2011 Archives

Harvest Cobbler

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Harvest Cobbler
Yield: 4-6 Servings
For the Topping

½ Cup               all-purpose flour
½ teaspoons     salt
6Tablespoons   COLD butter
½ Cup               brown sugar
1 ½  Cups         oats
½ Cup               slivered almonds
1 teaspoon        cinnamon
½ teaspoon       ginger 
1 Tablespoon    room temperature butter

For the Filling
2 Cups             apples, any variety
2 Cups             pears, any variety
¼ Cup              brown sugar
¼ Cup              honey or agave nectar

*Preheat oven to 375°F*

For the Filling
•    Cut apples and pears into small pieces.  Add to bowl.
•    Measure the brown sugar and honey.  Add to the bowl.
•    Mix with a spoon to coat fruit and set aside.

For the Topping
•    Measure flour and salt, put into a separate bowl. 
•    Cut COLD butter into small pieces.  Add to the same bowl.
•    Using clean hands, coat the butter in flour, and then squish the butter in between your fingers.  Keep squishing the large pieces until the mixture looks like wet sand.
•    Measure the oats, almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger and add to the same bowl.  Mix with clean hands and set aside.
To Assemble
•    Using clean hands, cover the sides and bottom of the cake tin with the room temperature butter.
•    Pour in the filling, and then cover with the topping.
•    Cover with aluminum and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 5 - 8 minutes.
Variations: Try using different seasonal fruits and adding herbs for extra flavor!

Help Recipe for Success win $25,000 from Chase! Vote today.

Gracie Cavnar
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The top 100 vote-getters in this year's Chase community Giving program will each receive $25,000and be in the running for as much as $100,000.  You can help us make the list through your Facebook account.  Follow this link, and vote today!

Chase Community Giving

Two Steps Forward; One Step Back

Gracie Cavnar
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The U.S. Senate recently voted to block the USDA proposal to update the nutrition standards for school meals.  They want the USDA to toss out its proposed standards and start over.  What?
The new standards include more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and limit salt, unhealthy fats, and calories. Thousands of schools across the country are already proving these healthy changes can be made at reasonable costs.

Please demand that your U.S. Representative and Senators support the USDA's standards -- not block them -- so that all children have access to healthy school meals.

Gracie Cavnar
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Retired Architect Tackles Childhood Obesity - SecondAct.com

Gracie Cavnar
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Nice article about what we are up to at Recipe for Success.

Mummy Macaroons!

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Funding Opportunities

Recipe for Success
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UnitedHealth HEROES

Apply for Grants to Help Combat Childhood Obesity by Oct. 22
One-third of American children are considered overweight or obese. More than half have at least one cardiovascular risk factor, and childhood obesity often leads to adult obesity, causing continued health issues.

To help improve children's health, UnitedHealthcare and AmeriChoice, two UnitedHealth Group businesses, have joined together in partnership with Youth Service America (YSA) to create UnitedHealth HEROES. UnitedHealth HEROES awards grants up to $1,000 to schools and youth-focused community organizations for projects that children develop for their peers to combat obesity. Apply for a grant online by Oct. 22.

National Gardening Association Accepting Applications for Youth Garden Grants
One hundred grants valued up to $1,000 will be awarded to schools and community organizations in the United States working to provide child-centered garden programs....
Apply for a grant online by November 28, 2011.

Field Trip Grants from Target

Learning opportunities extend far beyond the classroom. But schools are finding it more and more difficult to bring students to museums, historical sites and cultural organizations. Field Trip Grants help give children these unique, firsthand learning experiences.

Since launching the program in 2007, Target has awarded $9.76 million in grants--providing 1.2 million students in all 50 states with the opportunity to enhance their studies in the arts, math, science and social studies.

As part of the program, each Target store will award three Target Field Trip Grants to K--12 schools nationwide--enabling one in 25 schools throughout the U.S. to send a classroom on a field trip. Each grant is valued up to $700.  For the Target Field Trip Grant, apply here.

Gracie Cavnar honored by Town&Country and Longines with 2011 Women Who Make a Difference Award presented by Stefanie Graf

Gracie Cavnar
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The Devil is in the Details

Gracie Cavnar
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The President has declared that September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. There is a lot to be aware of.  Our kids are fat and getting fatter.  Despite an increase in attention, advocacy, action and media spotlight directed at the problem and its attendant health risks, the needle hasn't budged in the last year or so.  On the other hand, much really good work that has potential for long-term impact has been done.  We all celebrated a recent triumph when Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which made landmark changes to the school nutrition landscape.  New rules and guidelines will effect 50 million kids.  Nearly half of those kids--just shy of 20 million, qualify for free or reduced meals, which indicates that their primary source of food is at school, where they often eat both breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday.

President signing child nutrition bill.pngThere was much hootin, hollerin, and high-fivin when the President signed the bill into law last December.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  The devil is in the details.

The new law increases funding for school lunch by 6 cents a meal; supports and promotes school gardens and farm to school purchasing arrangements; and it expands eligibility for free lunch to more low-income kids.  Most celebrated by activists was the shift from nutrition-based standards to food-based standards, which will help do away with much of the processed food masquerading as healthy because it has chemical additives for vitamins and minerals.  This shift means that a sugar-steeped pop tart will no longer count as a serving of fruit and multi grain bread.

