2012 Archives

Board Member Weighs In

Gracie Cavnar
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Deanna.jpgRecipe for Success Foundation's Science Advisory Chair, Dr. Deanna Hoelscher has measured a small decline in obesity rates among fourth graders in the El Paso, Texas area -- results that had her doing a double take.  Dr. Hoelscher was one of several scientists capturing these trends in cities large and small that have had broad sets of anti-obesity measures in place over a number of years.  Read the entire New York Times story.

My Favorite Holiday Food

Lauren Ballard
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Jacqueline Marroquin pic.png

Congratulations to our 2012 Journalism Contest winner, Jaqueline Marroquin, from Whittier Elementary!

Guatemalan Tamales, by Jaqueline Morroquin

It's Christmas time!  And you know what that means... It's time to make some delicious Guatemalan Tamales.  My mom is from Guatemala and all her family gets together during the holidays and celebrates with food and gifts.  In American, our relatives come together to celebrate every holiday.  Every year, we always make tamales from Guatemala.  It was made from more than three thousand years ago from the Mayan culture.

They smell like bananas and are wrapped with banana leaves. They look rectangular shaped and forest green when their covered. When you unwrap them, they look like porridge or grits.  They have a mushy mashed potato taste, only better because they are made of white rice.           

There are three major ingredients to make a tamale.  The first is rice, the second is recado (Guatemalan gravy), and the third is chicken.  I will list all of my ingredients. I got these from my Aunt Irma.  This recipe will feed about 40 people.

For the rice: 10 pounds of white rice, a gallon of hot water, 1 liter of oil and salt. Banana leaves.

For the recado: tomatoes, pepitoria seeds, ajonjolin seeds, dried chily, onions, tomatillias.

For the chicker: 2 whole chickens, comino spice, cebollo, tomate.

(All of these things are cooked separately. At the end they are all combined.

To prepare the rice, the first thing you do is heat the water to boiling. Then before you put the rice in the water, you ground it. In Guatemala, they use a big stone to grind the rice.  Here in the U.S. we use a blender.  OPnce you grind the rice, you can boil it.  Then you put in the salt and the oil.  It is very important that you stir with a big wooden stick all the rice or else it will burn and turn black.

To prepare the recado is easy.  You get all the ingredients for the recado and you put them in the blender and mix them. That was easy.

For the chicken: You cook the chicken for 1 hour and throw in all your spices.  Set aside when that is done.

Once you've cooked the rice, prepared the recado and cooked the chicken, then follow the steps:

  1. Place banana leaf on top of aluminum foil.
  2. Put rice on top of banana leaf.
  3. Place a piece of chicken on top of rice.
  4. Put recado (gravy) on top of chicken.
  5. Wrap the tamale in the banana leaf.
  6. Do this to all the tamales and put them in a pot.
  7. Heat tamales for 2 hours.
  8. Eat and enjoy your Christmas Guatemala Tamales!!!

Congratulations to our school finalists:

Ivan Angel, MacGregor Elementary

Nathaniel Cabrera, Shadow Oaks Elementary

Cristal Gonzalez, Field Elementary

Estefania Huerta, Rodriguez Elementary

Noah Martinez, Lyons Elementary

Sarahi Perales, Briscoe Elementary

Olga Robles, Scarborough Elementary

Food, Fun, Farms & Books

Gracie Cavnar
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Austin Invite.pngOur friends at Farmhouse Delivery whipped up wonderful party plans at Rain Lily Farm to celebrate the publication of Eat It! Food Adventures.  We are doing it again in the spring of 2013.  Gather the kids and plan to join us.  Reserve your tickets HERE (additional child tickets available at the door), or RSVP with your Farmhouse Delivery Form.

November Volunteer of the Month: Evelyn D'Hooghe

Lauren Ballard
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Evelyn D'Hooghe.pngEvelyn grew up in Belgium, famous for its chocolate, beer, and French fries. She moved to the United States with her husband five years ago and fell in love with crawfish and Houston's multi-cultural cuisine. She recently graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC and is now a certified holistic health counselor in the process of establishing her own business. Evelyn intends to focus on helping people "reconnect with their body and environment using food and lifestyle changes." Evelyn describes her clientele base as "people who are ready for a change and who realize that diets don't work."

Part of settling into a city and making it feel like home is settling into the community. Evelyn, interested in turning Houston into her home, sought out community events and involvement, which eventually led her to Recipe for Success: "I spoke with a former volunteer at an art fair, and then I saw an RFS booth at Food Day in Houston Downtown. I immediately signed up!" Evelyn volunteers with Recipe for Success because it is the ideal way to give back and connect with the community. By volunteering with RFS, she is also better able to understand how small organizations fight national issues, such as childhood obesity. In addition to all this, "it's just fun to do, especially when you see the kids loving the cooking and gardening." One of her favorite parts of the culinary class is when all the students shout "bon appetite" before enjoying the meal they made.

When she is not volunteering with Recipe for Success or helping others "reconnect" through food and lifestyle changes, you can find Evelyn doing one of the following: socializing, dancing salsa, practicing yoga, playing the djembe, biking, cooking, discovering new foods, gardening, or traveling. Evelyn has toured the United States, Europe and Latin America. She hopes to explore and Asia and Africa in the near future.

RFS in Oct Issue of Edible Austin

Lauren Ballard
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edible austin.jpgThe winner of Recipe for Success Foundation's 2012 Mayors Award: Champion of Food Justice, Farmer Brad Stufflebeam, owner of Home Sweet Farm, gets applause from Edible Austin in their Fall/Winter  Issue.  Follow this link to the full article and plan to congratulate Brad in person at the November 19th Blue Plate Special Awards Lunch being held at the Houstonian Hotel and Spa.

CultureMap Salivates Over Our VegOut! Throwdown for FoodDay 2012

Gracie Cavnar
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foodday.jpgJust in from Sarah Rufca @CultureMap.com . . . "Pass the (sweet) potatoes:  World Food Day serves up a healthfully delicious chef competition.     Crowds at the City Hall Farmer's Market got an unexpected treat on Wednesday when Recipe for Success threw its second-annual Veg Out! Throwdown, featuring some of Houston's best chefs and delicious local veggies." 

Read the whole story here.

Badgley Mischka Charms Fashion Crowd at Dress for Dinner, leaving @CultureMap's Shelby Hodge cooing

Gracie Cavnar
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Badgley Mischka slider.jpg

Dress for Dinner series chairs Cerón and Todd Fiscus of Dallas presided over the party that saw an exceptional turnout of Pretty Young Things.  Read the entire story and see the photos here.

