2010 Archives

Winter gardening--indoors!

Sharon Siehl
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While December is still a fine time in Houston to be planting cool weather crops outside like peas, lettuces, and carrots, you can also stay inside with some fun activities for kids of any age, by growing edibles and flowers inside!

One tradition I've had in my home since childhood, is planting paperwhites indoors.  Paperwhites are in the narcissus family--think of a miniature white daffodil.  They bring some lovely color into your living room, and an intoxicating smell when they bloom.

You can find paperwhite bulbs at the gardening store.  Here is how you "plant" paperwhites indoors:

  1.  Find a container with a wide base, such as a broad vase, preferably with some walls to help hold up the stems as they grow.  A large shallow bowl can work as well.
  2. Cover the bottom of the vase or bowl with old shells, river rocks, glass pebbles, or other small stones.  
  3. Place the bulbs on top of the stones, with the root side sitting securely among the rocks.
  4. Add more rocks around the bulbs to anchor them more firmly. 
  5. Add water to the dish just until the bottom of the bulbs are touching the water.  Don't cover the bulb entirely with water.
  6. Place in a sunny spot in your house. 
  7. First, you will see long white roots growing around the rocks. Then, leaves should start peeking out in a few days.  The paperwhites will bloom in 2-3 weeks after planting. 
  8. Keep refilling water so the bottom of the bulb is always touching the water.   

It's also a great time to get out of the chilly air and start thinking about the warm spring days that are still a bit far away.  Now's the time to start tomato, pepper, eggplant, and herb transplants indoors. 

  1.  Find your preferred varieties online or in a seed catalog.  Great places to look are Seeds of Change, Johnny's Selected Seeds and Totally Tomatoes.
  2. You can grow seeds in almost anything--even an old shoe!  Containers that work well are old yogurt cups, used plastic cups, saved or new 4" transplant pots, even an old ice cube tray.  
  3. Use a pencil or nail to poke a small drainage hole in each container.
  4. If you are using reused containers, disinfect them with in water with 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.  Get an adult to help with this step!  Then, thoroughly rinse each container with water (maybe not the old shoe, though...)
  5. Fill each container to the top with some organic potting soil.  You can find this at any major hardware store.  Or, combine compost or garden soil with some vermiculite or pearlite (they help hold water in the potting soil.)
  6. Then, plant 2-3 seeds in each container.  Make sure to label clearly the variety and kind of plant using masking tape and permanent marker on each container. 
  7. Place the containers in a sunny window.  If you have some grow lights or low fluorescent lights, place the containers a few inches underneath.
  8. Keep the soil moist by using a spray bottle to mist the soil or a small watering can.  You may want to place a tray underneath the containers to catch any water that runs out.  Check the soil before watering by touching it with your finger to determine if it is dry or wet. 
  9. If, in a few weeks, your plants have outgrown their container, find a larger yogurt cup or 1-gallon used pot, and replant the plant there until you are ready to plant it in the ground.
  10. In Houston, you should be able to plant your transplants outside in the garden (in a large pot or garden) in mid- to late February, depending on how close to downtown you live.  Think of all those juicy tomatoes! 
Enjoy bringing little seeds to life during these short chilly days.  Happy Holidays from the Recipe Gardens! 

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

Gracie Cavnar
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     Yesterday President Obama signed into law the new Child Nutrition Bill.  Named the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act, the $4.5 billion law will give powerful new tools to those of us in the field that are focused on reducing Childhood Obesity.  While it isn't a silver bullet, I am ecstatic about the passage of this law, which will:
•    Give USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, the "a la carte" lunch lines, and school stores.
•    Increase the reimbursement rate for school lunches that meet updated nutritional standards for federally-subsidized lunches. This is an historic investment, the first real reimbursement rate increase in over 30 years.
•    Help communities establish local farm to school networks, create school gardens, and ensures that more local foods are used in the school setting.
•    Improve nutritional quality of commodity foods that schools receive from USDA and use in their breakfast and lunch programs.
•    Expand access to drinking water in schools, particularly during meal times.
•    Sets basic standards for school wellness policies including goals for nutrition promotion and education and physical activity, while still permitting local flexibility to tailor the policies to their particular needs.
•    Promote nutrition and wellness in child care settings through the federally-subsidized Child and Adult Care Food Program.
•    Expand support for breastfeeding through the WIC program.

     We still have our work cut out for us.  For instance, I am troubled that a school district as large and influential as Houston Independent School District has neglected to include health awareness in its strategic vision.  What that means is that even with new ammunition, grassroots advocates will have to pay close attention and fight for meaningful programs that not only meet the federal guidelines, but that will have a true impact on the long term health of our kids. 
     It will still be up to you and me to make sure that our districts go beyond paying lip service to the letter of the law. Our schools need to incorporate broad-based, repetitive nutrition education that has lasting lifestyle impact and we need to launch that education the moment a child enters school.   We must focus on establishing a culture of through to every student.  We need Recipe for Success!

Read further about the bill and its effects.

See how a typical week's school menu can change
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New Congress Clears 'Historic' Revamp Of School Lunch Program To Counter Child Obesity

Gracie Cavnar
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Dec 02,2010 - WASHINGTON -- Congress late Thursday gave final approval to major changes in the school lunch program, including an expansion of an effort led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to multiply links between local farms and school lunch counters. The bill, which President Obama supports and is expected to sign into law, is the largest single investment ever made in child nutrition programs.

The bill will also authorize an organics pilot program, also advanced by Leahy, under which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will offer competitive grants for schools to boost their offerings of organic foods and to scale up the nutritional value of the foods provided to schoolchildren under the school lunch program. Leahy, long a leader on hunger and child nutrition issues and the most senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, called the bill "an historic investment in our children's health," noting that it also delivers on a key component of First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign to counter child obesity.

The current charter for federal support for child nutrition programs expired Sept. 30. The fully paid for, bipartisan $4.5 billion childhood nutrition bill, which passed the House Thursday and the Senate in August, will renew and expand federal support for school lunch programs to reach more at-risk children and to improve the nutrition of school meals in several ways. The school meal improvements include:
* Increasing the federal reimbursement rate per meal - the first increase in 30 years, aside from inflation adjustments -- so that schools are able to offer more nutritious food.
* Allowing schools in high poverty areas to offer free meals to all students without collecting paper applications, increasing access to the program and reducing the administrative burden on schools.
* Expanding the after school supper program, through which students from low-income households can receive evening meals, to all 50 states.
* Authorizing the Secretary of Agriculture to create national nutrition standards for all food sold at schools during the day, limiting the availability of unhealthy foods sold in vending machines. * Improving the Women, Infants, and Children program to lessen the administrative burden on state WIC offices and to promote breastfeeding.

The bill includes $40 million in assured funding for Leahy's Farm to School program, which encourages community-based efforts to link local farms to school lunchrooms. This Leahy initiative will expand farm to school links through competitive grants for technical help in connecting school food service providers with local small and medium sized farms for efficient and cost-effective purchases of locally produced foods for school lunchrooms.

Read the full story here.

New Tastes and Smells

Guest Student
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A Day in After-school RFS Programming
By Dominique, 3rd Grade RFS Student

In the after school class, the "pizza dough" was my favorite recipe.  First, we got some flour and added it to the sticky dough.  After it got soft and dry.  We made it flat and chose our favorite toppings and shoved it in the oven.  When all of them were out we tried to remember which toppings we chose.  When i was cutting the grapes for the Wellness Wagon i saw a very tiny one.  I asked Chef Kendall if i could taste it - it tased very sour!
In the garden i heard a green and yellow parrot hiding in the tree.  I got to smell the new plants that were coming out.  it was fun because I got to touch and discover what was in the garden.  I saw other people playing but I was doing some detective work. We observed catarpillars, plants and new things in the garden. I even got to smell the big plants! It smelled like peppermint.  We planted radishes and beans.  We pulled out the weeds and removed bad things from our garden.

Bon Appétit!

Guest Volunteer
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A Rodriguez Elementary Volunteer Experience 
by Rakhi Desai

Rakhi Desai_2.jpg
Hearty quinoa, nutty garbanzo beans, colorful fruit and vegetable smoothies... these aren't usually associated with elementary-aged kids.  Unless you're talking about the students at Rodriguez Elementary that is!  Every six weeks, students rotate through RFS programming in Chef Kendall and Mrs. Healy's Culinary Classroom.  The time flies as they work in the garden and learn concepts such as the food pyramid or the difference between a fruit and a vegetable. 

It is such a pleasure to spend my Thursday afternoons with them as they prep, chop, and measure their ingredients.  There are so many lessons the kids learn through the RFS curriculum- practicing proper hygiene in the kitchen, math and reading skills (while measuring out ingredients for a vinaigrette), good table manners (waiting for everyone to be served before lifting a fork), and heck, even a little French!  Hearing them all say "Bon Appétit!" in unison just before tasting their creation is absolutely priceless!  All of these benefits are reaped without the kids even realizing it because they are too busy having so much fun in this interactive setting outside the traditional classroom.  They are so curious and excited to work in the kitchen and proud to eat something that they prepared all by themselves.  I am lucky to have the opportunity to join them each week by volunteering for RFS.

The highlight in each class, by far, is watching our little junior chefs taste the results of their hard work.  Last week, upon tasting the 1-2-3 Salad, one of the 2nd graders commented "Wow, I feel like I'm in a different country when I am eating this salad!"  Which country, you wonder?  After much debate and thought...she finally decided on Australia.  

Fifth Annual RFS "My Favorite Holiday Food" Story Writing Contest Anounces Winners

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Over the past few weeks, more than 1,000 Houston area students were asked to write about their Favorite Holiday Food for the Recipe for Success  2010 Annual Story Writing Contest. Each story tugged at the heart strings of the judges, and made their mouths water. The essays were judged by faculty at the school level, with six semi finalists emerging, before going head to head to claim the grand prize. 
Final judge, Gwendolyn Zepeda, author of "I Kick the Ball,"  selected Vanesa Velasquez from Lyons Elementary as the overall winner.  Vanesa will become "Chef for a Day" with Chef Jeffrey Everts at The Houstonian and have her essay published on Arte Publico's website.  Other prizes awarded included RFS boutique gear, and a catering party with Chef Kendall Watson. 
Read Vanesa's story below along with some semi-finalists.  And think about your favorite holiday food!
Winning Essays
Yummo! Grand Prize Winner, Vanesa Velasquez, a Lyons Elementary student, discusses the delicious ease and consistency with which her family prepares the Thanksgiving turkey each year. It turns into a heart melting cautionary tale of how her mother learned to cook. Lyons066.pdf

This MacGregor Elementary student likened her family's sweet potato pie to a good friend you only get to see on special days.  MacGregor064.pdf
OMG you'll be glad you read this essay by a Briscoe Elementary student! This student shares her overwhelming joy at waking up to the Thanksgiving smell of a roasting turkey.Briscoe065.pdf
A Rodriquez Elementary student shows individuality and their multi-cultural background with this essay.  The essay gushes love for delicious home made tamales in their native language. Rodriguez067.pdf
Finally, a Whittier Elementary student shares their win-win situation. Whether or not they win the grand prize, every time this student takes a bite of their families pumpkin pie, they feel like they have one a million bucks. Whittier068.pdf
Envious of these students wonderful, tasty memories? Make your own precious award winning family memories this holiday season.  Here is a RFS special recipe to get you started. Roasted Fall Vegetables with Pecan Gremolata.doc

What a Party!