The other hammer handed to nutrition advocates is that these new rules will apply to all food available at any time on campus, including in vending machines or a la carte items offered for sale. Bottom line is that kids need to eat more freshly prepared or raw fruits and vegetables, and less salt, sugar and saturated fat found in their current diet of predominantly processed food.  The USDA guidelines gave parents and nutrition advocates the tools to achieve needed changes.

Unfortunately, this bill could now go the way of many unfunded mandates before it--cut off at the knees by lack of money for implementation, monitoring or oversight.  And we are in jeopardy of losing much of its potential power when rules are finalized in December 2013.  Lobbyists are hard at work wearing down members of Congress, demanding change. The dairy lobby scored a major early victory with flavored milk appearing on the allowed list, even though it contains as much sugar by volume as a full-octane soft drink.  They won by arguing, "Otherwise children wouldn't drink enough milk to get their needed minimum calcium."  Now other food lobbyists are clamoring "me too" claiming important health benefits that fly in the face of all the science.

With balanced budget arguments ruling the Hill, the Congressional appropriations committee is taking another look at the whopping 6 cent per lunch reimbursement increase and the money to help schools refit their cafeteria kitchens, so that they can cook again. There is a rider to the agricultural spending bill circulating now that basically axes all the funding for proposals to improve nutritional quality of our kids school lunch.

For those who argue that the government should stay out of school lunch anyway, I would like to point out that it would never exist without Uncle Sam.  Started in 1946 in response to the nutritional deficiencies of U.S. military recruits who were unfit to fight because they were starving to death, the post-war school lunch program soon became embroiled in serial struggles among food and drink companies, farmers, agribusiness, school administrators, and nutritionists over who could regulate what, where, and when.  After-all, feeding 50 million school kids, 5 days a week, 9 months a year, is very, very big business.

In 1983, acting on a suit brought by the National Soft Drink Association, a panel of judges ruled that the USDA could regulate drinks only in public-school cafeterias, and only at mealtimes.  As long as soft-drink and candy companies had the permission of local school boards and administrators, they could sell anything anytime or anyplace else.  And of course local boards and administrators were vulnerable to the money waved around by food companies anxious to have access to all those young consumers.  Funds for scoreboards and art programs assuaged any guilt.  That kicked open the door to unprecedented promotion of junk food to kids who are especially vulnerable to sophisticated marketing techniques and away from their parents' rules.  Pretty soon the junk bled out of the vending machines and into cafeterias as districts looked for ways to cut costs.  Cafeteria kitchens slowly disappeared and fresh cooked lunches at school went the way of the dinosaur as big food got into the school lunch business with cut-heat-and-serve processed meals and promoted their fast food products to our kids.  In the meantime, our kids got fatter, suffered from ADD/AHD and their health and grades spiraled down in a double helix.  Two things are happening when we present poor quality food to our kids at school:  We are teaching them that junk food is OK to eat--a perception that will be nearly impossible to erase as they mature; and we are slowly killing them.

Circling back around to the genesis of school lunch, the US Military now complains that recruits are so overweight that it's a threat to national security because they have to decline the 21% of available recruits who are too obese to fight.

So, our health, our future productivity, the viability of our health care system and even our national security is at stake.  Reach out to your representative today.  Tell him/her that we are paying attention.  The nutritional quality of school lunch is too important to be sold to the highest bidder.  Keep your hands off the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and the USDA's proposed rules to support it.

Interview with an Intern

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Alyssa Peterson.JPG1. What inspired you to intern with RFS?

A mixture of my mom's encouragement and my passion to teach kids healthy habits. It has been my dream to have an after school program of some kind where I could work with young kids because it has been proven that what kids learn from birth to age 10 is what shapes their patterns the rest of their lives.  That is why it is so important to teach kids how to understand and appreciate healthy eating habits so that they carry those habits with them into adulthood, which in turn can reduce obesity and diet related deaths.

2. How will the information that you learned here influence your next steps and/or your approach to nutrition?

While here I learned a lot about what goes on backstage and about all the little pieces that are necessary for an operation like this to run so smoothly and efficiently. So now I feel like I could take what I learned and better be prepared for when I get a chance to work with kids in a setting like this.

3. What is the most surprising thing that you learned during your time with RFS?

That you can mix vegetables into just about anything and still make it taste good! While here I had "green eggs and ham", which had green onions, green peppers, kale and Swiss chard and it tasted even better than regular scrambled eggs and was far more nutritious. By doing recipes like this and having kids experiment with different vegetables, it makes eating healthy fun and exciting so that they want to actually eat like this everyday.

4. What will you take away from your time at RFS?

That the best way to overcome something as massive as childhood obesity or any worldwide epidemic is to start small, and with time, patience and hard work you can slowly overcome the giant you set out to defeat.

5. What was your favorite thing you participated in while at RFS?

My favorite thing was going to a Houston Food Policy Work group, with fellow staff member Alyssa Dole. Not only did I feel grown up getting to participate in a meeting but also it was exciting being surrounded by people who were all fighting to make a change. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people complain about a problem and do nothing to change it, so I loved getting to see this work group in action trying to make a difference.

