sunday, Feb 22, 2015.

"For decades, kids have tried every trick in the book to avoid eating vegetables.

For parents who struggle to figure out how to turn that around, researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine have determined that educational intervention - such as involving children in cooking or gardening - is the answer.  Read more...

The Nutrition Revolution Sprouting Up in Schools Nationwide

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The Houston-based Recipe for Success Foundation was founded in 2005 on the principle that kids who learn to garden and cook make better food choices in life. Founder Gracie Cavnar and her organization developed gardens and cooking programs at a select number of showcase schools in at-risk schools across Houston and began expanding from there. To date, Recipe for Success programs have impacted lives of more than 30,000 kids in Houston alone.

"As a mom, I knew that no one responds to lectures or nagging," says Cavar. "Eating healthy food had to be cool and fun, so that's what we set out to create, tapping top chefs in our community as guest instructors." The idea is to fight junk food marketing with this thoughtful type of healthy food marketing that engages kids at a young age and steers their food choices for the rest of their lives.

 "Recipe for Success Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ programs have empowered children with the knowledge and skills to make a lifetime of healthy eating decisions," says Cavnar. "This is documented by SPAN surveys implemented at the beginning and end of each academic year, revealing that vegetable consumption in participating children increases an average of 30 percent by the end of the school year."

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Recipe for Success' comprehensive Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ Program features a curriculum library of 400+ lesson plans to teach kids of all ages in a variety of settings and time constraints. The program is now showing school kids all over the Houston area - and in 9 additional cities across the nation - that eating healthy food is both cool and fun with its Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ at Affiliate Partner schools. Any school anywhere can sign up as an Affiliate Partner. Schools then send two or more of their own staff through the S2P web-based training and certification program.

 Costs include an annual affiliate partner fee of $500, plus a $250 fee for each staff member's training and certification. After registration and training are complete, the schools certified S2P instructors have online access to the full curriculum library of 400+ lesson plans, expert support, webinars, forums, and more to enable them to deliver this fun and effective nutritional programming. Each school must also cover their own consumables, culinary supplies and garden start-up materials.

 Hortencia Flores, a first grade teacher at Cedar Brook Elementary in Houston, Texas, began teaching the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program during weekly after-school sessions in early October 2014. "Classes are going really well," says Flores, who started with gardening and culinary classes held every Friday, after school.

"Students are highly engaged and motivated to try new vegetables and fruits, especially those coming from our garden," says Flores. "We had our first harvest a couple of weeks ago and celebrated with a delicious stir-fry recipe that students enjoyed so much. Last Friday, we used part of our harvest to prepare an amazing rainbow salad (1-2-3 salad recipe from the Recipe for Success website)." 


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 Flores reports that she enjoys teaching the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ curriculum, and grows more comfortable and confident with the program with each passing week. She also says she is grateful for the support of a loyal crew of five volunteers, who have assisted with the S2P program at Cedar Brook Elementary since it began.

 "With the help of 25 of Houston's finest chefs we created our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ to turn kids on to the magic of food and empower them to make healthy decisions and their own scrumptious meals," says Cavnar. "Our program inspired the First Lady's "Chefs Move To Schools" outreach, which we helped her launch, and now we have over 100 professional chefs volunteering with Recipe for Success as we grow from coast to coast."

 For information getting started with the Recipe for Success Affiliate Partner program, refer to the Recipe for Success affiliate partnership page.

The World's Greatest Pet

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When you think of typical classroom pets, lizards, various small rodents, and fish are usually the first to come to mind. All of those are great, but at Recipe for Success we are a little different; we keep worms. Students learn that worms, specifically red wigglers, are fantastic decomposers, devouring our culinary classroom scraps and producing nutrient rich humus for our garden. 

Worms.jpg This past week, a few of our programs received roughly two thousand worms and boy, were our kids excited. Never seen two thousand worms at once? It's quite the tangled mess. Before they arrived, students spruced up the worms new home, known as "The Worm Hotel," with wet newspaper strips and banana peels. One kindergartner exclaimed during this nesting activity that, "a worm is the greatest pet in the world." I couldn't agree more - low maintenance, inexpensive, silent, and their excretion helps us grow healthy food. Now that's a loveable pet.

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Students learn about the worms new habitat, The Worm Hotel. 

 Want to start vermicomposting at your house?  Check out Uncle Jim's Worm Farm to purchase your own pet red wigglers. 

Chef for a Day 2015

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My Favorite Holiday Food Writing Contest winner David Gallegos was awarded his grand prize last week: becoming Chef for a Day at The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa. Little Chef David was greeted with his very own embroidered Houstonian chef's jacket and hat. Executive Chef Neal Cox wasted no time introducing Chef David to the Houstonian's large kitchens and staff. On the menu for the day was Carrot and Apple Soup, Pork Tenderloin with Soba Noodles, and Wild Blueberry Pie with Lemon Ice Cream - quite a large feast for this little chef to prepare!

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No chef can work on an empty stomach. Chef David before devouring a waffle made in The Houstonian's Olivette's kitchen.

For two hours, Chef Neal patiently walked Chef David through each step of the meal - from dicing the carrots for the soup to searing the pork tenderloin, to rolling pie dough. After all that work, Chef David had certainly worked up quite an appetite. At the lunch table he was joined by family, teachers, and Chef Neal to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

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I ran into David this week and he pulled me aside to tell me that since becoming Chef for a Day his mother now lets him cook side by side with her, even teaching her a few things he picked up from Chef Neal. Quite the memorable experience for this young chef!

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 Click here to read my interview with David! 

Kids in the Kitchen

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One delicious perk of having prominent Houston chefs volunteer their time in our Seed-to-Plate ™ culinary classes is the opportunity they provide for students to visit their restaurants and get an insider's tour of some of Houston's favorite, professional kitchens. 

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Last month students from Rodriguez Elementary School got a taste of La Vista, Chef Greg Gordon's chic Galleria bistro serving delicious New American cuisine. Students first got a tour of the kitchen before rolling up their sleeves to make brick oven baked pizzas. The special treatment continued as they dined in La Vista's private dinning room known as the "The Cool People Room." 

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Afterwards, the kids worked the off the pizza with a fun game of kickball at the nearby Tanglewood Park. 

Surely positive kitchen experiences like this one will influence a few future culinary careers!

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