Gracie Cavnar
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On Tuesday, October 26 Chairs Roz Pactor and Isabel David kicked off their Dress for Dinner Season with a blowout party at 30 Sunset.  Thanks to sponsor Houston Magazine, hundreds of Fashion Fans appeared to enjoy the evening.  Take a look at the photos, and mark your calendar now for the next happening: "Dress for Dinner with Zang Toi on December 1 at Saks.  For more information and to book, see https://www.recipe4success.org/events/dress-for-dinner.html

In the meantime, enjoy photos from our kick-off:

A Day in MacGregor Recipe Gardens by Annabel Fonseka

Guest Volunteer
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Thumbnail image for anabelfonsekapic.jpg
It is so satisfying to volunteer weekly at McGregor Elementary in the Recipe for Success Foundation (RFS) Recipe Garden with "Miss Sharon" as all the kids call her. First, she is quite a celebrity around the school.  Faces light and hands go up as they answer her questions. Some students shout "I love tomatoes," "I Love the Garden" or "I Love Turnips".  Their enthusiasm is impressive- and catching. 

Second, it's so fun to see the concentration as they sow their pinch of seeds!  "Miss Sharon"- aka Sharon Siehl, Director of Recipe Gardens for RFS, makes the garden visually interesting by planting a pattern of red and green lettuces or mixing edible Calendula  flowers in with vegetables.  If it is not their turn to plant, I may take a group with magnifying glasses to "discover" bugs or new seedlings. The students are all so excited by the freedom to explore and thrilled by what they find.  

Third, the students make volunteering for RFS a joy by saying the cutest things. I have a British accent and so I say tomato and potato a little differently - much to their delight.  One little boy said to me "You're from London aren't you. That's   where they speak Chinese!!!"  Every conversation is turned into a lesson that expands their knowledge. 

As the seeds grow, the pride the children and MacGregor teachers take in the garden is evident- they even use some recess time to water the plants.  When I first looked into volunteering with RFS, I knew I was interested in helping in the Recipe Gardens.  But, even I was pleasantly surprised with how much of a delight it is to watch those children absorb the gardening lessons.  

Yummy Fruit Smoothies and Bull's Blood Beets

Guest Student
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By: Emely 
MacGregor Elementary School

I had a good day in the Recipe class.  I had a lot of fun cooking with our chef and my group. We prepared smoothies.  It tastes like mixed fruit.  We learned how to make a special smoothie. We smelled the things that were on the table, we mixed the things in the mixer and then we tasted the smoothie. 

At home, I made one with different ingredients. I used 4 things: banana, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. It turned into mixed fruit and it turned into smoothie and it tasted really delicious. I shared it with my family and they said that it was so delicious. 

In the gardening class, we learned the rules and tools to plant.  We planted Bull's Blood Beets, Flash Trout-back Lettuce, Arugula, Amazing White Cauliflower and we planted more stuff. We smelled the plants we grow. We touched the seeds we planted and we tasted some potatoes. Then some days we go out and garden our plants so that they could grow nice and beautiful and straight. 

You wouldn't inject your children with junk, so why are you feeding it to them?

Gracie Cavnar
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Until parents begin to make the visceral connection between food and health, they will continue killing their kids with kindness.  Here is the kind of wake-up call we all need: 
Tough approach by advertising agency in Sydney aims to combat obesity epidemic by likening high-fat food to different kind of junk.
  Read the whole story here.

Celebrate National School Lunch Week With a Boycott!

Gracie Cavnar
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Let Your Voice Be Heard

We can no longer sit by and watch our children's health go down the drain for want of effective nutritional guidelines and quality execution of the school lunch program.  Let the power of the marketplace speak for itself.  I am calling on all parents to send a strong message to administrators and lawmakers by using the National School Lunch Week to boycott school lunches.

Childhood obesity is on the rise, lunch is an important part of a child's daily nutrition, and National School Lunch Week is October 11-15, yet First Lady Michelle Obama's child nutrition bill has stalled in Congress leaving school lunches underfunded and missing the mark on good nourishment. We have every right to expect the providers of our children's school lunches to strive for health, but most fall dreadfully short.  What we get are dismal, monochrome  servings of salty, high-fat, processed food, without an appealing fresh fruit or vegetable in sight.  On top of that, our kids have to run the gamut through an overwhelming array of sweets and junk food that line the checkout isle. Citing funding issues and cost cutting measures, districts poor mouth us and point every way but to themselves.  In the meantime, companies like Revolution Foods are proving that delivering a high quality handmade school lunch with zero processed food is well within the economic reach of most.  

Until school lunches get healthier and competing a-la-carte and vending machine junk foods are removed from the school cafeteria, I am urging parents to send a healthy lunch from home.

The RFS culinary team has provided suggestions for a week's worth of healthy, fun and fresh 
lunches as part of the launch of our "Talking Seed-to-Plate" blog.  These options are affordable, colorful and tasty enough to tempt even the most finicky child.  

Please join in the conversation and share your own tips and frustrations at https://www.recipe4success.org/seedtoplate/, where our team of professional chefs and educators will answer questions, and continue to post new menus and ideas for or engaging children in their own well being through activities in the kitchen and garden.

And plan to attend "Lunch Line" a documentary presented by our friends at  www.thelunchtray.com  in conjunction with Applegate Farms.

We must get control of this situation and save our children's lives.  NOW.

Gracie presents at TEDx

Gracie Cavnar
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Fall Fun for Families

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Creating memories that will last. . . .In the food world, nothing says fall like sweet potatoes and pumpkins. Here is a fun, fresh and fabulous fall recipe for you and your kids to make together.  Celebrate the fall and give it a try!
Sweet Potato Biscuits and Orange Honey Spread
A Recipe for Success Culinary Team original recipe
Download the recipe: Sweet Potato Biscuts.pdf

Culture Map gives Blue Plate Special Cafe & Harvest Market a plug

Gracie Cavnar
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Bob and I just got back from Norah O'Donnell's book launch party in Washington DC.  The people watching alone was worth the trip, but we got to visit with First Lady Michelle Obama's Chief of Staff, Susan Sher about happenings with Let's Move!  And had a long chat with Howard Fineman about his recent hat change from his venerable old media gig as longtime editor of Newsweek to his new role as senior editor of the Huffington Post.  Read about the party here  here and here

Can't wait for you to meet Norah when she comes to Houston for the Blue Plate Special Cafe Lunch & Harvest Market on November 10.  Read all about Norah here.  Buy your luncheon  tickets HERE.

USA is fattest of 33 countries, report says - USA TODAY

Gracie Cavnar
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A new study released by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development notes that the USA must implement real change including the need  for a serious commitment from the food industry to stop advertising unhealthy foods to kids.

Florida may ban sugary drinks from public schools - Orlando Sentinel

Gracie Cavnar
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Bravo to Florida for taking on the dairy industry and doing what's best for our kids.  I would love to see chocolate milk OFF of the HISD lunch line.

Read here about what's happening in Florida now.

Report: Obesity hurts your wallet and your health

Gracie Cavnar
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We already know that it cost Americans more than $147 billion in 2008 for obesity related health care, but how about other expenses?  From added sick days to more gasoline consumption, researchers recently put a number to it: $4879 for women and $2646 for men each year. 

For all the details, read the AP report here

School meals study provides food for thought

Gracie Cavnar
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This is what we have been saying at Recipe for Success since our beginnings in 2005.  Introducing children to their food from seed-to-plate can change the way they eat for life.  Read here about details of a recent study in California that once again proves the point.

And come out to see what we are accomplishing with Houston's elementary students usng our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program.

Join us on Monday night, September 13 at 6:00

Gracie Cavnar
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New Study Links Early Soda Consumption with Lifetime Weight Issues

Gracie Cavnar
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What a five-year-old drinks can affect weight for years: Study A new study shows a close link between sugary drinks and young girls' weight gain

By Jennifer Sygo, National Post

Extracted from the full story:

Regardless of the mechanism, the evidence is convincing enough that limiting your kids' intake of pop and sugary drinks is a sensible thing to do. But as this study revealed, it's just as important to develop sensible eating habits at a very young age, as we now know that the results can stick with them for an awfully long time. The bottom line: If kids learn to drink pop when they're young, they will grow accustomed to it, and the habit will be hard to break.

While the fact that even a five-year-old's drinking habits can impact their weight up to a decade later is concerning, Fiorito wishes they had started tracking their subjects even earlier. "If parents want to limit the choices their kids are making, they should start by age two," she said. "We started when the children were five, but the choice of beverages probably started even earlier."

The better bet is to keep pop off the table entirely for young kids, and then treat it as exactly that -- a treat -- for older ones, if it is going to be consumed at all. Keeping it out of the house will reduce the temptation for everyone, adults included, and will naturally steer your kids towards better drink choices -- milk, 100% fruit juice and water included.

Read the whole story here.

Norah O'Donnell and Husband Whip Up a Cookbook

Gracie Cavnar
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You will be able to meet Norah on November 10 at the Blue Plate Special Cafe Harvest Lunch.  More details.

Just in from a People magazine story, by Liza Hamm

With a professional chef at home in husband Geoff Tracy, it should come as no surprise that Norah O'Donnell is a bit of a foodie. The couple's culinary pursuits went into overdrive after welcoming their three children, however, and is now yielding fruit of its own in the form of Baby Love: Healthy, Delicious Meals for Your Baby and Toddler.
Read the whole story here.