6. Why would you encourage others to get involved with RFS?

I would encourage others to get involved because not only is it such an important organization, but it's fun! They don't have kids focus on the negatives, like their weight and appearance, instead they focus on the positives like how to live healthier lives in general. Something like this is so hard to find in the society we live in today because all too often people think to be healthy you have to be model skinny, but that is far from the truth and to get to participate in a company that believes that too is unbelievably rewarding.

Debut on "this small planet"

Gracie Cavnar
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Follow my conversation about food justice on www.this-small-planet.com  My first post can be found here:

Self Magazine Awards Recipe for Success $10,000 in recognition

Gracie Cavnar
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National Garden Month winners!

Sharon Siehl
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April is National Garden Month, and this year I designed a competition to see which class could visit the garden the most.  The students recorded on a calendar the days that they watered, weeded, planted, or observed in the garden.  Teachers who assigned homework or an Earth Day activity were awarded extra credit points for their class.  The main point was to just get out to the garden and take advantage of all there is to learn and do there!

We had some extraordinary participation during April, which can be a tough month because of TAKS and other standardized testing.  However, the teachers and students were able to squeeze in a few moments to care for their garden or make observations in their journals. 

The winners at MacGregor Elementary was Mrs. Williams' truly motivated 4th grade class.  They did multiple garden activities almost every single day, including harvesting and tasting yellow and green beans.  Mrs. Williams even had the class do an "Earth Day Rap"--extra points! 

Each student won a cultivator to take home and start their own garden.   Congratulations Mrs. Williams class!

Brian Ching with RFS kids at Rodriguez

Gracie Cavnar
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In the classroom at Whittier Elementary School with Paul Cruz, age 9

Gracie Cavnar
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Paul Cruz.jpg

This month we made sweet zucchini mini muffins.  They tasted DELICIOUS! We mixed chocolate with the zucchini together and it smelled good too. 

We also did fruit cabob.  We put different kinds of fruit on stick, like strawberrys bananas, oranges, apples, watermelon, pears and mango.  It tasted good and it looked good.

Me and my Mom made fruit cabobs at home, too.  We used strawberry, orange, apple watermelon and pears.  It was delicious; the greatest taste.

In the garden we harvested the radishes because they were ready.  They were all sizes and colors: Red and big, red and small, white and big and white and small. They were rough when I took them out of the ground.

We also removed the lettuce and we weeded so the plants won't die.  I also saw mint leaves, sunflowers, tomatoes and egg plants in the garden.  I tasted the mint leaves and they were--minty!

Paul Cruz sig.png

Learning Has Never Been So Delicious and Fun!

Gracie Cavnar
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by Ms. Garza, PreK teacher, Whittier Elementary

whittier teacher.jpg     I am fortunate to have the dual job of being a volunteer and a classroom teacher.  Being on the front lines educating children in science can be a daunting task, but using innovative approaches like those offered by Recipe For Success makes the job so much more engaging and fun.   Having the support of RFS Team Leader, Chef Nicole Livezey is an added bonus.  Chef Nicole teaches our students the value of good nutrition and healthy eating, while at the same time reinforcing important science objectives found in the kitchen and garden.  Students learn without even realizing it, because food growing and preparation offers an abundance of resources to teach science. 

The garden is my favorite.  Spending time in the garden weeding, planting and harvesting offers so many opportunities for learning the importance of our earth's materials like soil and plants.  My PreK students have become expert weeders.  They learn to identify different plants and weeds.  We make a game of finding and pulling weeds by the roots.  One class of 4 year-olds was very diligent in getting to the roots, holding them up and shouting "las raíces, las raíces."  Kindergarten and 1st graders learn to sort and classify types of seeds for planting, while older students do the more difficult jobs of turning soil and preparing for planting. And of course everyone enjoys the harvesting.
Because our school is in an economically disadvantaged area, some of our students aren't normally exposed to such a variety of fresh vegetables.  Chef Nicole introduces them to many new vegetables they have never even seen, much less tasted.  All students are able to sample the bounty of our garden and they thoroughly enjoy it. Though the new tastes aren't always to their liking, they are willing to try everything.  Often they end up enjoying foods they did not like at first or didn't expect to like.

With the help of Recipe For Success and Chef Nicole, learning has never been so delicious and fun!! 

Let's Move with Beyonce

Gracie Cavnar
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The Texas House is Trying to Leave School Health on the Budget Cutting Floor

Gracie Cavnar
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If you don't think that intervention to keep this bill from passing is a priority, take a look at some data gathered by UT Health Science Center along with the Dell Center and CATCH and call your Texas State Congressperson and Senator today:

Why Coordinated School Health Programs are Important to Texas Youth
What are Coordinated School Health Programs? Coordinated School Health Programs were developed to incorporate health lessons and a healthy environment into the school day. These programs include classroom curricula, physical education, a cafeteria program that serves healthy foods, and a parent program that reinforces these concepts. Coordinated school health program elements are intended to provide an environment that supports healthy eating and activity for children.
Why Coordinated School Programs are Important:
Healthy Children are Better Learners. Academic achievement is correlated with physical fitness. Based on fitness and academic data from Texas schools, it has been shown that fitness levels, especially cardiovascular fitness levels, are associated with higher TAKS scores.i In addition, children who participated in coordinated school health programs that include minutes of physical activity/day have significantly higher standardized test scores. This effect is greater among children who have behavioral problems.
Coordinated School Health Programs can Decrease Child Obesity Levels. Three years of implementing a coordinated school health program with supporting community interventions in El Paso resulted in a decrease in rates of child overweight of 11% for girls and 9% for boys. ii Further data from the School Physical Activity and Nutrition (SPAN) population‐based surveillance study found a 7% reduction in obesity among 4th grade students in the El Paso area where coordinated school health programs with supporting community health programs had been conducted.iii
Coordinated School Health Programs save Money. Implementing coordinated school health programs can save money by decreasing obesity. The cost‐effectiveness ratio of using a coordinated school health program (CATCH) was $889.68 (revealing the intervention costs per quality‐adjusted life years) and net benefit was $68,125 (comparison of the present value of averted future costs with the cost of the intervention).iv
New Data Show Increases in Obesity among High School Students as Health and Physical Education Requirements are Decreased. New data from the School Physical Activity and Nutrition (SPAN) study, 2009‐2011, show that the rates of obesity in high school students significantly increased from 2004‐2005, so that now more than 1 in 5 11th grade students in Texas are obese.v Between the surveys, the health requirement for high school students was dropped, and the amount of required physical education was cut. During that same time period, the rates of obesity stayed the same in elementary schools, which are required to implement coordinated school health programs. New data show that implementation of coordinated school health programs is linked with the rates of overweight in elementary school children: when programs are implemented fully, rates of child overweight decrease, while rates of child overweight increase in programs that are not implemented.vi
Texas is a Leader in Improving Child Health through Implementation of Coordinated School Health Programs and Fitness Testing. Texas has been cited as a leader in the implementation of legislation and implementation of coordinated school health programs, especially related to child obesity prevention in elementary schools.vii Dismantling the network, coalitions, and programs that have been put into place and have shown significant positive results would be disastrous to child health efforts, and would take years to re‐build. In addition, many grants awarded to school districts and universities for coordinated school health program support, research, and surveillance would be jeopardized by the elimination of coordinated school health programs, including a recent $5 million grant award to AgriLife Extension. This could result in the loss of jobs and sending funds back to the granting agency.
If Coordinated School Health Programs are eliminated:

Child obesity rates will rise, especially among elementary school children. In addition, conditions associated with obesity (e.g., type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, etc.) would rise.

Academic performance will decrease.

Texas will have greater health care costs.

Dress for Dinner on May 9 with Sachin+Babi

Gracie Cavnar
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Hope you will join us for our last fashion event of the season.  Book you tickets for Dress for Dinner on May 9 at TOOTSIES with Sachin+ Babi at https://www.recipe4success.org/events/dress-for-dinner.html

Fabulous feast and refreshments provided by Fox Hollow, SlimRita and Pondicheri.

Myth Busting

Gracie Cavnar
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According to a recent article on Preventobesity.net, a new report reveals that buying fresh produce from the grocery store is easier on your wallet than you might think..  Following the story in it's entirety:

"But it's too expensive."  Those four words are perhaps the most common excuse people give when explaining why they don't eat more fruits and vegetables. Sure, produce is healthy, but people argue it's just too pricey.

Fair enough -- except that this assumption is totally wrong. So long as you have access to a grocery store, anyway.

A new study commissioned by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) has discovered that fresh fruits and veggies are shockingly reasonable, even inexpensive, compared to other common grocery store items. Nine servings of produce, the recommended daily amount according to government guidelines, cost a total of only $2.18 on average.

"We kept hearing, 'It's too expensive, it's too expensive," says Kathy Means, PMA's vice president of government relations and public affairs. "We knew that wasn't true, but we couldn't prove it. That's why we invested in the research."

Researchers also found that bargain hunters -- those folks known to clip coupons or only buy things on sale -- could nab nine servings of fruits and veggies for as low as 88 cents a day.

"It's really a bargain basement price. We think it's more of a value meal than a value meal," Means tells the Inside Track. "Even at $2.18, when you think what a bag of chips costs, you're talking about a lot of good, tummy-filling stuff compared to a bag of chips."

The report only looks at produce prices at grocery stores. People who live in food deserts -- communities without close access to a supermarket -- still face hurdles in finding affordable produce. For example, a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that people who live in food deserts typically shop at corner markets, which often lack fresh foods and maintain prices that are higher than supermarkets.

In this respect, the report underscores the importance of bringing supermarkets to these under-served communities. Easier access to grocery stores will mean easier access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.

Undertaken by The Perishables Group, the report looked at point-of-sale data for all fruits and vegetables at grocery stores over a year. Researchers only considered fresh items that people would eat as a serving. For instance, garlic, which is typically used as a seasoning, was among the items that didn't make the cut. When creating serving sizes, researchers left out the non-edible parts, like apple cores.

The team found that the average cost for a serving of fruit is 28 cents, while a serving of veggies costs 21 cents. That includes items marked at full price, as shopping sales or seasonal purchases tend to lead to big discounts.

Produce prices tend to be cheapest in the fourth quarter of the year, but don't really fluctuate that much year-round. The high was an average of $2.31 for nine servings in the second quarter of the year, compared to the low of $2.08 in the fourth. Prices between regions also are relatively consistent, as the lowest cost for nine servings averaged about $2.08 in the east, compared to $2.30 in the south, which had the highest totals.