Recipe for Success Foundation Welcomes New Board Members

Lauren Ballard
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Seven new members have joined our Board of Directors:  Allison Esenkova, Lisa Helfman, Dr. Deanna Hoelscher, Paula McHam, Lisa Mellencamp, Dr. Melanie Mencer-Parks, M.D. and Genevieve Patterson -- bring a valuable diversity of professional perspectives and interests to the RFS mission as they serve their first term through 2015.

Ms. Esenkova, Chief Strategy Office and Partner with management consulting firm Sense Corp, tackles tough strategy, process and technology hurdles as she manages global teams.  Ms. Helfman is the Director of Real Estate Services for Texas Children's Hospital, playing a pivotal role in the strategic placement of operations throughout the greater Houston community.  Dr. Hoelscher focuses on child and adolescent nutrition as the John P. McGovern Professor in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences and director of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas School of Public Health in Austin.  Dr. Hoelscher will also take the reins as Chair of the RFS Science Advisory Board. 

Ms. McHam is director of Cigna Healthcare's Client & Community Affairs in South Texas/Louisiana and promotes collaboration between business and local health organizations.  Ms. Mellencamp is General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Constellation Energy Partners LLC, a public oil and gas production company, and serves on the Mayor's Advisory Council on Health and Environment for the City of Houston.  Dr. Mencer-Parks, voted one of the "Top Doctors in Houston," holds a private family practice in the museum district and is a regular guest commentator on 97.9 The Box "Medical Minutes" radio show.  Ms. Patterson is a healthcare industry systems consultant in Houston and former Division One Collegiate Athlete at Vanderbilt University.

For full bios of all our board members and staff, see  https://www.recipe4success.org/boardmembers.html

Recipe for Success Foundation Co-Hosts FoodDay Panel

Recipe for Success
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good school lunch(1).jpg

Let's Talk School Lunch!
Mark your calendar and join us

Thursday, October 18th
from 4:30 until 7:30

John H. Reagan High School
413 East 13th Street
in the Houston Heights

School Garden Tours by students of Reagan Eco Club

Movie Screening of "Whats on Your Plate?"
A student documentary presented by Urban Harvest Youth Gardening Education

6:15 p.m.                    
School Lunch Update
a panel discussion moderated by Beverly Gor, project director CanDo
    With panelists:
    Gracie Cavnar, founder of Recipe for Success Foundation
    Brian Giles, director HISD/Aramark Food Service
    Bettina Siegel, editor The Lunch Tray
    Juliet Stipech, member HISD School Board
    Christine Sullivan,COO of Revolution Foods

Weighty Matters

Recipe for Success
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This op-ed by Recipe for Success Founder, Gracie Cavnar appeared in The Houston Chronicle on Sunday, October 19, 2012. . .

Put down that cheeseburger and wrap your brain around this:  A recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation projected that half of all adults in the U.S. will be obese by 2030. To make matters worse, the RAND corporation (who was the first to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union) just declared the collapse of the American waistline with the news that the number of morbidly obese in this country has doubled since 2010.  Obesity has now replaced smoking as the number one health hazard in America.

These trends aren't just alarming--provoking unprecedented rates of chronic diseases striking at early ages, and expensive--obesity is expected to cost U.S. taxpayers and businesses $370 billion by 2030, they are dangerous, too.  Our generals report that 25% of American military recruits are unfit to fight, critically impacting our national security.

Texas is one of the fattest states:  According to the CDC, over 30% of Texas children ages 2-5 are already either obese or overweight.  We know that obese children tend to become obese adults, but we also know that in most cases obesity is preventable.  No one would knowingly put a child's health at risk, but the sad truth is that many of us are unintentionally doing that everyday.  Our kids deserve better, and it's time we do something about it.  And by we, I mean all of us--government, parents, educators and the private sector--working together.

Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston City Council understand the gravity of the situation all too well, which is why I was encouraged by their recent launch of the Healthy Houston Task Force.   The group is charged with educating Houstonians to recognize, prevent and treat obesity; address changes in the built environment to support healthy lifestyles; make affordable, healthy food more accessible; promote worksite wellness; and teach children and their families healthy habits.

Without a doubt, a child's most influential teachers are parents, so critically important lessons about healthy living begin at home: Turn off the TV, video games, computers and smart phones to take a regular family walk and give your kids unstructured time to play outside.  Add more fresh vegetables to family meals and involve your kids in grocery shopping, gardening and cooking. Like the old saying goes:  The family that cooks healthy meals together avoids Type II diabetes together.

Our kids spend most of their day in school, which should be a centerpiece of healthy living.  HISD and other districts deserve credit for getting school lunches in line with new federal nutrition standards--a step in the right direction, but more is needed. What good is a healthier menu when students can grab an ice cream sandwich for lunch instead or have unlimited access to vending machines?  Let's get the junk out and the good food in. Period.  No PE? We should demand it and nutrition education to boot. But most importantly, our educators need to walk the talk.  You are our children's roll models.

Did I mention how much this crisis is weighing down our wallets?  Health care for obese citizens cost 42% more than for normal weight ones.  But even more breathtaking, is the $190 billion the epidemic cost American businesses in 2010.  Businesses focused on worksite wellness enjoy more productive employees and reduced insurance costs, so programs that support preventive measures like exercise and healthy lifestyles are win, win, win, since the benefits filter down to the entire family.

Hooray for good corporate citizens who extend their healthy lifestyle culture by encouraging employees to volunteer in school wellness efforts.  Hundreds of folks from top Houston businesses like SenseCorp and PricewaterhouseCoopers have helped my foundation, Recipe for Success, build gardens and kitchen classrooms in elementary schools across the city where we have taught 20,000 children about healthy food hands-on and given them lifelong skills to make good decisions.  Countless other efforts like Urban Harvest and the Food Bank benefit from corporate partnerships as well.  But there is so much left to do.   We all need more hands and support to effectively reach Houston's one million children.

We have a choice to make as a society:  We can do nothing and watch as an entire generation grows from obese children to obese adults, becomes chronically ill and dies young, costing billions of dollars in health care and lost economic activity, and leaving the country without a battle-ready military.  Or, we can say, "Enough is enough." 

I think that if Houstonians set our sites on a goal, anything is possible. Our Mayor, City Council and the Healthy Houston Task Force are saying, "Enough already! Let's fix this problem."  I'm on board to do everything I can to make a difference, and I hope you are too. 