New Report Shows School District Wellness Policies Fail to Provide Strong Guidelines

Gracie Cavnar
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While policies have improved, many guidelines for competitive foods and beverages do not comply with federal mandate or national standards.
By: Chriqui JF, Schneider L, Chaloupka FJ, Gourdet C, Bruursema A, Ide K and Pugach O  for Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Published: Aug 10, 2010

A new study from Bridging the Gap, a research program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), shows that school district wellness policies remain weak and often are not aligned with national recommendations for nutrition or physical activity. Guidelines for competitive foods and beverages--those offered outside of school meal programs--are especially lax and many do not comply with requirements of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004.

For the whole story click here.

Back to School Notes: All Decatur Schools Offer Healthier Food Options

Gracie Cavnar
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From a story posted on August 8, 2010 12:16 pm By Julie Shimada

As City Schools of Decatur students started another academic year this past week, the students at Renfroe and Decatur High were offered new cafeteria options thanks to the Decatur Farm to School program.

Farm to School Makes Its Mark

At Renfroe and Decatur High, in addition to the traditional cafeteria line, students can now choose foods from the "Fast 'n Fresh" section, which includes a salad bar, a sandwich station, and other fast and healthy items.

This line replaces the a la carte line at Decatur High - where nachos, fries and other less healthy items were previously sold.

Jennifer Weissman, of the Decatur Farm to School program told Decatur News Online, "Students and teachers are enjoying the new offerings. They like choosing their own salad and sandwich toppings, and we're thrilled to provide new healthy options at lunch time."

Recipe for Success Chefs to the Lunch Rescue

Chef Molly Graham
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Back to school means back to the drawing board for fresh lunch box ideas.
     To keep your kids from trading their PB&J for their lunch buddy's slice of pizza, creativity is a must!
      Feeling stumped?  The Recipe for Success Culinary Team has done the work for you by creating a week's worth of flavor-packed menus that are healthy, delicious and simple.

      Put those little hands to work and let your kids assist in the preparation of their own lunch.  They will be more likely to eat it.
Happy Cooking and Bon Appetit!

Monday: Baked Falafel Pita with Cucumber Yogurt & Veggie Dippers
by Chef Nicole Livezy
Download the recipes:
Baked Falafel Pita with Cucumber Yogurt Dip.pdf

Tuesday: Roasted Succotash with Greens
By Chef Ruth Gonzales Riojas
Download the recipe:
Roasted Succotash with Greens.pdf

Wednesday: Chicken Salad Lettuce Cups
By Chef Ronnie Alford
Download the recipe:
Chicken Salad & Lettuce cups.pdf

Thursday: Mini Garden Greens Frittatas
By the RFS Culinary Team
Download the recipe:
Mini Garden Frittatas.pdf
Friday: Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich and Strawberry Salad
Chef Molly Graham
Download the recipes:
Peanut Butter Bannana Sandwich.pdf

Any Day: Fruit & Yogurt Parfait
By Chef Ruth Gonzales Riojas
Download the recipe:
Fruit Salad.pdf

Tip from the RFS Team: Package lunches in an insulated box or bag with a re-useable ice pack.  Or make your own ice pack by including a smoothie or fruit juice frozen in a sealed container.  It will keep your other dishes cool and by lunch time it will be ready to drink.
Some of our favorite lunch boxes:
Go Green Lunchbox  Laptop Lunches  Re Use It  Lunch Sense  Planet Box  Lunch Bots  Kids Konserve
Do you have a tip for a healthy packed  lunch?  Please share it by submitting a comment!

Fixing a World That Fosters Fat

Gracie Cavnar
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From the New York Times article by Natasha Singer, published on August 21, 2010

WHY are Americans getting fatter and fatter? The simple explanation is that we eat too much junk food and spend too much time in front of screens -- be they television, phone or computer -- to burn off all those empty calories.

One handy prescription for healthier lives is behavior modification. If people only ate more fresh produce. (Thank you, Michael Pollan.) If only children exercised more. (Ditto, Michelle Obama.)

Unfortunately, behavior changes won't work on their own without seismic societal shifts, health experts say, because eating too much and exercising too little are merely symptoms of a much larger malady. The real problem is a landscape littered with inexpensive fast-food meals; saturation advertising for fatty, sugary products; inner cities that lack supermarkets; and unhealthy, high-stress workplaces. In other words:
it's the environment, stupid.

Read the entire article here.

Obesity is Considered a National Security Threat

Gracie Cavnar
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and certainly a threat to our defense budget.

According to a recent released report, the military annually discharges more than 1,200 first-time enlistees before their contracts expire because of weight problems, which imposes a staggering $60 million price tag for the military to recruit and train replacements.

"[Obesity] is a critical long-term challenge, for not only the military, but for the nation," said Dr. Curtis Gilroy, director of accession policy in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. "We're talking about national health here, which is a significant issue for this country."

Julie's Health Club: Top 10 children's health concerns

Gracie Cavnar
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Top 10 children's health concerns Share | Drugs? Sexting? Baby Einstein videos?

Adults see obesity as the top health threat to children in their communities--but not necessarily their own kids--and many believe the problem is getting worse, according to a new poll. For the third year in a row, childhood obesity topped the list with nearly 40 percent of the 2,064 adults surveyed ranking it as a "big problem." Drug abuse (30 percent) and smoking and tobacco use (29 percent) rounded out the top three.

When broken down by race, black adults rated smoking as the top health threat to children, followed by teen pregnancy and obesity. Hispanic adults cited drug abuse; obesity was No. 2.

"At the national level, obesity as a problem is on par with youth smoking; both have rates similar to non-marijuana illicit drug use among teens," said pediatrician Matthew Davis, director of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.

Read the full story here,

Recipe for Success One of Three Non-Profits Named as Finalists for $100,000 Grant

Gracie Cavnar
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Three Houston Nonprofits Named as Finalists for $100,000 Grant "Humana Communities Benefit - Houston" winner will receive grant for local program HOUSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Today, health-benefits company Humana (NYSE: HUM) announced the three finalists for its 2010 $100,000 Humana Communities Benefit - Houston charitable grant. "Humana is committed to helping charitable organizations better serve the greater Houston community" The program gives 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations the opportunity to receive a one-time infusion of $100,000 to create new programs or enhance ongoing activities focused on improving health experiences or building healthy communities for Houstonians. The three finalist organizations are Elves & More, HOPE Clinic, and Recipe for Success Foundation. "Humana is committed to helping charitable organizations better serve the greater Houston community," said Pattie Dale Tye, president of Humana's commercial operations in Houston. "Much like previous winners who helped improve the lives of teens without permanent homes, brought nutritious food to those who can't afford it, and helped law officers protect and locate missing children, the recipient of this year's (sixth annual) Humana Communities Benefit - Houston award is sure to make a positive, lasting impact on our community."

Read Humana's Press Release here.

Produce by 'Prescription' Seeks to Address Childhood Obesity - NYTimes.com

Gracie Cavnar
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Eat an Apple (Doctor's Orders)  By NATASHA SINGER

The farm stand is becoming the new apothecary, dispensing apples -- not to mention artichokes, asparagus and arugula -- to fill a novel kind of prescription.

Doctors at three health centers in Massachusetts have begun advising patients to eat "prescription produce" from local farmers' markets, in an effort to fight obesity in children of low-income families. Now they will give coupons amounting to $1 a day for each member of a patient's family to promote healthy meals.

"A lot of these kids have a very limited range of fruits and vegetables that are acceptable and familiar to them. Potentially, they will try more," said Dr. Suki Tepperberg, a family physician at Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, one of the program sites. "The goal is to get them to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables by one serving a day."

Read full story.

An Obesity Update from the Center for Disease Control

Gracie Cavnar
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The take away from the CDC briefing, as far as NEXT STEPS.  Notice in bold--to increase fruit and vegetable intake-- is precisely the focus of RFS.

In 2008 dollars, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion. That translates into medical costs for people who are obese that were $1,429 higher per person each year compared to normal-weight individuals. Six things can reduce or prevent obesity. The first is increasing physical activity. The second key initiative would be to increase the uptake and continuation of breast feeding, which is healthier both for the infant and the mother. The third is to increase fruit and vegetable intake. The fourth is to reduce screen time, TV time. The fifth is to reduce high-calorie food intake, and in particular, to reduce intake of sugary drinks, making healthier options, such as water.

Read or listen to the entire briefing: http://www.cdc.gov/media/transcripts/2010/t100803.htm

Recipe for Success Grows To Serve Even More Children

Gracie Cavnar
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July 28, 2010- On July 6, the Recipe for Success Foundation kicked off its Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ in six City of Houston Multi-Service centers, thanks to two generous grants: One to the City from Houston Galveston Area Council and the other to Recipe for Success Foundation from The Children's Fund, Inc. 

This is the first time regular Recipe for Success Foundation Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ classes have been given outside of a school environment. 

The Houston Health Department was so impressed by RFS pilot results in elementary schools, that they aggressively spearheaded a year-long effort to secure funding and bring the classes to their multi-service community centers.  At the same time, we sought grants for this exciting growth step. 

The Children's Fund announced their grant to Recipe for Success Foundation in late 2009 and awarded it in May, 2010.  The Houston-Galveston Area Council awarded funds to the City in January and The Houston City Council approved the collaboration in May, 2010.  The new programming will be presented in two segments:  Eat This! Summer Camps followed in September by Eat This! & Kids Dig It! After School programs.

The exciting step for the organization required some adjustments and we relished the challenge!  One of my primary goals when launching RFS, was to create a easily replicable program that could be adapted to a broad spectrum of available resources and still deliver the end results: changing children's attitudes and habits by making healthy food fun.  This vote of confidence from the City made us even more determined to find solutions."

The Eat This! Summer Camps™ operate until August 13th, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. at Denver Harbor, Kashmere, Northeast, Southwest, Sunnyside and West End Multi-Service Centers. The camps are free to registered 9-11 year olds.

Campers learn healthy eating habits through cooking and gardening classes and then are taken one step further by learning how food is marketed to them.  Using their newly-acquired marketing knowledge, they create a healthy food product from their own garden produce; then test, perfect, package and sell it in their own market.  With the profits, the children will make a donation to the center's garden.  It's the ultimate in hands-on experiential learning.  July Eat This! Summer Campers plan to sell their handmade products at their respective multi-service centers on Thursday, July 29 from noon until 1:00.

Eat This! Summer Campers sell their handmade goodies
Dr. Allen inspects the corn


"We are really happy with Recipe for Success," said Martha Garza, Senior Program Manager at West End Multi-service Center.  "Children are looking at labels and consuming different foods than they did before."

Thanks to the generous grant from The Children's Fund, the summer camps will be followed in the coming school year by RFS Eat This!™ and Kids Dig It!™ after-school programing, which are also free to participating elementary aged students.  After school programs will operate twice each week from 4:00 until  6:00.