But those statistics include some full price items. With a little research and planning, shoppers can save as much as 60 percent off their produce bill. "This is a remarkably low cost when compared to the cost per serving for most processed foods, fast food restaurants and even vending machine snacks," the report reads.

So why does the produce-is-expensive myth continue? Part of the issue is that the produce industry needs to do a better job explaining to customers how affordable it is to buy fresh produce, Means says. She points out that even first lady Michelle Obama, who has promoted fresh fruits and veggies as part of her Let's Move! Campaign, has said produce is more expensive than other goods.

"People think, 'well, if I buy a grapefruit, that's kind of expensive," Means says. "But a grapefruit might have three servings in it."

Means and others are aiming to spread the word that there's now quantitative proof that produce is more affordable than most people realize. "We knew produce was less expensive than people thought, but we didn't know it was this inexpensive," she says.####

We know that at Recipe for Success, where we manage to feed 3,000 kids a meal they help prepare from principally from fresh produce at a food cost of less than 50 cents each.

Recipe for Success and CAN DO accomplish great things at Lyons Elementary

Gracie Cavnar
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Pick up the story at minute 5:00

April 1, 2011 from Houston ISD on Vimeo


Spring is Here

Sharon Siehl
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I always love this time of year in Houston--the deliciously cool mornings and comfortable afternoons, the gentle breeze...and one of the great times to get out and garden before the summer slows us down with heat and humidity. 

The students have been hard at work planting their tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, cantaloupe, tri-color bush beans, corn, watermelon, squash, and basil.   I encourage you to plant by seed or transplant so you can enjoy the same delicious harvests. 

If you're in Houston, you still have time to put tomato and pepper starts in the ground, but hurry before the heat gets too extreme.

Here are the simple instructions:
1.  Find a location with at least 6 hours of sun and good soil.  Dig a hole the depth of the container, and then a few inches deeper.
2.  For tomatoes, pinch off the lowest "sucker" leaves.  New roots will grow from the same place the suckers were, and allow needed nutrients to travel to the rest of the plant.
3.  Mix in a handful of organic fertilizer or compost into the hole.
4.  Gently squeeze the container to loosen the plant.  Make an "L" with your left hand and place it gently around the tomato stem.  Carefully turn the plant upside down, and remove the container.   You should see the roots of the tomato. (Kids love this part.)
5.  "Tickle" the roots with your fingers to loosen them for the soil. 
6.  Turn the tomato right-side up and place in the hole.  The places where you pinched off the suckers should be underground too.
7.  Cover the roots with soil, and water in well.  Place a tomato cage around the plant now so that it can grow into it's new home with support.
8.  Water when needed, and try to avoid getting the leaves wet. 
9.  Plant basil and marigolds around the tomato to improve flavor and keep pests at bay--and keep the stink bugs away!
10.  Around June, enjoy your delectable home-grown tomatoes.

Happy Gardening,

Food Deserts in Houston--many families lack access to fresh produce

Sharon Siehl
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While I normally post blog entries about gardening with children, I felt it was important to bring some attention to a serious problem here in Houston: food deserts.  A food desert is a neighborhood or community that lacks access to fairly priced, quality, and healthy food items, particularly produce.  These communities tend to be in low-income areas, where unhealthy food choices abound, such as fast food (cheap, but high in fat, sugars, and calories), and convenience, corner, and liquor stores (where food is prepackaged, such as chips and soda, and produce is overpriced, frequently not available, and/or of poor quality).   The nearest grocery store may be miles away, and for people who don't own a car, it may mean taking the bus with a transfer to reach that store--clearly limiting many families from accessing fresh foods.

All of the schools and centers where Recipe for Success (RFS) currently provides programming are in food deserts.  We see the impacts of this every day with the students we work with--it's faster to walk to the fast food joint and get a burger and fries than to search out fresh produce that may be expensive or in bad shape.     

This is not a new problem to Houston, and many other major cities across the United States.  So we felt fortunate when during the summer of 2010, the Food Trust, a non-profit based in Philadelphia, contacted RFS, the Houston Food Policy Workgroup, the City of Houston and many other groups, for information on the situation in Houston. 

The Food Trust visited Houston, put together the data, and created many powerful maps illustrating the serious problem of food deserts to create their report, titled Food for Every Child: The Need for More Supermarkets in Houston.    

In the maps, data related to supermarket sales, income levels, and diet-related deaths are combined to find the areas of Houston most in need.  Diet-related diseases include diabetes, hypertension, certain kinds of cancers, obesity, and others.  Some of the areas most affected include Sunnyside, the 5th Ward, and the Northside--something many people assumed, but now is validated by data.     

Consider this statistic from the Food Trust's report:  nationally, there is one grocery store for every 8,600 people.  In and around Houston, there is one grocery store for every 12,000 people.  And remember: nearly two-thirds of Texans are overweight or obese.  Other studies have shown that the closer one lives to a supermarket, the healthier they tend to be.  Clearly, there is a relationship between income level, access to supermarkets, and diet-related diseases and deaths.  

As part of my position as Director of Recipe Gardens and Agricultural Outreach with RFS, I serve as co-chair of the Houston Food Policy Workgroup (HFPW).  I contacted Miriam Manon of the Food Trust to present to the HFPW about the report, where she highlighted some of the next steps that need to be taken.  A task force is being put in place that includes leaders from the city, public health, the supermarket industry, and other stakeholders.  From there, the Food Trust advises to "create a grant and loan program to support local supermarket development", similar to the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative that was so successful in their home state.  Creating public policy to promote building supermarkets in low-income areas is another avenue to help solve this problem, and encourage economic development. 