So, what are you serving the kids for dinner tonight?

Read this editorial in The Houston Chronicle archives, here.

Kids Who Cook are Hungrier for Healthier Food Choices

Recipe for Success
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picforblog.jpgWhen we designed our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education curriculum, we were motivated by early studies showing that children who garden eat healthier meals, and that children who cook make healthier food choices. We figured, that if kids cooked and gardened the effect would be compounded.  Sure enough, we are seeing that 5-12 year old students who participate with Recipe for Success for one school year are averaging a 30% increase in fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.

Here are the latest scientific findings that reinforce the reasoning behind our work:  http://t.co/8L5jZYIl

Volunteer of the Month: Priti Vakil

Lauren Ballard
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Priti Vakil
Nine years ago, Priti ventured into the kitchens of the International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Houston and hasn't looked back since. She earned her second degree in Culinary Arts at night while working as a Senior Enterprise Account Executive in the IT and Communications field by day.  In 2005, she graduated and, soon after, started a family. These days, Priti still works at Verizon Enterprise Solutions during the day and explores culinary pursuits in the evenings and on weekends. Her husband and two sons reap the rewards and health benefits of Priti's culinary training.

Priti is drawn to the Recipe for Success mission and has hopes of taking it transcontinental. Her long-term dream is to return to India with her family and to impact the eating and nutrition education of a few small communities in the central region of India in the state of Gujarat.

Priti discovered Recipe for Success through a friend at her local moms' organization, Bellaire Young Mothers. Soon after, Priti became a dedicated volunteer and supporter of the RFS.  She has played an active part in practically every aspect of Recipe for Success. First, she became a member of the Spice Guild and a volunteer at Rodriguez Elementary. She loved helping children learn how to make healthy decisions. Now, due to her schedule, most of her volunteer work centers around evening events like Small Bites and Dress for Dinner.  Priti looks forward to returning to the classroom and gardens as soon as she has a few free hours in her daytime schedule.

When Priti is not playing her role as Senior Account Executive, spending time with her family, volunteering her time at RFS events, she is reading, traveling, cooking or doing some combination of the three. This April, Priti and her family went to Italy and took classes with the local farmers and families. They learned to cook fresh, regional Perugian dishes including pizzas, pastas and desserts that require minimal ingredients, optimal flavor and come from the local farms.  Priti was amazed at how these farmers practice everyday what we are trying to teach our children here in the States: local fresh produce with simple ingredients and simple techniques.

"F" as in Fat, How America is Failing its Children

Gracie Cavnar
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iron chef kids.jpgOn Tuesday, September 18, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released its latest report card on obesity in America.
According to the report-
"This new analysis provides a picture of two possible futures for the health of Americans over the next 20 years:
If obesity rates continue on their current trajectory, it's estimated that:
    •    Obesity rates for adults could reach or exceed 44 percent in every state and exceed 60 percent in 13 states;
    •    The number of new cases of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension and arthritis could increase 10 times between 2010 and 2020 -- and then double again by 2030; and
    •    Obesity-related health care costs could increase by more than 10 percent in 43 states and by more than 20 percent in nine states.

But, if we could lower obesity trends by reducing the average adult BMI (body mass index) by only 5 percent in each state, we could spare millions of Americans from serious health problems and save billions of dollars in health spending -- between 6.5 percent and 7.8 percent in costs in almost every state

F as in Fat is a reminder of how critical it is to provide everyone living in our country,
particularly our nation's children, with the opportunity to be as healthy as they can be. The forecasting study in this year's report demonstrates what's at stake. If we take action, the number of Americans, particularly children, we could spare from type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other health problems is striking, and the savings in health care costs and increased productivity would have a real and positive impact on the economy. Investing in prevention today means a healthier, more productive and brighter future for our country and our children."  You can download the entire report here:
F as in Fat - RWJF Report on Obesity 2012.pdf

In the report's synopsis of goals, recommendations, strategies and action steps that can be implemented short term to accelerate progression obesity prevention over the next 10 years, the final proposal is this:

Federal, state and local government and education authorities, with support from
parents, teachers and the business community and the private sector, should make schools a focal point
for obesity prevention.
    •    Require quality physical education and opportunities for physical activity in schools
    •    Ensure strong nutritional standards for all foods and beverages sold or provided through schools
    •    Ensure food literacy, including skill development, in schools

And that's exactly what we have been saying and doing at Recipe for Success Foundation since 2005.  Our school based Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™puts elementary-age children in touch with the entire cycle of fresh food and empowers them with information and skills --both growing and cooking fresh wholesome food--for making healthy eating decisions for life.  Our S2P Instructors help establish and mentor campus based wellness committees to focus on the holistic environment of students and ensure that healthy messaging is consistent throughout the campus as well as make increased opportunities for movement, exercise and awareness of healthy lifestyle a regular part of campus life.  After just one year with us, the average student's increase in fresh fruit and vegetable consumption is 30%.

As the old song says - The future is our children.

Volunteer of the Month: Tom Wolf

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Thumbnail image for Tom Wolf.jpg Tom Wolf is all over the map...literally. From Texas to the Tropics, Tom spends his days capturing slices of life, whether that is architecture, travel, events or food. His photography philosophy focuses on the journey, striving to appreciate all the experiences along the way, as opposed to only enjoying the destination.

So how did Tom, a photographer for over 35 years, get involved with Recipe for Success?

 A vegetarian for 28 years, Tom enjoys local food that has been prepared with care. He has been eating this way for many years and he wants to pass on this mindset and lifestyle of eating and living well to children at a young age.

After meeting an RFS staff member at a local farmers market, Tom and his wife began volunteering for the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education and helped in the classrooms with food preparation and cooking. Soon after, Tom proposed a photo documentary of the seed to plate process, documenting the school garden as the S2P students nurture, harvest and prepare their garden fresh food. "Over the course of four months, I observed the Rodriguez Elementary students and their garden in all phases, developing a strong relationship with the students as they became more and more involved with the project, voicing their opinions and even trying their hand at my camera," said Tom.

Combining his professional photography skills with his lifelong love of fresh and healthy foods, Tom was able to capture the very essence of the S2P program.

When Tom is not wielding a camera, he can be found listening to live music, traveling, eating or a indulging in a delightful combination of all three.