"Recipe for Success Foundation liberates the kids from their habits," said Hannah Jeffers, Kashmere Multi-service Center volunteer.  "When the volunteers and teachers get excited about vegetables and fresh food, so do the kids."

Rednecks and Wilting Lilies, by Chef Monica Pope

Recipe for Success
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When people ask me what it was like to be invited to the White House by Michelle Obama, I tell them, "It was HOT!"  I do mean that figuratively, but mostly literally. 

It all started with a call from Vermont.  Gracie Cavnar, founder and director of Recipe for Success, calls me from Vermont to laughingly chide me, "I invited you to the White House and I want to know why you haven't responded!"  Truth be told, I've been so busy I missed that email.  Gracie tells me that Michelle Obama is launching Chefs Move to Schools, the second part of her Let's Move campaign to fight childhood obesity; the event is in less than a week on the South Lawn of the White House and the First Lady wants 1,000 chefs from all across the country to show up in answer to her call to action.  She knows that a group of chefs is a powerful thing, and not just because we all wear white jackets.

I have been working with Gracie and Recipe for Success since its inception over four years ago.  The Recipe for Success Foundation's mission is to combat childhood obesity through dynamic, interactive programs that bring chefs and gardens into schools.  The way I see it, we're not just fighting obesity, we are also fighting hunger - the kids I teach are starving for real food with real nutrition.  Recipe for Success reaches 3,500 kids in Houston each month, all 4th graders, and changes their relationship to food by connecting them to the sources of real food.  I help by teaching in the classroom once a month.  monica whips up class.jpgThe kids' first question always is, "Have you been on TV?"  And when I tell them I have, they want to know if it was Iron Chef, or Chopped or... (fill in any reality TV show involving food here).  That is their slim connection to food when I start the school year with them.  But, somewhere in the middle, they become thoughtful, informed, curious eaters and cooks; every year, even though I know it is going to happen, this transformation continues to astound and move me.

Gracie tells me that she is bringing six Recipe for Success chefs and six Board members to the White House and she wants me to join them.  I have some schedule adjustments to make, and I want to bring my daughter, Lili.  I regretted not bringing her to Terra Madre three and half years earlier in Turino.  But, for more than a couple of days, I am actually debating going, which is ridiculous.  It's an opportunity of a lifetime.  A friend who works for Continental Airlines arranges our flights.  I reschedule my Thursday night gig.  I am starting to get excited, but Lili is nervous. Scared, is more like it.  I know how she feels.  When I go on the "circuit" and have to perform like I did on Top Chef Masters, it's nerve-racking, but I'm not sure why Lili is nervous.  I tell her she doesn't have to perform.  It's her first week out of school and her summer is looking really exciting!

We arrive in D.C. and Lili and I head to the Native American museum because Lili is part Native American and I had heard it was a new and fabulous museum (although, to be honest, Lili was more interested in the gift shop where she got a traditional [but made in China!] beaded necklace and bracelet; she only wants to wear the bracelet as an anklet.  I buy some traditional beef jerky.)  The cafeteria there serves good food from different native Indian regions like traditional South American or New Mexican.  Lili is more excited about room service and movies back at the hotel than exploring D.C.  And she's still nervous about going to the White House.

Weather-related delays cause the rest of our group to arrive at odd times, so Lili and I are hanging out with Rahm Emmanuel at the Sofitel bar.  We're supposed to get together with our group at 8:30pm, but it's not until three hours later that Randy Evans and Michael Kramer arrive.  Lili is disappointed because she is looking for Marcus Samuelsson.   He tweeted that he was going to be here.  We would see Barbara McKnight and Kiran Verma the next day at the breakfast.  It's off to bed, though, because we've got to meet in the lobby at 7:45am tomorrow to get to the breakfast of champions (or chefs, that is) at the Marriot just down from the White House.

The next morning, the breakfast room is a-buzz.  Everyone is in chef uniforms, starched more than usual, and unusually cordial.  I run into some old chef friends like Ann Cooper, Kim Muller and Marcus Samuelsson.  Some young chefs come up to take a photo with me since I had just been on Top Chef Masters.  Most of the chefs can't believe Marcus and I hug after he said those things about my game playing on the show.  They can't believe we are friends - but we really are.  He grabs Lili by her shoulders and says, "Your mom was the best chef.  The best chef!"  And Lili is looking up at him and replies simply, "I know."

There are a few speakers at breakfast.  The most interesting statement that I heard was someone saying that we are engaged in a "guerilla food war" and that we are all "terroir-ists."  Our group decides to leave the breakfast early to get to the White House first.  The thought of 1,000 food terroir-ists trying to get in to the White House is now making me nervous.  Maybe Lili knew something all along. 

It's about 9:30 am and we're part of the first twenty chefs at the White House gate. Michelle Obama is supposed to talk at 1:00 pm.  I am wearing black slacks and a black blazer with one of my word tee-shirts, Chopped Liver, and I've agreed to wear a Recipe for Success apron.  I look a little bit like a real terrorist (not of the food variety).  And it is getting hotter.

I am actually most excited about seeing the White House garden.  If you think about it, having a garden that supplies the kitchen at the White House is a big deal.  It's an even bigger deal to let 1,000 Food Terroir-ists anywhere near it.  garden guerillas.JPGThis is the leader of the free world's food source and we've been given access.  I'm wondering what kind of clearance we had to get to be allowed in, and if some chefs didn't get it.  Why I am fixating on this, I don't know.  But I'm starting to realize more and more what a big deal being here really is.

I always tell my staff that the difference between a shirt bought at the Gap and food bought at a restaurant is that the customer actually consumes our product.  They make a statement by consuming it:  a political statement, an emotional statement, an intellectual statement, a religious statement.  

There are so many issues around food -- so many fears, so many votes, so many choices.  Food is so important because it involves trust, culture, belonging and our need for protection and nourishment.  For Michelle Obama to have invited us to show our support for her Chefs Move to Schools initiative is a HUGE statement involving all the above.  She cares about kids and understands that their entire future is affected by what they put in their mouths right now.  She cares about the current crisis in which 10-year-old kids have organ damage because of what they have been eating (which, let's face it, may be FDA-approved, but is not real food and is definitely not healthy).

Our country's children are addicted to stuff that is marketed to them as food by the Big Ag companies; these companies have a financial stake in our kids' school breakfast and lunch programs.  What if the Obamas' next initiative was to make it a requirement for every school in this country to have an edible garden?  There are 1,000 chefs sitting in the sun (many of whom have already declared war on the processed, non-nutritious, fat-laden foods being served to our kids in school), all willing to take up arms (in this case, our knives) and fight the good fight.  In war times, Americans planted their own Victory Gardens when food was rationed and scarce.  Whether you know it or not (or want to admit it or not), our kids are under attack every day by a very real enemy and real, nutritious food is a scarcity in most communities - a garden in each school gives new meaning to the term Victory Garden.

That is what Recipe for Success already does.  This year at my school, MacGregor Elementary,  my kids were begging me to let them put cauliflower on their pizza!  Before they started their once-a-month class with me, cauliflower was something they had never eaten - not at home, not in a restaurant and especially not on a pizza.  It certainly isn't something that has ever been marketed to them in a commercial.  But halfway through the year, they're already thinking that they should go out to the garden to get something for us to use in class.  Whatever they find that is growing, that they have planted and now can harvest, they want to use.  That day, we made pizza with whole wheat dough and a very green pesto - made with parsley, spinach and basil from their own garden - and they wanted to put cauliflower on top.  That's what I call a victory.

Meanwhile, back at The White House, the long line of chefs is streaming in.  Every 100 feet or so, there is a water station, but there's never any water left.   We're taking picture after picture.  And we're thirsty and hot.

The White House garden is laid out like a Victory garden, a lot like the one Alice Waters had planted in the front of City Hall in San Francisco during the Slow Food conference, in a sort of maze, or organic spirals.  In a quarter of a year, with a small monetary investment, your family, like the White House family, could be eating out of your own garden and connecting your kids to a healthier and better tasting future.

There's also a tall stack of beehives with bees buzzing under a large tree.  I was interested to see what would be growing in D.C. at this time of year:  beautiful rhubarb, blueberries, blackberries, squashes, red Swiss chard, broccoli, little lettuces.  It's all beautifully laid out and, hopefully, being used every day.  I heard that Top Chef had one of their cooking challenges here using the garden and I also heard that most contestants didn't end up really using anything from the garden. For a lot of chefs, using produce that is in season and growing where you live is just a trendy concept and they don't really get down and dirty with it, if you know what I mean.  Chefs, like everyone, have crutches, and think they have to do culinary gymnastics, usually with meat, to make an impression.

Our group finds shade not far from the South Lawn set up, and we wait some more until we realize that there are some chefs sitting in the chairs in front of the stage.  We want to get a good spot so we head over and grab seats in the second row.  And this is when it gets real HOT!  Suddenly, sitting on the South lawn in fold-up chairs, looking up at the White House, seeing people peek out of windows and doors, it starts to feel like they threw a big, hot, wet blanket over us.  The back of my neck is burning.  I am actually getting a "farmer's neck" from this experience.  Lili has gone under Stephanie's big sun hat and is whimpering, but quietly.  In the front row is Cat Cora, Tom Colicchio, Daniel Boulud and a few other chefs I don't recognize.  The chefs right in front of me are corporate Pepsi chefs.  Earlier, Cat Cora cut in the line to get in (complete with bodyguard); I wanted to get a picture with her in her terrific, movie-star sunglasses and me in my Chopped Liver tee-shirt - priceless.

We wait.  And wait.  And wait.  A man and woman keep coming up to the stage. chef line up at wh.jpgThey add a chair.  Then they add another chair.  Then they come back and move a chair to the left, one inch. It was like a modern dance or avant-garde staging of "Waiting for Godot" -- what does the chair MEAN?!  By then, we're getting pretty delirious from no water and the intense heat.   A group of hot and hungry chefs is a terrible thing to waste.

When they do finally start, Sam Kaas (the White House chef) speaks and introduces two "in the trenches" people from a local D.C. school - a teacher and a chef.  They get up and share their experiences.  Then Michelle Obama gets up to speak.  She's hot (and I don't mean temperature).  She looks great.  One of the main things I remember from her speech is that she cautions all of us chefs to "play nice" with the cafeteria ladies; after all, they are just doing what they are told to do.  It's their job. We're cool, Michelle says.  Chefs are cool.  Even her kids want to hang out in the kitchen with Sam.