A quote at the end of the report struck me as the heart of the issue: "People who can only access poor food choices eat poorly."  Many of these people are children.  We need to make supermarket access a priority, to improve public health for those who need it most.

For those who need an even quicker solution: get outside and plant those spring seeds in your vegetable garden! 
Many happy harvests, 
--Sharon Siehl 

Access the Food Trust's report here: Food for Every Child: The Need for More Supermarkets in Houston, and The Houston Chronicle's food desert editorial.   


A Gala in Small Bites Kicks off on a High Note

Gracie Cavnar
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Gorgeous voices of Houston Grand Opera performers filled the air in our apartment transformed for the occasion into a Venetian palace, where iconic Chef Tony Mandola wowed us with his delectable dishes on this Mardi Gras. 

Enjoy my photos from the event and consider coming to one of the eleven other dinners that pack the season.  We're Cooking Now! a gala in small bites celebrates friends and food, but most importantly raises critical funding for Recipe for Success efforts to combat childhood obesity.  Thanks to generous underwriting, 100% of the ticket sales go toward our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ programs in Houston elementary schools.  See the spring schedule and book your tickets here.  See you at the table!

Dress for Dinner with Nicole Miller a Huge Hit with Recipe for Success Fans

Gracie Cavnar
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Thumbnail image for D4DMar2Chairs.jpg

Thanks to an enthusiastic turnout of supporters and generous underwriting from Neiman Marcus, Catering by Culinaire and Central Market,  Dress for Dinner and Dinner with the Designer, Nicole Miller on March 2, raised $13,200 to benefit Recipe for Success Foundation's programs to combat childhood obesity.


Always up for a stylish time, Event Chairs Roz Pactor and Isabel David along with Neiman Marcus General Manager, Bob Devlin recently threw one of the season's most fashionable parties to benefit Recipe for Success Foundation.  The second event in this year's series of three, the show and dinner took place at Neiman Marcus Galleria and featured canapés and a three course meal by popular Chef Barbara McKnight. 


But the biggest hit of the night came when gorgeous Neal Hamil Models strutted down the runway in Nicole Miller's latest collection, sending her fans into rapturous rounds of applause for dress after dress.  Phone cameras were clicking and guests were live tweeting in the electrified room.  D4DMar2crowdapprove.jpgIn addition to the chairs, host and designer, the 150 guests included Recipe for Success founder, Gracie Cavnar, Dress for Dinner founding chair, Jeff Shell, Janet Gurwitch, Yvonne Cormier, Claire Cormier Thielke, Leisa Holland-Nelson, Susan and Annie Criner, Kim Bartee, Linda Kuykendall, Elsie Eckert, Lenny Matuziewski & Tamara Klosz Bonar, Karen and Roland Garcia, Heather Pray, Amanda Crump, Laura Tinamus, Jennifer LeGrand, Lynn Guggolz, Shannon Hall, Marcus Sloan.  Ann Coffey and Sheldon Kramer, executives with BBVA Compass, treated twenty of their clients to the show.

The nearly forty guests, who donated a premium to attend the Dinner with the Designer immediately following the fashion show, were well rewarded with a beautifully executed meal created by Chef McKnight who extensively researched the designer's favorite foods.
D4Dmar2dinner.JPG "How did you know?" exclaimed Miller when perfectly crusted lamb appeared as the main course framed by a brilliant array of spring vegetables.  Fashionably svelte guests including Nancy Golden, Crystal Wright, Amy King and Audrey Cochran practically licked their plates clean.  Appearing for a standing ovation after dinner, McKnight--who is an very active member of the RFS Chefs Advisory Board--shared her experiences volunteering with the program and her view of its impact on children. 


Pleased Neiman Marcus executives are already planning their Dress for Dinner benefit for 2012.  "We were thrilled to have such a fantastic turnout for Recipe for Success--having  Nicole Miller with us just made it that much better.  Everyone keeps telling us how much they loved her stunning dresses!" enthused Stacey Swift.   


More images from the evening can be found here.


StarChefs.com Rising Stars Revue - Houston 2011 will donate to Recipe for Success

Gracie Cavnar
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Funny how the lineup resembles the RFS Chefs Advisory Board! So it's no wonder.  Thank you once again to our city's fabulous culinary professionals.

star chefs.pngFor more information about the event or to buy tickets, see:

Tonight on Fox news at 9 PM...

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Tune in:
Fox News at 9 PM

On location: 
Rodriguez Elementary

Watch RFS students making Chocolate Beet Mini-Muffins and hear directly from Gracie Cavnar, CEO and Founder, and Chef Kendall Watson, RFS Team Leader at Rodriguez Elementary School.  

On left: 5th grade Rodriguez Elementary students pose with John Dawson of Fox 26 news. 