There are good reasons why France has one of the lowest rates of childhood obesity in the developed world

Gracie Cavnar
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kids-cook.jpgThe French eat a greater diversity of fresh food, but less of it.  French school lunches feature items like beet salad, butter beans, grated carrot salad, cauliflower casserole, endive and even escargots. Vending machines are banned at school and beverages are limited to water.  France has a soda tax on all soft drinks and advertisements for junk food carry a health warning.

Read more in this editorial which recently appeared in the British newspaper, The Guardian.  It reviews many policies that have been discussed at length in the United States but never enacted.  What do you think?  Will it take heavy government intervention to turn this epidemic around?

Conquering School Lunch

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food_and_school_blocks.jpgAlthough parents aren't usually in the cafeteria when little Johnny or Jill opens the lunchbox or goes through the line, we think it's a good idea for parent's to get into their heads.

Lunchbox prep is only one piece of the nutrition pie. As the kiddos head off to school, a parent's role expands to teacher, educator and nutritionist. Arm your children with dietary knowledge to go along with that fresh and healthy lunch you packed. You don't need a degree in nutrition to nudge your kids toward making healthier food choices and discourage their swapping your homemade kale chips for those tempting french fries.

Try a few of these simple ideas to get started:
·      Eat family meals together around the dinner table
·      Always include a favorite food on the plate along with new items
·      Invite your child to grocery shop and cook with you
·      Make it a point to avoid processed foods whenever possible
·      Set a good example with your own food choices
·      Discuss school lunch ideas in advance

We understand that your biggest challenges are time and money. By planning ahead--discussing recipes, grocery lists, school lunch options--both parents and children are more likely to engage in and enjoy healthier, happier meals.

Who knows? At some point your child may be the one leading the culinary adventure. "I cook a lot at home with my mom, so this program has helped me to be a better helper at home in the kitchen," says one of our 5th grade students in the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program at EA Jones Elementary.

What if your children are complaining about the changes new healthy guidelines have wrought in theschool cafeteria?  Try making school lunch a part of your dinner table conversation. Ask about your child's favorite flavors and dishes in the lunchroom, and explore what he doesn't like or won't try.  Then try to incorporate those dishes she is hesitant about into your own meals.  Sometimes it takes as many as 15 exposures before you break through that refusenik barrier! 

Support the healthier choices now available in school cafeterias and encourage your child to try new things--one taste isnt that hard to stomach.  And remember, whatever your own experience with school lunch "in the day," comiserating will not move the needle in the right direction!

So, this year, in addition to those extra servings of whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, add a few slices of healthy discussion and food knowledge into your child's lunch routine.

The Lunchbox Gets a Makeover

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bentobox.jpg     How do you define school supplies?
     Of course there are the ubiquitous backpacks, pencils, crayons, rulers, scissors and all the other quintessential necessities for the classroom.
     But what if we expand the accepted definition of "school supplies" to include what children tote around in their lunch boxes? The lunchroom is just as much of an educational setting as the classroom and the lunchbox is a powerful tool that can either help or hinder your little one's lunchtime experience.
     How do you achieve optimal lunchbox success? Here a few tips to help you get started.
·      Choose brightly colored fruits and veggies to create a visually pleasing plate
·      Make sure all food is kid-friendly size so it is easy and fun to eat
·      It's not all about the food; packaging can be just as important! Check out the new bento box lunchboxes for kids (and adults); brightly colored and differing in sizes so as to help with portion control
·      Step out of the box when it comes to the ever-present sandwich; use cookie cutters for fun shapes or just scratch the sandwich entirely and try meat and cheese roll ups!
·      Have your children help you pack the lunchbox; the more your children participate in food preparation, the more likely they will be to eat what is in their lunchbox
     Your colorful, creative and (hopefully) collaborative lunchbox will make your child the star of the lunchroom. Gone are the days of trading mushy bananas for a shrink-wrapped twinkie.
"The kids are loving this program!  I know they are cooking the recipes at home because they come back to school the next day and tell me about it!!" says a 5th grade teacher at EA Jones Elementary
     Recipe for Success' integrative Seed-to-Plate Nutrition EducationÔ teaches kid-friendly recipes, easily adapted for the dinner plate or the lunch box.
     Make your child's lunchbox "lunchroom ready" with the following Recipe for Success recipe.
A Recipe for Success:  Paprika Cauliflower Pita Pockets
Serves 4
1       head fresh cauliflower (2 pounds), cut into bite-size florets
3       tablespoons olive oil
2       tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
½       teaspoon ground black pepper
½       teaspoon fine sea salt
1       medium red onion, diced to = 1 cup
1       clove garlic, minced
½       cup low-sodium vegetable broth
2       tablespoons lemon juice
4       pita bread rounds, halved and warmed
Assemble and measure all your ingredients to create a mise en place
1.    Using a saucepan with steamer insert set over high heat, add cauliflower, cover and steam for 7 to 9 minutes, or until fork tender.
2.     Remove cauliflower to a colander or strainer and set aside to drain.
3.    While cauliflower is cooking, set a non-stick skillet over medium low heat.
4.    Add olive oil, paprika, pepper, and salt to the skillet and sauté, stirring constantly for 2 minutes, or until fragrant.
5.     Add onion and garlic, to the skillet and sauté 2 minutes longer.
6.    Stir in cooked cauliflower and broth to the skillet, and simmer 3 minutes.
7.    Remove skillet from heat, and stir in lemon juice.
8.    Allow to cool.
Serve inside pita halves for a nutritious lunch.
Get Adventurous!
·      Try adding fresh tomatoes, chopped black olives, and some low-fat Parmesan cheese to the stuffed pita pockets.
·      Experiment with using different seasonal vegetables in place of cauliflower.
·     Add any leftover filling to a salad.  It's just as good cold!

Actions Vs. Words

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Thumbnail image for girlscouts_make_pasta.jpg"Actions speak louder than words." An age-old adage that rings even more true when it involves the terminology that surrounds the contentious topic of childhood obesity. Stanford University's Scope Blog discusses the recently published reports that advise health professionals on how they should approach describing a child's obesity issue with the child and his or her parents.

With descriptors such as "fat, chubby, obese and overweight" labeled as too polarizing, Thomas Robinson, MD, Director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, urges health professionals to carefully choose more neutral descriptions and use them in the proper context, focusing more on how a child can handle the emotional struggles that sometimes coincide with obesity, and how they can work with his or her parents to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

While it is stirring that we as a society are sensitive to how we describe and discuss childhood obesity, there is a straightforward solution to the dialogue debacle: stop talking and start doing!