Who doesn't want to hang out in a kitchen when someone is cooking?  It's where our lives should be lived, where our stories should be shared.  Why is it so hard for this country to turn off the TV and turn on the stove?  Michelle said there is no "easy button" in the White House (referring to the Staples commercial).  It's not "easy" to do the right, fundamental things - to let our kids be curious, to teach them how to learn, to let them play with their food and get dirty - it's work.  I want to go back to a country with patchwork fields and patchwork farms.  I might want to be Amish at this point.  This is terroir-ist thinking, of course.  And I'm a little delirious.  It's hotter here than in Houston, and that's saying something.  Michelle mentions that she and the girls were going out to the garden later to harvest their dinner.  And then, so much faster than when she came out, the First Lady is off the podium, coming straight for me, it seems.  I have my Flip video camera that I now have to hold up with my other arm.  I can't believe she's coming right for me, but then she shakes the guy's hand right in front of me and to the right slightly, and moves on down the front row.  Cat Cora got a shake, as did about two-thirds of the front row, and then she was back inside where it was cool.  The front row corporate chefs were stunned, saying how cool it was that Michelle shook their hands.  My brother was underwhelmed when he found out that it wasn't just me and Michelle discussing childhood obesity.

As we left the South Lawn, I was feeling optimistic and encouraged that there is momentum in the work to feed our children and families the food that they deserve. whitehouse posse.JPGThe rest of the group went off to celebrate Gracie's birthday and the success of Recipe for Success.   We went back to the hotel.  Lili got room service and a movie and we flew out on the last flight back to Houston that night.  I didn't get a photo op, a hand shake or even a moment with Michelle Obama but it was still a good day about a HOT topic.

F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2010 - Trust for America's Health

Gracie Cavnar
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June 2010

Adult obesity rates increased in 28 states in the past year, and declined only in the District of Columbia (D.C.), according to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2010, a report from the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). More than two-thirds of states (38) have adult obesity rates above 25 percent. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. 


Eat This!™ Summer Campers Operate One Day Market, Thursday, July 1

Gracie Cavnar
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Recipe for Success Foundation's Eat This!™ Summer Campers have spent the month of June learning all about how food is marketed to Americans.  Now they can spot the difference between promotion and facts, read and interpret food labels, and sort their way through compelling advertising and packaging to figure out just which commercial foods are good for them.  Now they have put their new knowledge to work and developed their own healthy food products with produce picked straight from their gardens, which they will sell at their own special market at school.

On Thursday, July 1 between 12:30 and 2:00 stop by and visit these 4th and 5th graders and buy their fabulous seasonal snacks along with an abundant array of fresh picked produce.

Markets will operate at Briscoe Elementary (in the Lawndale area), Mac Gregor Elementary (in Mid-Town), NQ Henderson (near Finnegan Park) and Sylvan Rodriguez (in Gulfton.)  Come early before everything is gone!  Students plan to purchase a permanent amenity for their Recipe Gardens as a lasting legacy of their experience.  See https://www.recipe4success.org/schools.html for details of Recipe for Success Foundation programming at each of these schools.

An Advisory Panel for 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Issues Their Report. Message for Americans: Cut back on salt, fat and sugar

Gracie Cavnar
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Obesity is "the single greatest threat to public health in this century," an expert panel declared in a report Tuesday that urges Americans to slash calories and increase their physical activity.The report calls for many changes in the food environment, including:

  • Improve nutrition literacy and cooking skills, and motivate people, especially families with children, to prepare healthy foods at home.

  • Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks and farmers' markets.

  • Encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.

At Recipe for Success Foundation, we are working hard on the first two recommendations, with great success.  Our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education Program™ introduces children to healthy food in fun experiential ways that change their eating patterns for life, and Hope Farms will supply fresh healthy produce to Houston neighborhoods that are marooned in food deserts.  See www.recipe4success.org for more information.

USDA backs rewarding schools serving healthy food

Gracie Cavnar
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This is great news for all of us working to improve school lunches.  Read the full story HERE.

Hasty's Tasty BBQ Throwdown was a big hit and fitting finale to the 2010 We're Cooking Now! Gala in Small bites

Gracie Cavnar
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This week's Profile: Gracie Cavnar's food revolution goes to Hope

Gracie Cavnar
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This week's Profile: 
Gracie Cavnar's food revolution goes to Hope

By Sarah Rufca
June 17th, 2010 at 10:35 AM
Before there was Jamie Oliver, there was Gracie Cavnar.

Starting Recipe for Success in Houston in 2003, Cavnar was an early proponent of bringing healthy food and food awareness to children in school. Her passion for this cause and the future of Recipe for Success are the subject of this week's Profile (10:30 tonight and 11 p.m. Friday night on Channel 8, Houston PBS) with host Greg Scheinman.

"Gracie is pretty much leading the charge against childhood obesity through her Recipe For Success Foundation," Scheinman says. "The cool thing about it is it's not out there preaching -- it's about changing the way children understand and appreciate their food in a fun and interactive way.

Houston Dynamos Run for Recipe July 24

Gracie Cavnar
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Recipe for Success foundation and 1-2-3 Salad

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Ever the diligent volunteers, my friend Chantal and I arrived at Sylvan Rodriguez Elementary School to support our new pet project, Recipe for Success.  Founded by philanthropist Gracie Cavnar, Recipe for Success is a non-profit charity that has been active in five fortunate Houston I.S.D. schools for the last four years. 

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The primary goal of RFS is to combat childhood obesity.  Students are taught that nutritious food comes from the ground and not at a drive-thru window or in a sealed plastic bag or box.  The Foundation hopes to increase the students' awareness and appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables by teaching them how to garden and harvest their crops.  They then use the produce in simple recipes using basic cooking techniques.

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To help inspire the kids, well-known local chefs volunteer their time in the classrooms.  With the help of Houston's own Monica Pope of t'afia, chef participation has grown to include the likes of chefs Randy Evans, Robert Del Grande, David Luna, Randy Rucker, Bryan Caswell, Chris Shepherd, Ryan Pera and many, many more.

Rodriguez Elementary is lucky to have chef Mark Wilson as its full-time instructor.  Here he assists students with the dressing for 1-2-3 Salad.


A former Broadway actor, musician and playwright, chef Wilson does an excellent job of capturing the students' attention!

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Students took turns at whisking the vinaigrette to the count of 10.  As an added bonus, the ever enthusiastic Chantal, a Belgian Francophile, broke out into her native French and taught the kids to count from 1 - 10!  They also learned a new word - emulsion.  They're not just making any old salad - this is a gourmet salad with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, feta cheese and walnuts.  Love it!056 v1

At each participating campus, the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program uses an organic garden as an outdoor classroom.  This expansive garden at Rodriguez Elementary has about 18 raised beds.  Each grade level is responsible for three of them.  I came away with a bunch of the most beautiful flat-leaf parsley that you will see in my next post.

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Let's see how big this pumpkin can grow!

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These basil plants are setting their seeds.  Here the students learn about perennials and planting from seed. 

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Newly harvested sweet potatoes and delicate lettuce leaves.  Look at the size of those tubers!

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Believe it or not, after the dressing was made, there was a mad dash to do the dishes, which I'm sure rarely happens at home!  Chef Dwain, an intern with RFS, prepares sweet, salty, bitter and sour ingredients for a tasting of flavors - and a fancy new word entered their culinary vocabulary:  UMAMI

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The view from the dishwashing stand is to this pretty atrium: bird feeders, a small pond, fruit trees, potted herbs, raised beds, a compost barrel and a busy teacher named Mrs. Silverstone!

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Decorated pots in the atrium.

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This cutie enjoyed sweeping the floor. 

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All in all, the students are exposed to healthy cooking ingredients which have sadly become foreign to many households.   Most students loved the salad and also the feta cheese and asked for more - a sure sign that young palates are much more receptive to delicious and healthy fare than we give them credit for. 

Our beautiful Houston fall weather prompted a fun picnic between the vegetable beds.  Students lined up for a 'wrap' of salad greens served with their own home-made salad dressing served by Mrs. Silverstone and Chantal.  Many came back for more...and more.  It was an encouraging sight!

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This 1-2-3 Salad includes fresh mixed salad greens and is supplemented with nuts, grains, cheese and just a little bit of sugar (in the form of honey in this recipe).  It provides more precious nutrients than the oppressively sweet cereals and processed foods targeted at our school-aged children.

1-2-3 Salad, adapted from the original recipe by chef Monica Pope

4 servings

2 - 3 large handfuls of mixed lettuce (choose a mixture for color, texture and flavor), washed and patted dry on a towel

¼ cup nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans)

½ cup fruit (dried or fresh)

¼ cup cooked grains or pasta (quinoa, orzo, couscous)

¼ cup cheese (feta, parmesan, blue cheese)

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For the dressing: (use about half of this recipe for 4 people)

1/8 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Make the dressing by putting balsamic vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl. Whisk quickly to combine. Add olive oil, drop by drop, as you whisk the dressing quickly. The dressing will thicken and emulsify and resemble a deep caramel color. Set aside.

To assemble the salad place in a bowl the lettuce mix, nuts, fruit, grains and cheese.  Check the dressing: if it is very thick, add a little lemon juice or water to it.  Add 1/4 cup of dressing and toss to combine all ingredients. Add more dressing, if desired. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, if necessary.

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Childrens Salad

Steph Walker
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Hello readers! I'm not over here standing on a high-horse (more likely an IKEA step stool), but I do have some Mommy-tricks up my sleeve that I hope to share. I love to involve my children Paige and Graham (6) and Evelyn (2) in the meal prep at our house.  

It all starts outside, not in the kitchen! We have an herb/veggie/whatever-Wabash-is-selling garden, too, that we like to putter around in on the weekends, or whenever Houston isn't getting it's second or third freeze of the season. You don't need much space to grow herbs - even an old kitchen colander set outside in a sunny spot will do the trick with a little composty organic dirt and a few choice herbs (try starting with oregano, Italian flatleaf parsley, chives and rosemary for a useful mix)  

My favorite garden centers are Wabash Feed Store, Buchanan's and Thompson+Hansen. Right now we've got blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, herbs, tomatoes and sweet peas growing. We also planted a small orchard that is bursting into flower as I type and the dog is stalking the bees as they work around those buds. 