Tips for Cooking Couples

Gracie Cavnar
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Ronnie & Jon on Great Day.jpgUnlike Woody Allen and Diane Keaten in the famous Annie Hall lobster scene, RFS Team Leader, Chef Ronnie Alford and her husband Chef Jon Alford run a smooth operation working together in their home kitchen without stepping on each others toes--either figuratively or physically.  The newlywed couple shows Deborah Duncan and her audience at Great Day Houston their secrets to happy kitchen collaborations. Ronnie & Jon will launch couples classes at RecipeHouse on February 25, 2011.

VIPs Visit an RFS Classroom and Roll Up Their Sleeves

Gracie Cavnar
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This week, a host of VIP visitors got an eye-opening class at MacGregor Elementary with Chef Monica Pope and Team Leader, Chef Molly Graham.  The kids were learning about the true nature of commercial Hot Pockets, which feature over 87 ingredients including chemical compounds made from human hair, pig hooves and duck feathers.

Hot Pockets are the single biggest selling snack food for American kids, but most are made in China where lax oversight might produce some surprising results.  Taking a page from the RFS Summer Camp Curriculum that teaches kids how to detect the difference between promotion (what's on the front of the box) vs fact (whats on the side or back,) our Hot Pocket class was developed by Chefs Advisory Board member, Garth Blackburn of Wolf/SubZero.  For instance, the front of the box may say Real Cheese, but the back lets you know that  the cheese flavoring boasts food colors and man-made chemicals, but no actual cheese. 

"I've never made anything with 87 ingredients, not even curry," exclaimed Chef Pope.  "How about you guys?"  After watching Monica and Molly add a collection of the "real" ingredients to a bowl, the kid's astonished responses--accentuated by dramatic gagging and gasping sounds, gaping mouths and wide eyes--indicated that they would not soon again run to the freezer section to buy Hot Pockets.  As a delicious stand-in, they learned a healthier version made with shredded turkey, garnished with chopped winter greens from their garden and dressed with homemade vinaigrette.  Plates were cleaned!

Joining us in class for a first hand look at how RFS connects so well with children, were Scott McClelland - CEO of Houston HEB Central Market Division, Dr. Joel Dunnington - MD Anderson Cancer Center, Lisa Stark & Ashley Velasquez - Texas Medical Association along with Dr. Kelli Cohen Fine-Baylor College of Medicine and Cheryl Kridel, Co-Chairs of the upcoming TMA Gala.  Scott, Joel and I are being honored at the 2011 Gala for our work to improve children's health.
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Scott McClelland, Linda Stark & Kelli Cohen Fein enjoying an RFS cooking class

Why don't you visit the classroom sometime?  Read about ways you can visit and volunteer here.  In the meantime, don't forget to read the real ingredients in the prepared foods that you buy, or better yet . . . follow our suggestion to shop only the perimeter of the store, where the fresh, unprocessed ingredients are displayed. 

Also in class was regular monthly volunteer and blogger, Bettina Siegel.  She wrote about her experience in The Lunch Tray.  Our volunteers regularly contribute to our own Volunteer Voices blog.  Keep up with what they are saying.

RFS Now Offers Classes to SPICE Members

Gracie Cavnar
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We have always hankered to do cooking classes for families untethered from the strictures of the school schedule.  After all--it's proven that nothing is healthier than cooking and dining together at home.   Last week, we launched our first cooking classes in the long-awaited RFS home kitchen, designed to easily accommodate 10 cooks for a hands-on class in the kitchen, or up to 20 for a demonstration.  A test hands-on class for Board Members, SPICE Guild and special VIPS on January 25 featured scratch pizza.  Participants rolled out their own whole wheat dough, getting creative with the healthy toppings, and turning out enough pizza for both lunch and to take home an oven ready version for dinner, too. 

The response was a resounding two thumbs up! 

All systems were "go" for the next night, when Chef Ruth Riojas conducted a Super Bowl/Super Food class for ten.  Chef Ruth interpreted traditional Super Bowl favorites into healthy versions including "PhillyCheeseShroom" and "Vegetarian Chili."  Recipes sacrificed none of the flavor, but most of the calories for guilt-free day of noshing. 

Our next SPICE cooking class is February 23--"Keeping Love Alive in the Kitchen" A Primer for Couples Who Cook, presented by Chefs Ronnie & Jon Alford.  A Date Night Class for couples is expected to become a regular monthly event in the RFS kitchen classroom.

In March the schedule will include a special 3-day Spring Break Camp for 8-11 year olds using the theme of my new book: Eat It! Food Adventures with Marco Polo.  Students will get hands-on with medieval inspired recipes from Venice and Greece and learn to make pasta and flat breads from scratch, including their own pita pockets filled with fresh produce from our home gardens.

These classes are available only to SPICE guild members who receive some with membership and may buy others.  Good enough reason to join up!  Why not?

Making pizza at RFS.jpg Phily mushroom.jpgThumbnail image for Chef ruth teaches healthy superbowl.jpg
Down load a SPICE application and get started with classes today.

Live Long, Love Long This February

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As obesity rises, life expectancy declines. Instead of stuffing your loved one full of sucrose and fat this Valentine's Day, prepare a healthy, tasty treat- Chocolate Beet Mini-Muffins. This will not only show how much you care about them now, but your hopes for a long, healthy life together- that you want them to live long and love long this February. 

Spicy Good Times
Looking for a way to reconnect with a loved one? Look no farther than Recipe for Success SPICE guild. RFS SPICE guild is offering a February Cooking for Two Cooking class that is the perfect way to SPICE up your date night. To find out more, e-mail Katherine for details.  
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Feel the love radiate from these kids as the revel in their mini muffin success. 