Involving children in the food process, whether it's in the garden or in the kitchen, empowers them to make their own choices about what to put in their bodies. And when they are more closely involved in the harvesting and preparation of their meals, they will most likely be much more open-minded when it comes to trying new fresh and flavorful healthy foods.

The kids in our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition EducationTM program are masters of their own plate, as they dig in the garden and cook in the kitchen, harvesting their own fresh veggies to use in fresh, healthy, and most importantly, delicious dishes. "I've never really liked being outside or gardening, but since we started gardening with RFS, I realize it's pretty fun!" - Arial, 5th grade student at EA Jones Elementary

Kids (and teachers and parents too) are continually surprised at how much they enjoy and even prefer freshly prepared foods to junk food when they have had a hand in the preparation. So stop scrambling for euphemisms. Grab an apron and a spoon and get to cooking!

Obesity: global public health challenge or investment opportunity?

Gracie Cavnar
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With thanks to Marion Nestle who first reported on this in her Food Politics blog.

     While the Recipe for Success Foundation team scrapes our knees to raise the money for our charitable work to turn back the clock on childhood obesity and the debilitating diseases it causes, the global investment community is gleefully anticipating the business opportunities this tragic pandemic lays at their feet. 

      A recent press release on a research report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Globesity--The Global Fight Against Obesity, tells investors:

"Increasing efforts to tackle obesity over the coming decades will form an important new investment theme for fund managers...Global obesity is a mega-investment theme for the next 25 years and beyond...The report...identifies that efforts to reduce obesity is a "megatrend" with a shelf-life of 25 to 50 years...BofA Merrill Lynch analysts across several sectors have collaborated to identify the sectors and companies developing long-term solutions.

Given the worldwide increase in obesity, its high prospective costs, and the ever-present threat of government regulation, the report identifies more than 50 global stocks that provide investment opportunities for fighting "globesity."  These fall into four categories:

1. Pharmaceuticals and Health Care: companies taking advantage of the FDA's increased support for obesity drug development; tackling related medical conditions and needs including diabetes, kidney failure, hip and knee implants; making equipment such as patient lifts, bigger beds and wider ambulance doors.
2. Food: companies accessing the $663 billion "health and wellness" market and reformulating portfolios to respond to increasing pressure such as "fat taxes" to reduce sugar and fat levels.
3. Commercial Weight Loss, Diet Management and Nutrition: companies pursuing dieting, nutrition and behavioral change--a $4 billion market in the U.S. and growing globally.
4. Sports Apparel and Equipment: "This is the longer-term play, but we believe that promoting physical activity will become a key priority for more government health policies."

     I don't know about you, but I am heartsick that the focus is on reaping financial rewards from this killing trend rather than combining all resources to bring it to an early end.  We all know that the contributing factors to obesity are mulit-layered and some stem from changes to our built environment and hereditary issues, but most are a direct result of the high margin junk and processed food industry.  So the very business investors who made billions helping create this problem now stand to profit the most from "solving" it.

     It's only 8:00 a.m., but I may be forced to have a drink.

Volunteer of the Month...Lisa Ronning

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Thumbnail image for AugustVolunteerLisa.jpgFor Lisa, volunteering with Recipe for Success is the natural next step in her journey towards a career in Nutrition Education. Having recently finished her junior year at Texas Christian University, where she is a Nutrition Major, she came home for the summer break to do summer school and get some hands on experience in the nutrition education field. After Lisa graduates, she will apply for a dietetic intern and will then take an exam to become a registered dietician. Working with RFS has already given Lisa a more specific idea of what kind of nutrition field she wants to work in.

Lisa had the opportunity to help out with the Eat This! Summer Camp, assisting with knife skills, food preparation and clean up."It was really fun getting to know the kids and see them getting excited about nutrition. They were more adventurous eaters than I was."

Since summer camp ended, Lisa has been volunteering in the Recipe for Success office and helping out at area elementary school gardens.

When Lisa is not in school, she enjoys the outdoor activities that help her stay active, but are still fun, such as biking and hiking.

As a Sigma Kappa sorority member at TCU, Lisa has done considerable volunteer work with the Alzheimer's Foundation "Walk to End Alzheimer's." Working with area elderly homes, she maintains a relationship with the residents, keeping them company and sending them gifts on holidays.

So what does Lisa have to say about her experience at Recipe for Success?

"I'm very glad that I found Recipe for Success. It has been a very rewarding experience and I definitely want to continue working for them."

Nickelodeon News

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tv-flowers-lg.jpgNickelodeon and frozen vegetable distributor Birds Eye are teaming up to "empower kids to embrace a healthier diet by eating more vegetables." With Jennette McCurdy, star of the popular series iCarly, as the spokesperson, this campaign for healthier kids provides a breath of fresh air in a marketing industry that regularly pushes the more profitable high sugar, high fat snack foods to young audiences.

The iCarly iCook with Birds Eye Sweepstakes, complete with a website dedicated to encouraging recipe sharing and loaded with prize-filled contests - even the chance to land a guest spot on an iCarly episode and have your vegetable dish featured- this joint venture is "spurring kids' culinary creativity and encouraging them to share their veggie inspiration with other kids."

We are beginning to see an uptick in incremental, wide reaching improvements in food marketing that targets children. Just last month, Disney announced that it will ban junk-food marketing on its programming that specifically targets children. Now that two children's programming behemoths have set the stage, there is a growing hope that other bigwig marketers will follow suit.

Could marketing fresh vegetables actually become lucrative? Could carrots and green beans become the next item that children are begging to put in the grocery basket? Never say never.

But marketing and education needs to come from more than just the television and the computer screens. It needs to come from school and from home; it needs to involve interaction in and conversation surrounding the planting and cooking process so as to give children the confidence to make their own healthy choices. It is time to prove that healthy foods can indeed be craveable.

Helping to instill campus-wide cultures of health, Recipe for Success Foundation's nationally-recognized Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education Program offers interactive gardening and cooking classes that can be integrated into each school's curriculum, promising comprehensive and enlightening lessons that change the way children understand, appreciate and eat their food.

Treatment Vs. Prevention

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In a society where it is much more lucrative to treat an ailment rather than to try and prevent it, we have become complacent with the same old health routines because that is what is presented to us as the only or best option.

We are constantly bombarded with multi-media marketing tactics to get us to buy the latest, greatest, and oftentimes, not nutritionally valuable food product.