Now to the kitchen. Whatever I'm making, we try to incorporate something from our little plot of land. Even if it's just spaghetti night, the kids run out to the oregano and snip a few clips with their school scissors. It is amazing to see their eyes as we sprinkle in the very herbs they grew; they definitely feel more inclined to LOVE what they are eating! The whole neighborhood of children love to come over and munch out of my garden, too, especially if I've got dill or stevia. They help me plant it, and they love to pinch of a leaf and pop it into their mouths. 

Another thing we do around here with consistency is MAKE our own salad dressing. If you've got cheese, oil and vinegar in your fridge and pantry, you really don't need to buy dressing EVER. Did I say cheese? Yes. It makes the dressings a little creamier and takes away some of the bitterness in greens that children sometimes dislike. A word on the cheese: staples like a soft blue, a fresh goat will do the trick, and I love the Houston Dairymaids at the Midtown Market on Saturdays for sourcing good local cheese. So the basics of the dressings are some sort of oil, some kind of vinegar and something to give it body (cheese being our choice, sometime mustard, too) My children like coming up with their own mixtures. Graham likes agave syrup, mustard, oil, rice wine vinegar and herbs. Paige likes to mix up fresh goat cheese olive tapenade, olive oil and white balsamic. Give them a small whisk and let them mix the ingredients into their own emulsion of dreams! Then don't forget their dressing deserves a terrific name conjured up by the little chef. 

Here are some pictures of Evelyn making a simple herb, olive oil and rice wine vinegar dressing for her micro greens from Wood Duck Farms at the Eastside Farmers Market. 
Also, it's good to think beyond the greens -- that "salad" can contain a sprinkling of their favorite berries and nuts for added nutritional bunch. Lately mine have had pine nuts (which they MASH in a Ziploc bag with a meat tenderizer), slivered almonds, sesame seeds and blueberries. Kids love to sprinkle toppings; let them layer it on! 

I don't eat tomatoes

Maya Ford
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"I don't eat tomatoes. Or beans. Or cabbage." Lian tells any guest at the dinner table that. Lian is my 10 year Recipe for Success diva who loves to be adventurous with every other foodie, but me. She stands her ground at home regarding foods that she will and will not eat unless she prepares it herself.  

Her pickiness when I'm in a rush to feed them real food after a full day of work un-nerves me. "Really, Lian? REALLY?! You don't eat tomatoes, but you love to make salsa at school." She looks at me with a secret smile. "I love it when I make it." AHA! So, the secret is to put my ego aside for a moment and realize that this kid's got IT. She's got the foodie bug AND she wants to do the work! How can I say no?  

Raising 3 kids in a junk food free household ain't easy. They are bombarded with faster, cheaper and worse for you alternatives in foods, apparel, technology and social relationships. My goal as a mom who values quality over quantity is to encourage their appeal for long-term satisfaction; and for them to enjoy the process of an emotional, financial, and socially responsible connection with everything they do.  

Lian's personal connection with her food makes my job easy. Because of her hands-on knowledge with food from "seed to plate", she's quite apt at making fantastic decisions about her food choices. She appreciates foods with a variety of colors and textures. She's also hip to what's in a processed food, and while I do find an occasional sugary treat (I call it "kiddie crack") wrapper in the back pack, she often chooses something fresh that she can prepare the way she wants. Her healthy and happy demeanor and outlook on life prove that she's satisfied with being in control of her own foodie world. In our home, an apple a day keeps your momma off your back, so Lian eats that and some oranges.  

The standard has always been that we have a green salad and seasonal fruit salad every night with dinner. Protein and another vegetable are usually on the menu, and vary depending on budget, prep time, and availability. Lian and her sister, Tiye, prepare the two salads nightly. When we find items in the grocery or farmer's market that Lian knows how to prepare, she gets to make those recipes as well.  

My favorite is the quinoa salad that she makes. Of course, I made her recipe once, and she wouldn't touch it. Oh well. I'll have the rest of my life to make it for myself once she's off to college, I guess. Thankfully, so will she!

Julia Casbarian On Lunch

Julia Casabarian
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      OK, I'm going to do a little comparison here:  home cooked meals vs. school lunch.  Recently I had a Girl Scout meeting at my house, and we, meaning the girls in the troop, each had to bring either an appetizer, a main course, or a dessert. The dishes each had to be from a different country, and we were assigned courses according to the alphabet, so we had plenty of each.  It was delicious!!!  For appetizers we started with avocado sushi and labneh, a middle-eastern cheese made with yoghurt, with olive oil and herbs ( ...made by yours truly! My Granny showed me how. Then came the most delicious homemade eggrolls, and tamales.  Main courses were tacos we made ourselves, couscous with dried cranberries and turkey, and pasta with Pesto Genovese.  Dessert was chocolate peanut butter pecans and melon agua fresca. Our around - the - world meal was so healthy but so yummy! It just shows non-believers that healthy food can be great.  If everyone could taste this dinner they would all know what I mean!

      Now, let's take a trip to my school cafeteria during lunch - I know you're probably thinking this will be horrible to contemplate.  Well, aside from the average P B & J, there is a pretty wide selection of greasy and sugary items in the lunch line and in lunch boxes, too.  Pizza is the most popular in the lunch line, so why not make it thin crust with veggie toppings?  People also bring bags of chips, so what about exchanging for baked chips or pita with hummus?  And I'm personally switching from microwave mac-n-cheese to that wonderful couscous Geneva brought to the Scout dinner. 

PS - Over Christmas weekend at my family's restaurant in New Orleans, the chef served an appetizer of chilled raw broccoli stems, peeled and cut like cucumber wedges, with nothing but a little salt.  I thought everyone threw away the stems, but this was fantastic!

Recipe for Success Visits the White House

Gracie Cavnar
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Less than a week after First Lady Michelle Obama launched her Let's Move!  Initiative to eradicate the childhood obesity epidemic, I was sitting in the East Room of the White House with her chef, Sam Kass.  We were visiting about the idea of a national "shout out" to the country's professional chefs.  Something to encourage them to get involved in improving lunches and nutrition education at their neighborhood schools.

Chef Kass had heard good things about Recipe for Success and our Chefs in Schools™ program.  He especially like the way we make it easy for busy professional chefs to just drop into class for an hour, have big impact on kids and get back to work quickly.  Our framework of support takes the burden out of volunteering for 60 of Houston's best chefs and our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education Program™ for elementary students is delivering impressive results. 

"When are you going to national scale?" was the question I had been fielding all week in meeting after meeting with federal agencies from Department of Education to Department of Agriculture.  And now Chef Kass was asking me, "If I do some sort of event with chefs in May, will you have your national program ready?" WhiteHouse_Kaas.JPG "No. But, we can have it for them by the time school starts in the fall," I assured.  Then I raced home to put our National Affiliate program development into fast forward. It seemed like just a few days after, but it was three months later when Sam and I started playing telephone tag in late-May. We finally connected, as he was climbing on a plane to Chicago for Memorial weekend with the First Family.  "Gracie, come to the White House and bring all your chefs! I'll email you the security forms right now and I need them back by Monday morning."   His call to action--Chefs Move! To Schools would be on June 4. His goal: to fill the South Lawn with white jackets, get the attention of national press, and whip up some excitement.  Imagine the sight!  June 4th--my 58th birthday. 

Was the timing inconvenient? Yes.  Was it going to be expensive? Yes. Was it going to be tough to round up enough folks to participate on such short notice? Yes.  Did I have the time to drop everything and get this organized? No.  Was I going to miss it? Not on your life. 

I have been working on childhood obesity since the mid-nineties, establishing Recipe for Success Foundation in 2005 to launch a school based nutrition education program designed around the volunteer engagement of professional chefs.  Our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ is now the largest program of its kind in the country--we teach 3050 children each month; and I spend all my time trying to shed light and public awareness on this stealth killer.  Having the First Lady of the United States espouse a national call to action that sounds like it was written from the RFS playbook is like experiencing a lifetime of birthday celebrations rolled into one and handed up on a silver platter.

It took me about 10 minutes to rip out an email to my 24 board members and 60 Chefs Advisory Board members.  Only minutes passed before answers started coming back: Board members Bob Cavnar, Steph Walker and Rick Terry, the first to say yes; then chefs Monica Pope (t'afia) who would bring daughter Lili; Randy Evans (Haven); Michael Kramer (Voice) and Barbara McKnight (Catering by Culinaire) in short order. In an extraordinary act of generosity, Beth Madison decided to postpone her long-planned June 3rd Gala in Small Bites dinner, so that Chef Peter Garcia (El Meson) could join the group.  Then the news that Kiran Verma (Kiran's) would be with us, along with board members Melanie Wilson Lawson and Lucia Hamilton.  Before the sun set, we had our merry band of thirteen ready to roll.

June 4, 7:30 a.m. What a spectacle we are--resplendent as we stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue in our Recipe for Success branded aprons and chef jackets, on our way to a breakfast hosted by Share Our StrengthMonica&Marcus.jpg. Monica, swarmed by the Bravo TV crowd as she enters the room, is our megawatt star.  But not the only one who is recognized.  Everyone is hailing colleagues from all around the country and the air is thick with excitement and celebrity spotting.  Here is Marcus Samuelsson, there Art Smith, over there, Daniel Boulud and Tom Colicchio.   Is that Rachel Ray talking to Cat Cora??   Food Network stars are here in force and huge groups of chefs from IACP, Les Dames Escoffier and other clubs, circulating like large schools of fish.  US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan addresses the group about how important good nutrition is for learning.  Author Janet Poppendieck talks about the problem with school lunch.  Chefs are fired up to help and looking for a way to plug in.
Recipe for Success is definitely the little engine that could.  We are featured in the program on a short list of recommended resource for interested chefs alongside such national heavyweights as Share our Strength, Center for Ecoliteracy, Center for Science in the Public Interest, The Lunch Box, and the First Lady's own Let's Move! website. Our team takes it a step further--our pockets full of RFS information cards that we hand out like candy.

White House security gate opens at 10:30 and we are thinking it would be good to be there early and first in line, so we duck out of the breakfast and scoot across the street. It is already 90 degrees as we cluster outside the gate under a nice shade tree and "glow."  Five minutes later, the line stretches 500 hundred chefs around the block. 
Chit chat, take pictures, Sam comes out and talks to us. It becomes a game, people coming up to Monica . . ."I know you, weren't we at the xyz Food Festival together?" No. "Didn't we meet at this that or the other place?" No. "Wasn't it . . .?"   Well, maybe you saw me on Top Chef.  "Can I get a picture with you?"  