Tasting, Trying, Learning, Growing at Briscoe

Guest Student
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School: Briscoe Elementary, 4th Grade
 I get to go to Chef Anne's class on Monday mornings to cook sometimes with Chef Garth and learn about things we grow in the garden.  Our garden didn't grow some of what we planted, but we grew a great big broccoli.  We ate it last week in our class when we made Stir Fried Tofu and vegetables.  That was my first time I think to eat tofu, and I liked it! 
 We also had snap peas and swiss chard from our garden in the recipe.  I like going to the class because it is fun to get to cook and eat new things.  Next month we will make chocolate beet muffins with beets we have grown, I have never eaten beets before in my life-but I think I will like them.

Educating and Encouraging our Youth to be Fit

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Carol Sawyer.jpgIt makes me terribly sad to see overweight youngsters and to see people making poor food choices.  I worry about the future of our youth regarding obesity, diabetes and  so many other health issues.  And, as with everything, it has a  "trickle-down" effect.  No doubt, it will affect us all.

However, I am encouraged by the Recipe For Success programs.  This Seed-to-Plate education gives me great hope that children will be taught to make better choices and to take charge of their own health and well-being.  No matter our age, we should all take responsibility for ensuring our body and spirit are the  very best that we can be for ourselves and our loved ones.  Naturally, genetics play a large role for each of us. But, wouldn't it be great to reach a ripe, old age and be able to say "at least I took care of myself as best I could"?

Whether I am volunteering for RFS at a special event, having a pizza party,  spreading the word or thinking of new avenues for community outreach and awareness, I feel that in my own way I am helping encourage and support our youth, friends and families to strive to be fit and healthy.

Hopefully my part as a volunteer, outside of the garden or school, can positively impact the lives of children by directing them toward the path of wellness and the mission of RFS.

Carol Sawyer picture smiling.JPGCarol Sawyer and Norah Odonnell.jpgCarolsawyerwithguest.jpg

Want fruit? Plant a tree!

Sharon Siehl
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Here in Houston, we're lucky to be able to grow vegetables in the garden 12 months out of the year.  But for those folks who consider themselves "lazy" gardeners, or just like the idea of plucking off a ripe grapefruit, avocado, peach, or kumquat, fruit trees are the way to go!  Even if you just have a cement patio, many fruit trees can be successful when planted in large pots--and can bear a healthy amount of fruit as a tree planted directly in the ground.  There is no better way to get an annual harvest from one plant, planted one time, with the most bang for your buck, than a fruit tree.

Urban Harvest will host their annual fruit tree sale on Saturday, Jan. 15th, from 9:00am-1:00pm or until sold out, at the University of Houston Roberts Stadium. 
Urban Harvest Fruit Tree Sale
Get there early, it's a popular event!   And check out their website for a list of available fruit trees--it helps to know what you want before going.  They have an incredibly wide variety. 

This is just the beginning, though--multiple fruit tree sales are hosted throughout January and February by different Extension Agencies in Harris and surrounding counties.  Check out the Houston Chronicle for more sales, gathered by Kathy Huber, the Garden Editor.
Houston Chronicle Gardening Section

And remember, in these chilly days, if there is a freeze expected, water your garden deeply, surround plants with a thick layer of mulch, and lay freeze cloth over tender plants (newspapers, old sheets, or burlap work well, but never use plastic as this can "burn" the plants.) 

Happy gardening and stay warm!

Celebrating the Traditions of the Table

Gracie Cavnar
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Happy New Year!  I hope you enjoyed a scrumptious holiday with your family and friends . . .nothing like the traditions of the table to bring people together.  It's year-round activity we promote at Recipe for Success.

Just before the holiday, we announced the grand prize winner of our  fifth annual "My Favorite Holiday Food" Story Writing Contest. Teachers and principals selected eight school winners from hundreds of fourth grade participants on each campus. Making her selection from the six semi-finalists the contest's final judge was author, Gwendolyn Zepeda, ("I Kick the Ball," her next children's book, will be published by Arte Publico in the spring of 2011.)

Over 1,000 Houston area students wrote about their favorite holiday food and the family traditions surrounding it.  Most entries also included recipes and many featured creative multi media illustrations.  Despite tough competition, Zepeda selected Vanesa because "she gave personal context to her story, described an enticing recipe without spelling it out and finished with a strong conclusion.  She is a natural storyteller." 

As her prize, Vanesa will spend the day with Chef Jeffrey Everts to experience behind the scenes of The Houstonian's professional kitchen.  She will work side by side with Chef Everts preparing lunch for her family and teachers to enjoy at Olivette.  She will become also  published author, with her essay featured on both the Recipe for Success and Arte Publico websites.  Hats, stickers and other prizes were awarded to six fourth grade semi-finalists.  You can read all the school winners' essays here.

We created the contest to help focus our kids on the importance of building family food traditions while at the same time giving them practice in the very writing skills that will be measured by state tests in January.

"Both teachers and students loved the contest," according to Chef  Christine Mansfield, our Team Leader at Lyons.  "The teachers used it as a classroom tool and many students used it as an excuse to spend more time with their families."

Now that's a real Recipe for Success!