Too Much

For many of us, chronic disease prevention is attainable and often times much easier than we think.  But with a national mindset that condones indulgence and instant gratification, touting supersized portions and drive-through menus, our expanding waistlines are just the beginning of our problems. And our busy lifestyles, with more time in the car, at work or at extracurricular activities and less time around the dining room table, merely feed into this rushed way of life.

Eating what we want, how much we want of it, and when we want it, and worrying about the consequences - in this case, health effects- later, is exactly why our national health care bills are currently about $270 billion per year.

Too Little

But what about those who can't access or afford nutritious and fresh foods? For those families living in nutritionally insecure areas, "food deserts" where corner stores and fast food chains are the only source for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the options to enjoy a healthy lifestyle are slim, while the residents most often are overweight or obese.

Lacking the funds and the freedom to buy fresh produce, many residents living in food deserts have to rely on public transportation or have to focus on paying rent and keeping the lights before they focus on eating organic and fresh foods.

And that is why grassroots movements are so important to enact widespread and long lasting change. Working from the ground up, reaching out to underserved populations who don't have the means to advocate for themselves, and empowering them so that they can begin to enact their own change.

At Recipe for Success Foundation (RFS), we have been putting research into action since 2005, have been teaching children that eating healthy is fun! Committed to changing the way children understand, appreciate and eat their food, RFS seeks to create long term changes in our children's lifestyles, as we battle the obesity epidemic through interactive education.

Gone in a SNAP

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kidscooking.jpgAt the beginning of this year, cafeterias across the nation celebrated as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a move towards healthier school lunches.

Now, a mere few months down the road, there is more nationwide news concerning school lunches, but this time it is not being received with such praise.

The House Ag Committee is currently taking measures to dramatically cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In a time where more and more middle class families are signing up for the SNAP program and it no longer holds the amount of stigma that it once had, this decision is monumental.

The proposal would cut $16.5 billion worth of SNAP benefits to families in need.

And it's not just adults that this bill will affect. The point of contention for many is that, by cutting benefits for up to 3 million people, this bill also threatens the ability for many children to get free, nutritious meals at school. If passed, this legislation would lead to 280,000 kids losing access to school meals, which, for many of them, is their only meal of the day.

 As Billy Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength postures, "SNAP is the first line of defense against childhood hunger."

Because almost half of SNAP participants are under 18, physicians have rightly described SNAP as one of our most effective vaccines, focusing on preventative care (a.k.a. diet) as opposed to retroactive care (post-illness medicines).  

Lacking a political voice, children need adults, community organizers, local and national politicians to advocate on their behalf. And this is not a superfluous issue, one that can be put at the bottom of a pile and saved for another day; this issue affects us every day, three times a day. What we eat, when we eat, and how much we have to eat directly affects every part of our lives, from attention span and stamina to physical health and growth.

At Recipe for Success, we are dedicated to educating children - in an interactive and empowering way- about the entire food process, from the garden to the kitchen. The nationally recognized Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education program gives children the tools and resources to be the kings of the kitchen, and teaches them that healthy food is fun!

What are you thoughts on the newly proposed budget cuts?

Summertime Snacks

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Goodbye pre-packaged, sugar-coated, deep-fried snacks. Hello homemade fresh, easy and delicious snacks. Out with the old, and in with the new way of preparing fun and tasty food for (and with) your children this summer.

Empowering your children with tools, resources and confidence in the kitchen will help create a more open-minded and healthy approach to eating.

Following are a few general tips from Healthy and Delicious Snacks  on creating enjoyable and nutritious snacks:

·      Get creative. Play with shapes and textures of fruits and vegetables to make them more appealing to children.

·      Try a twist on the traditional. Ex: freeze grapes; use peanut butter and yogurt as fruit dipping sauces

·      Keep it simple. Use whole food products such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

·      Let them choose. Always have a variety of healthy snacks on hand.

·      Lead by example. Let your child catch you partaking in healthy snacks.

But perhaps the most important tip to remember is to invite your kids into the kitchen to be a part of the preparation and cooking process. They are sure to be more inclined to tasting new foods (and liking them) if they play a part in the washing, chopping and mixing of ingredients. Try a healthy twist on what is usually deemed "junk food" and end up with a delicious compromise, such as a whole-wheat veggie pizza (which won't taste like a compromise at all!).

At Recipe for Success, our mission is to get kids interested in where their food is coming from. That's why our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education Program focuses on interactive gardening and cooking classes. Students turn into little chefs and in turn bring their enthusiasm and food knowledge home to share with their families!

Check out the kid-tested and approved Recipe for Success "Rainbow Slaw" recipe.

Rainbow Slaw

4-6 Servings

For the Slaw:

½ head             Purple Cabbage

2                        Carrots

1                        Jicama

½ pound            Sugar snap peas (or Snow Peas)

1                        Red bell pepper

¼ cup                        Dried blueberries, cranberries or currants

½ bunch            Spring Onions (green onion/scallions)

½ bunch            Cilantro

Optional: Serrano chilies (seeds removed and thinly sliced)


For the Dressing:

1 teaspoon            Mirin

1 teaspoon             Rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoon            Lime Juice

1/3 cup            Vegetable oil

Salt and Pepper to taste


Prepare the Slaw:

·      Wash all produce.  Peel the carrot and jicama.

·      Using a grater, the grater attachment on a food processor or a chef's knife, grate the carrot, jicama and cabbage.  Combine in a bowl.

·      Thinly slice snap peas and bell peppers; add to bowl.

·      Thinly slice the spring onions and add to slaw.

·      Chop the cilantro and add to the slaw.


Make the Dressing:

    Measure the mirin, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper and add to a mixing bowl.
    Whisk lightly until the ingredients come together.
    Measure the oil.  Slowly pour the oil into the acid mixture while whisking.
    The oil and vinegar has come together or "emulsified" when you notice the consistency thicken and color become cloudy.


Dress the slaw and enjoy!

Volunteer of the Month...Dee McBride

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DeeMcBride.jpgHealthy and Delicious Snacks

A Houston native, Dee McBride is no stranger to the world of nonprofits. With 40 years of work experience under her belt, the now retired Dee puts her energy into volunteering in the Recipe for Success office, along with cultivating her hobbies of gardening, traveling and reading.

After 20 years with Burlington Resources, with 10 of those years as the foundation administrator, working to make sure that 401c3 organizations were qualified for funding, Dee has extensive working knowledge of nonprofits. Upon retirement, Dee volunteered with Meals on Wheels for four years. She then started to search out other volunteer opportunities, but could not find a good match until she came across Recipe for Success.