There is a buzz about Recipe for Success. "These guys make it easy for us to help," brags Randy Evans to a group as he hands out our cards.  Many had heard about us, saw us in the program, or read about us on the Obama Foodarama blog. WhiteHouse6.JPGI feel like The Godfather; chefs are pressing their cards into my hand. "Call me when you are ready for LA . . . .Are you coming to New York? . . . .I'm in Oregon . . . We need this in Miami . . . .Las Vegas is ready to roll, we would like to roll with you."  We are hot in more ways than one.
Finally, security ushers us through the gates and into the famous White House Kitchen Garden.  Everyone mugs among the eggplant and squash takes photos of each other and swelters, waiting until the last moment to peel away from the shade and breezes and take a seat in the blazing sun. 
WhiteHouse3.JPG WhiteHouse4.JPGThumbnail image for WhiteHouse5.JPG

Our posse snares row two.  Apparently you have to have a TV show to score the first row.  We'll have to work on that one.  I am right behind Al Smith and we visit about meeting when he was in Houston to speak at the Jr Forum Dinner. We fan ourselves with programs, with promo cards, with the souvenir paper chef toques. We peel off our aprons and hold them overhead for shade.  We make relay runs for water and ice so that no one grabs our primo seats.  And then like a cool gush of fresh air, Michelle Obama walks out and takes the stage.  She is gorgeous and miraculously cool as a cucumber.  Everyone marvels.  She never breaks a sweat.
Mrs. Obama lets everyone else talk first and we politely listen, but it is the First Lady we want to hear and she doesn't let us down.  
WhiteHouse1.JPG Sam Kass & Mrs. Obama.JPG"You know the central role that food plays in the moments that make us happiest. Food is always there, whether it's at a birthday party, or Thanksgiving dinner, or quiet moments with friends. Food is at the core of what makes life wonderful." Mrs. Obama talked about all the reasons chefs should get involved in this issue--all the reasons our 60 chefs are so engaged at Recipe for Success.  They know about the adulation of a 4th  grader; the smiles when a child creates something yummy that brings rave reviews; the energy and excitement that permeates the class when they visit; kids treating them like rock stars.  Who wouldn't want that experience sandwiched with knowing you are doing a good thing--teaching kids to cook, leading them to healthier lives, establishing traditions and routines for a lifetime.  "You can make a salad bar fun -- now, that's something -- and delicious. You can teach kids to cook something that tastes good and is good for them; and share your passion for food in a way that's truly contagious." We know about that. Now Let's MOVE!

We were there on row two . . .

Gracie Cavnar
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Recipe for Success Leads the Lets Move Charge in Houston

Gracie Cavnar
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May 11, 2010   Today, The "Let's Move" Presidential Task Force to End Childhood Obesity will release a report outlining how a public-private partnership will eliminate childhood obesity in a generation.  


Recipe for Success Foundation (RFS) is proud to announce that today's report reflects the Foundations's best practices and track record of success in Houston.  As a result, RFS is being encouraged to take its effective Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ school-based programs to scale on a national basis.



"We know there is a direct connection between good diet & exercise and increased learning in the class room," Said U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "We're seeing some impressive efforts in Houston and I look forward to watching them grow."

Recipe for Success Students from Rodriguez Elementary prepared lunch for Secretary Duncan and his staff during their recent visit to Houston.

"We are delighted that the administration understands the importance of synergy among all stakeholders and change agents to combat this life threatening epidemic." said Gracie Cavnar, Recipe for Success Foundation Founder and CEO.  "We look forward to working with each group to strengthen our efforts in Houston and to bring our program to communities across the country,"


The Task Force's 70 recommendations can be broadly summarized in five categories of action: getting children a healthy start in life; empowering parents and caregivers; providing healthy food and nutrition education in schools; improving access to healthy affordable food; and getting children more physically active.


Recipe for Success Foundation's Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ begins with parents of young children, teaching them healthy, affordable recipes for baby's first foods.  Then RFS goes on to teach nutrition and good habits to 4-11 year old children with hands-on lessons in the garden and kitchen.   Recipes and guidelines are sent home for the entire family to share.  The RFS Chefs Advisory board works with school food service providers across Houston to enhance the appeal of lunch menu items that deliver good  nutrition.   


RFS is finalizing Hope Farms™, a 100 acre organic farm developed with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.  Hope Farms™will be the largest urban farm in the world, and generate significant food crops in the midst of one of Houston's recognized "food desserts."  It will feature an on-site Farmer's Market as well as a rolling green market to deliver affordable produce directly to neighborhoods marooned in surrounding "food deserts."   Hope Farms™ will provide community farm plots and market growing business incubation as well as jobs for urban youth, and on-site nutrition education for all ages.

Hungry For Change

Gracie Cavnar
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A great video production from our friends at the Chicago Botanic Garden -- Windy City Harvest project.  As we build the final details for Hope Farms™, we continue to reach out to urban agricultural projects across America to share best practices and ideas.

Hungry for Change

When Houston's Hottest Chefs and Finest Hosts Team Up...It's a Recipe for Success!

Gracie Cavnar
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March 30, 2010 Houston, Texas. Recipe for Success Foundation (RfS) kicked off its fifth annual We're Cooking Now! Gala in Small Bites fundraising series Monday night with Full Moon Rising at the home of founders Gracie and Bob Cavnar. Chef Randy Evans from Haven, presented a five-course feast of East Texas soul food for just sixteen people while pianist Paul English along with saxman Horace Young and torch singer Tommie Lee Bradley entertained the intimate gathering with a musical anthology of the blues in Houston. The dinner raised $24,000 for Recipe for Success programs to combat childhood obesity. The popular We're Cooking Now! Gala in Small Bites series will extend through June with ticket prices ranging from $200 to $1,500 per person, and thanks to sponsors like Central Market, is expected to raise total net proceeds of over $185,000 for programming in Houston elementary schools.


Gracie Cavnar, founder of Recipe for Success, created the We're Cooking Now! Gala In Small Bites series in 2006 as a refreshing departure from the typical Houston gala. "We wanted to celebrate the pleasures of an intimate dinner table shared among friends.  It's a tenet of our work to improve the eating habits of children, and it was a lovely way to showcase the extraordinary chefs who volunteer their time all year long, year after year, to help us teach kids to cook healthy meals," explains Ms. Cavnar. We're Cooking Now! a Gala in Small Bites series is now so eagerly anticipated that many tickets were sold before invitations were even sent.

Next on the agenda is fashion forward philanthropy on April 7 when the dinner event coincides with a special spring fashion show featuring the acclaimed designer, David Meister in a special appearance at Neiman Marcus.  A cocktail reception and a full-blown fashion show featuring Meister's spring collections will precede an intimateDinner with the Designer, where guests will enjoy some of Houston's freshest Mexican-inspired cuisine, by LJ Wiley of Yalapa Playa Mexicana alongside Mr. Meister himself.

The glamour won't end at Neiman's. The 2010 Small Bites chair Sharin Gaille promises a spectacular affair at her Memorial home as guests gather on April 12 to celebrate April in Paris, a Parisian-themed salon complemented by a meal by the very continental Matt Gray, of Chez Roux. The April 20 event, A Grand Evening with Robert del Grande promises to be equally extraordinary, featuring food by one of Houston's most admired chefs in the welcoming setting of Cathy and Gary Brock's home. As far as glitz is concerned, though, nothing will top Big Ice...Small Bites onMay 10 at the diamond vault at DeVille fine jewelry.  Hosts Liz and Tom Glanville will entertain an elite group among some of the city's finest diamonds, rubies and emeralds, even festooning their lady guests with the "ice" while they a meal prepared by a true gem of the Houston culinary scene, Chef Michael Kramer of Voice.  For a glamorous spa refresher, join Terri & John Havens in their historic garden chapel on Lazy Lane on May 8 at Living Gourmet the Cal-a-Vie Way.   Dinner will feature the healthiest gourmet cuisine imaginable created by chef Jason Graham, visiting from the country's #1 rated Ca-a-Vie Health Spa® for this rare treat.

More casual events include the April 25 brunch, A Garden of Earth Day Delightsat the home of Steph and Al Walker, set to highlight seasonal produce prepared by Chef Jason Gould. The May 5th Cinco de Mayo party hosted by Phyllis Childress and Terry Wayne Jones at the dreamy Sub-Zero Wolf showroom and featuring a five course cooking class by master teacher and Chef Garth Blackburn always sells out early. You can also relax as Sheridan & John Eddie Williams with Catering by Culinaire's Chef Barbara McKnight and husband, Lance present A Southern Sunday Supper on May 16, at the historic Hofheinz House.  Finally, RfS fans are invited to take it "low and slow" at a laid-back but spicy event on June 17 when host Hasty Johnson squares off in his own backyard against professional pit master Jonathan Jones at Hasty's Tasty BBQ Throwdown.

The limited tickets disappear fast for what promises to be some of the city's best events of the year.  Information about events and chefs, ticket sales is at www.recipe4success.org/events.htm.

Read the Houston Chronicle story here.  Read the Culture Map Story here.

They party from fancy kitchens to museums as the social scene rolls on - 2010-Apr-06 - CultureMap Houston

Gracie Cavnar
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Haute Hip & Hot: Reception, April 7 Fashion Show & Dinner with David Meister

Gracie Cavnar
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Childhood obesity: It's not the amount of TV, it's the number of junk food commercials / UCLA Newsroom

Gracie Cavnar
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According to a recent report by UCLA School of Public Health . . .

Non-commercial viewing, including watching DVDs or educational television programming, had no significant association with obesity. According to the authors, the findings strongly suggest that steering children away from commercial television may be effective in reducing childhood obesity, given that food is the most commonly advertised product on children's television and the fact that almost 90 percent of children begin watching television regularly before the age of 2. By the time they are 5 years old, children have seen an average of more than 4,000 television commercials for food annually. During Saturday morning cartoons, children see an average of one food ad every five minutes. The vast majority of these ads -- up to 95 percent -- are for foods with poor nutritional value, the researchers say. "Commercial television pushes children to eat a large quantity of those foods they should consume least: sugary cereals, snacks, fast food and soda pop," Zimmerman said. The authors conclude that the availability of high-quality, enjoyable and educational programs for all ages on DVD should make it relatively easy for health educators and care providers to nudge children's viewing toward content that does not contain unhealthy messages about food and eating. "Just as there are far better and more nutritious foods than those advertised on television, there are also far better and more interesting shows on television than those supported by advertising," Zimmerman said. "Educational television has come a long way since today's parents were children, and there are now many fantastic shows on commercial-free television and, of course, wonderful content available on DVD."


Recipe for Success Foundation is featured by Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint project of The Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association to support best practices.