With an interest in administrative, not mention real life experience with fresh foods - Dee grew up on a farm where fresh vegetables and fresh meats were prevalent, making her a firm believer in local, fresh foods as a healthier, tastier option. "Recipe for Success has been a great influence on my eating habits, making me more aware of my food choices."

With her insider nonprofit knowledge and her enthusiasm to volunteer, Dee is delighted to provide office support for Recipe for Success.

"One thing I love about volunteering with Recipe for Success is that every week that I show up to volunteer, I get to work on different tasks. From filing paperwork to working in the library to filling packets of seeds for classes, I get to do a little bit of everything."

Although Dee has so far spent all of her time in the offices, she is eager to help out with the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition EducationÔ Program cooking and gardening classes, to further expand her volunteerism and her Recipe for Success knowledge.

"I plan to stay as long as they'll have me. I've found my niche."

Gracie Cavnar Leads Presentation at 2012 It's Time School Summit in San Antonio

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This past Tuesday, Gracie Cavnar joined countless other school health advocates at the 2nd annual It's Time School Summit, a two-day event dedicated to sharing, uniting and creating awareness surrounding school health.

"It was exciting to see so many Texans committed to improving the health of our children. The response to our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education curriculum and interest in becoming RFS affiliate partners was overwhelming." - Gracie

Gracie presented on Recipe for Success' award winning Seed-to-Plate Nutrition EducationÔ Program, expounding on the success the program has already had in the Houston pilot schools, the reasons behind this success, and the opportunity for other Texas schools to jump on board the program with the National Affiliate Program slated for spring 2013.

Presenting to an audience of teachers, nurses, nutrition coordinators, social workers, government agency staff and community leaders, Gracie had a rapt audience, all of them eager to merge ideas in improving and advancing efforts for healthier schools.

Gracie's presentation gave more than just significant information, it gave a sense of hope and encouragement, it gave assurance to attendees that anyone with the determination to improve their school's health had the power and the resources to do so, starting with the S2P affiliate program.  Fielding questions, raising morale and drumming up support for what is truly a national cause - improving campus-wide school health - Gracie, along with other child health vanguards, imparted the necessary tools for health advocates to spread the word and take action to improve our nation's school health.

AMA Joins in National Obesity Prevention Education

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Obesity has become a national public health issue, no longer just affecting the individuals who are deemed overweight. With skyrocketing health care costs due to obesity related chronic diseases, this issue now affects the nation's pocketbook, not to mention a chilling outlook for the health and longevity of our young generation. Most children's eating habits are formed by the time they reach the fourth grade, so it is imperative to positively influence their diet and lifestyle at an early age.

But how do you attack a health issue that is so pervasive that it affects almost 1 in 5 children and one third of adults?

With the help of the public education system, that's how.

The AMA - American Medical Association- recently "agreed to support legislation that would require classes in causes, consequences and prevention of obesity for 1st through 12th graders." And what better way for children to learn and to be receptive to a new, healthier approach to eating than to be surrounded by their peers?

Doctors, usually utilized in a more retroactive manner when it comes to treating health issues, are now on board to push for a more proactive approach to obesity prevention and care. "Doctors will be encouraged to volunteer their time in the classroom under the new policy adopted on the final day of the AMA's annual policymaking meeting." With doctors joining forces with other obesity prevention advocates, the road to a healthier nation becomes easier to imagine and to achieve.

Recipe for Success Foundation's award-winning Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education (S2P)- committed to changing the way children appreciate, understand and eat their food- has been in Houston elementary schools for six years, encouraging young students to interact in cooking and gardening classes and teaching them that good food can be fun and delicious! After a few years in the S2P program, children who before could not even identify a fruit now can help prepare a homemade pesto sauce and clamor to get the first taste of a fresh squash from the school gardens.

Our nation needs a lasting and meaningful change. A change that influences all cultures and all economic statuses, creating a more just and sustainable approach to healthy living.

When You Wish Upon a... Junk-Food Commercial Ban

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Mickey Mouse is throwing a dinner party. Junk foods are not invited.

Disney - a word that connotes loveable characters, memorable songs and interactive education - is now extending its educational reach to child nutrition by way of stricter marketing standards for its commercials. The behemoth company has decided to align itself with the national push for healthier, happier kids.

"As the anti-obesity and junk-food marketing din continues to reach epic volumes among children's health advocates, the Walt Disney Co. has responded -- this week, the company announced new rules for its children's networks that could ban ads for junk food marketed to those young viewers." Healthy Decision Disney

With the full support of First Lady Michelle Obama, the Walt Disney Co. promises to make an effort to positively influence children's eating habits. And what better way to achieve this goal than to address the issue in the pervasive and persuasive medium of television. Set to go into effect in 2015, these amended nutritional guidelines will target the worst offenders, such as sugary cereals, fruit drinks and prepackaged lunches. In a nationwide attempt to push for more fruit and vegetable consumption and less processed, unhealthy foods, the new guidelines will require that each food item advertised on the Disney network have lower levels of fat, sugar and sodium.

"Parents can be confident that foods associated with Disney characters or advertised on Disney platforms meet our new, healthier nutrition guidelines," Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of Disney said in a statement. USA Today Disney

6.4JunkFoodBlog.jpgMore fruits and vegetable consumption is exactly what Recipe for Success Foundation advocates. "Making healthy food fun" is the motto for RFS's award-winning Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education program, offering interactive gardening and cooking classes. However we choose to empower our children to make healthier decisions - whether it's through a cooking class at school or through a commercial break on a prime time children's television show- we extend knowledge and power to a young generation who depend on our guidance to help mold their healthy habits.

Do you think that the new Disney marketing guidelines will affect what children crave for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

From the Mouths of Nine-Year-Old Bloggers

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A nine-year-old Scottish elementary student by the name of Martha Payne catalyzed a healthier school lunch movement.  

How did she do it? She blogged.

Candid and straightforward, Martha's posts on Never Seconds are succinct yet saturated with wise observations from the inquisitive mind of a nine-year old. Who better to chronicle school lunches than someone who eats them five days a week? Each entry includes a photo of that day's lunch and health and price ratings, making for a (relatively) comprehensive and thoroughly engaging and educational read. The not-so-impressive lunch meals are exposed as less-than-stellar both on a flavor and nutritional level.