Gracie Cavnar
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Students in the Houston Independent School District are planting, cooking and eating their way to a better understanding of where our food does, and should come from. According to Kate Link, Competitive Foods and Beverage Manager for the Healthy Schools Program, "Adding gardening to a school or afterschool curriculum provides a hands-on experience that could stir youths' interest in learning, encourage them to eat healthier foods and provide them opportunities to develop personal and social skills." To help them meet these goals for their students, the district partnered with the Recipe for Success Foundation which believes "that children need to learn that food doesn't grow in drive thru windows and plastic wrapping; and that a Twinkie is not a vegetable." The Recipe for Success Foundation works with schools, volunteers and professional chefs to deliver their Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program and have developed afterschool programs and summer camps to reinforce these important lessons.


United States of Food

Gracie Cavnar
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IMAGE: Low income pre-school obesity rate, where the darkest areas represent the highest levels, between 20.1% and 39.7% obesity, while the lightest coloured areas show the lowest levels, from 2.1% to 5%.

On Tuesday, as part of Michelle Obama's anti-childhood-obesity campaign, Let's Move!, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched an exciting new tool: theFood Environment Atlas. Developed by the USDA's Economic Research Service in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control, the National Cancer Institute, theNational Farm-to-School Network, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, the atlas allows anyone with an internet connection to create custom maps of their food environment. What's more, it even makes the data sets embedded in the atlas available for download.


Why A Salad Costs More Than A Big Mac - The Consumerist

Gracie Cavnar
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Teaching Kids to Eat Healthily: School Food in France - TIME

Gracie Cavnar
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"The food is very good, Madame. The meat is 100% French," the official said, picking up a brochure from her desk. I knew this brochure well, having e-mailed it to friends in the U.S. last year as a this-could-only-happen-in-France conversation piece. It lists in great detail the lunch menu for each school day over a two-month period. On Mondays, the menus are also posted on the wall outside every school in the country. The variety on the menus is astonishing: no single meal is repeated over the 32 school days in the period, and every meal includes an hors d'oeuvre, salad, main course, cheese plate and dessert. (See nine kid foods to avoid.) There is more: the final column in the brochure carries the title "Suggestions for the evening." That, too, changes daily. If your child has eaten turkey, ratatouille and a raspberry-filled crepe for lunch, the city of Paris suggests pasta, green beans and a fruit salad for dinner.


PepsiCo to Fund Nutritional Science Fellowship at Yale | Sustainable Food | Change.org

Gracie Cavnar
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How do you feel about the wolf building the hen house?  This partnership is just that latest in a long tradition of interesting research marriages.

Houston at forefront in battle against obesity in kids | Viewpoints, Outlook | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

Gracie Cavnar
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We can make kids healthy
Feb. 20, 2010, 7:37PM

First lady Michelle Obama recently announced her sweeping national initiative to combat childhood obesity. For the first time since this epidemic emerged, a comprehensive federal effort will coordinate with nonprofit organizations and the private sector to address the broad spectrum of contributing factors to obesity that together threaten generations of Americans with chronic disease and early death.

It's not a moment too soon. Already Texans are among the hardest hit by this phenomenon: In 2007, 66 percent of our adults and 32 percent of our high school students were clinically obese or severely overweight and at risk, and it's costing us a fortune. Obese children have a much higher risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, liver disease, kidney failure and cancer. These diseases will strike them early, keep them out of the workplace and kill them young. Unhealthy eating is also taking a huge scholastic toll. Studies link diets high in refined sugar and saturated and trans fats to poor academics as nutrient-starved brains fail to operate effectively. The cause of this alarming spike in obesity is a complex web of changes that have taken place in our culture over the past 20 years.

Thanks to an early start on the front lines, Houston is now in an excellent position to emerge as a national leader and role model in the battle of the bulge. After an extensive study on obesity in 2003, St. Luke's Episcopal Health Charities concluded that an effective solution requires a multipronged approach of reforms at every government level along with the support of our entire community. We swung into action. In 2005, Texas was among the first states to ban vending machines from elementary schools. The mayor established the Houston Wellness Association in 2006 to advance community health. City Hall also paved the way for fresh-food production, farmers markets and grocery stores in neighborhoods that lack critical access, and improved parks, streetlights and sidewalks so children could walk to school and play outside. Recent completion of upgrades to their food-service facility has enabled Aramark/HISD to affordably meet new nutritional guidelines for school lunches. The Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools initiative mobilized parents and teachers to get involved in establishing healthier environments across multiple school districts. Partnerships like CAN DO (Children And Neighbors Defeat Obesity) facilitate far-reaching cooperation to change habits in neighborhoods using multiple entities to weave exercise and nutrition education opportunities together with enhanced food availability.

Many Houston programs serve as national models for transformation, but there is still much to do before we solve this problem once and for all. Recipe for Success Foundation, or RFS -- by working with the city, Houston ISD, every willing collaborator and 58 of our town's finest chefs -- has grown into the largest nutrition education initiative of its kind in the country. Reaching 3,000 Houston children every month and planning national expansion to meet increased demands, the successful RFS Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education program gives children hands-on learning opportunities that empower them to create their own healthy meals and snacks. It is critical to educate a new kind of food consumer who integrates a nutritious diet into his or her normal lifestyle, rather than isolating the concept of healthy eating as an anomaly relegated to weight loss activity. RFS focuses on elementary students -- increasing their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and lowering their resistance to trying new foods -- because research says weight patterns and food attitudes are set for life by age 11. Their experiential classes in school gardens and kitchen classrooms are making a marked difference, with parents reporting that their kids are now cooking at home and turning away from foods they have learned are unhealthy.

Still, it's parents who have the most influence over a child's food attitudes, diet and healthy habits. It's an uphill battle in a perfect storm that makes the job harder than ever: Less unstructured playtime for the kids; a more sedentary lifestyle for all of us; billions of dollars of advertising directed at impressionable young people to promote junk food of every stripe; and a swirling family and work schedule that gets in the way of eating meals together.
Americans make as many as 4,000 eating decisions every single year of their lives, so there are many opportunities for modification. As consumers, we have extraordinary power and we must seize it. Will you join the fight?

Be proactive
• • Don't assume that food products available for sale are automatically safe for you and your family to eat. Ask questions.
• • Read food labels and understand what they mean so you can make better decisions.
• • Learn what age-appropriate nutrition your child needs for healthy body and brain development.
• • Get involved at school: Stop by for lunch; insist that your school offer appealing, healthy choices that don't have to compete with unhealthy a la carte items; if you are unhappy with the menus, send a healthy lunch from home; make sure vending machines have disappeared from your school and that clubs don't raise funds with candy and junk food.
Be a good role model
These are small steps that you can take to slowly change your home environment.
• • Provide only healthy choices at home. Research shows that children eat what's there, whether it's an apple or a bag of chips.
• • Don't give up on introducing healthy foods. It takes up to 15 offers before a child will accept something new.
• • Limit sodas and sugary drinks -- even too much fruit juice is not good -- and promote the consumption of water. Our kids drink about five sodas every day. That's 7,000 empty calories and two extra pounds a week.
• • Introduce your children to fresh whole foods by including them in shopping, gardening and cooking. Children willingly eat new healthy foods that they have helped grow, plan or prepare.
• • Train by example: Model and teach healthy food choices, frequency and portion sizes. Portion size directly affects how much we eat. Don't supersize! A healthy serving is the size of a pack of cards. Eat together at home more often.
• • Exercise as a family -- walking, swimming, biking, dancing, games -- and get the kids involved in team sports.
• • Limit TV viewing and recreational screen time to less than two hours daily.

Raise an aware consumer
Children are very susceptible to slick marketing campaigns but can't yet make an informed decision about what is true and what isn't.
• • Educate your children about the difference between advertising promotions and facts.
• • Tutor your family to read nutrition labels and understand what they mean.
• • Set limits for your kids. Treats in moderation are OK, just not instead of healthy meals.

Be the change
Don't think you have to do everything at once. Small changes over time will make a big difference in your life and that of the next generation. Now, turn off the TV, cook dinner with your kids, and then take the family for a walk. Come on, Houston! Let's show the rest of the country how it's done.
Cavnar is founder of the Recipe for Success Foundation.


Houston Chronicle Story about First Lady Michelle Obama's Obesity Initiative Announcement, recognizes efforts of Recipe for Success Foundation

Gracie Cavnar
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Fat fight turns to a new front: school lunches | Top stories | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle
Washington Bureau
Feb. 10, 2010, 12:27AM
Washington -- A federal program that began in 1946 to remedy the shocking malnutrition seen among World War II recruits is being transformed into ground zero in the nation's new war against obesity.

The national school lunch program and other food programs under the Child Nutrition Act, due for a five-year rewrite, may be the most promising avenue to improve the nutrition of a generation of children who think food comes out of a wrapper and who face shorter lives because of their rising weight.

The costs of treating the chronic illnesses stemming from obesity, already at $147 billion a year, threaten to swamp the nation's foundering health care system.
"Think of it as a down payment on a preventative health care program," said Anthony Geraci, director of food and nutrition for the Baltimore City Public Schools, who just won an award for increasing purchases from local farms to $1 million a year. "The up-front costs of feeding our kids better food are wiped out on the back end by the high cost of treating Type 2 diabetes. To me, it's a no-brainer."
This program and a raft of others that feed more than 31 million children a day -- and half of all infants born in the United States -- will be at the center of the new anti-obesity campaign that first lady Michelle Obama rolled out Tuesday.
Once-radical innovations are starting to go mainstream, including the school gardening movement, championed locally by Houstonian Gracie Cavnar and her group Recipe for Success, along with Urban Harvest. The concept is aimed at reconnecting children with real food. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has fielded a team of advisers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to carry out the idea of linking schools with farmers.

Read the rest of the story here:


Heavy Artillery

Gracie Cavnar
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SHOUTS & MURMURS spoof about obese soldiers. Immediately upon leaving our position, we came under heavy enemy fire. Almost at once, Private Ames grew red in the face. Elder joined Ames behind a small boulder, where the two men shared a Diet Coke. Walking uphill was a lot harder than walking...
by George Saunders


We Like the Way Michael Pollan Thinks

Gracie Cavnar
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Several books ago, journalist Michael Pollan came up with a simple food rule: Eat Food. Not Much of It.  Mostly Plants.  Now in his new book, Food Rules, he has gathered 64 good sense rules from doctors, researchers and just folks and translated them into simple easy-to-digest language.  Here in a recent Huffington Post piece he talks about that process.

Michael Pollan: "Food Rules": A Completely Different Way To Fix The Health Care Crisis