After only a month of posts- her blog has long surpassed 1 million hits in multiple countries and continents - Martha, with the help of her father, proposed a school council that advocated and won the battle for an unlimited amount of salad, fruit and bread for Martha and her schoolmates. Victory! The blog also includes entries from "web pen pals," comparing school lunches from different countries and showcasing the variations on what each school and culture deems an appropriate lunch.

The most recent posts show quite an improvement on Martha's lunch tray: brighter colors, more whole foods, more salads and even recyclable trays and utensils! Who says only adults can advocate for healthier living?

Getting children interested in their food is exactly what Recipe for Success is doing in its innovative Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education (S2P) programs. With interactive cooking and gardening classes, this program teaches kids that healthy food is fun, empowering them to take charge of their diets and forging a way to a stronger, brighter future.

How can you get your students and children involved in food advocacy?

Volunteer of the Month...Annie Blaine

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AnnieJuneVolunteer.jpgAnnie Blaine, although new to the Houston area, is no stranger to food advocacy issues. During her final year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, where she majored in history, Annie realized that she wanted to participate in the food education movement.  In New York City, Annie worked for an environmental nonprofit, helping to set up a CSA, connecting it to a farm outside the city, and setting up nutritional cooking classes. Once she moved to Portland, Oregon, Annie worked for an energy efficiency-consulting firm, but decided that she was still missing the educational component, which she believes is essential in food advocacy.

After making the trek south to Houston, Annie was eager to discuss networking ideas that would help her ease into the field of education, food security and environmental issues, and in a twist of fate, her contact turned out to be a Recipe for Success board member.

Because Annie knew she wanted to get a "real feel" for what Recipe for Success is all about, she started volunteering in Chef Alyssa's MacGregor classroom and fell in love with the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition EducationÔ program and the students.

"I like the idea that kids get to grow their own vegetables. They were so enthusiastic."

Growing up, Annie ate fresh vegetables from her family garden, attended food-centered lectures and assisted with field studies for the fresh water lab that her grandparents helped to fund in Pennsylvania, a lifestyle that no doubt laid the foundation for her interest in local, healthy food education. An avid traveler and lover of tennis and hiking, Annie's activeness speaks to her passion for a healthy lifestyle.

After living in several areas of the country, Annie looks forward to growing her food advocacy knowledge right here in Houston, Texas.

Mythbusters: Reading Between the Price Tags

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5:21mythbustersblog.jpgThe widely accepted mantra that healthy food is more expensive than junk food has officially been squashed by new USDA research. With the pervasive fear of a rising grocery bill one of the main reasons why more people don't buy fresh, healthy produce, eaters everywhere will be pleasantly surprised to find out that delicious meals can be both affordable and nutritious, a combination that families nationwide try to achieve when setting the dinner table.

"The price of potato chips is nearly twice as expensive as the price of carrots by portion size," Statesman Journal

Although the research and numbers can be dizzying at times, there is an easier way to simplify your grocery store experience and level out your food budget: eat more fresh produce, beans and grains. You can save money on whole fruits and vegetables (as opposed to processed and individually packaged fruit products) and all it takes is a little extra time and effort in the kitchen, a welcome trade for those watching their wallets. As with any type of research, there are outliers - the healthy foods that are indeed more expensive than the unhealthy foods - but in general, evidence is in favor of fresh, flavorful and frugal foods.

Widening the research lens, the long-term effects of eating an unhealthy diet are deleterious to the nation's pocketbook. "By some estimates, nearly 21 percent of all current medical spending in the United States is now obesity related." Brookings Institute Health Care Costs Healthcare costs (regarding the chronic illnesses that are obesity related Chronic Diseases) at a national level, are a shared expense, making the issue that much more important to eaters nationwide.

The nationally-recognized Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education (S2P) program at Recipe for Success Foundation, with its in school cooking and gardening classes, teaches children about the entire food process, encouraging interaction and excitement about fresh produce. Brightly-colored vegetables and fruits are the stars of the S2P hands on meals, with fresh pesto-topped whole wheat pizzas or fruit salads with yogurt toppings delighting the taste buds and challenging the much debated view that children prefer packaged, processed foods over healthy, whole foods.

Fear the cash register no more. Trade in that bag of potato chips for a bag of carrots and see the (financial and health) results!

How will you adjust your grocery list?

Stealthy Sugars

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5.17updatedBriscophoto.jpgCupcakes, candy bars, burgers and fries are the usual suspects in the obesity lineup. But what about the culprits that are less discussed but still just as guilty? We're not talking about junk food. We're talking about junk drink.

Think about it. High amounts of sugars, calories and fats that are easily consumable in liquid form are a sure fire way to over-consumption of necessary daily calories, especially if, as is the case for a rising number of children, the calories are not being burned off with physical activity.

"Many children are consuming 300 calories per day or more, just in sugar-containing beverages." CNN Soda and Obesity And we're not just talking about the omnipresent soda. Fruit punch and chocolate milk are also top offenders. What may be presented as a healthy drink option could have more sugar and fat than a dessert. Confused? Surprised? Well, the good news is that there is an easy solution. Drink more water, unflavored milk and real fruit juices. Cutting out the sugary drinks is easier than trying to rid yourself of the extra calories with a vigorous workout.

While eating healthier - buying fresh produce and finding the time to cook - may present an obstacle to some, drinking healthier liquids is straightforward and simple, especially if the new drink of choice is water. Affordable and accessible, water, when replacing the sugary drinks, will cut out unwanted calories in an inexpensive and effortless manner.

"Not only is water calorie-free, but drinking it teaches kids to accept a low-flavor, no-sugar beverage as a thirst-quencher." KidsHealth Accepting this pure and sugarless drink as a party of their regular eating and drinking habits will potentially instill a lifetime of lower calorie consumption and presumably a healthier weight.

Training the taste buds as well as the mind is just what's going on in the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education (S2P) classrooms. Focused on fresh, healthy and whole foods, the students learn to appreciate and actually enjoy (and request) unprocessed, non-sugary foods that are both delicious and nutritious. In the interactive learning environment, the students are applying their healthy food knowledge to situations and meals outside the classroom, including what to eat and drink at home or while at a restaurant.

Remember to include the "under-the-radar liquids" next time you are discussing nutrition and healthy living with children (and adults, for that matter).

Need a recipe for a delicious and nutritious flavorful drink made from natural, whole ingredients? Look no further!

Sunshine Smoothies

Yield: 4-6 tastings


1 cup                       orange juice, fresh squeezed

¾ cup                      fresh or frozen cantaloupe

1                              fresh or frozen banana

½ cup                      plain yogurt

½ tablespoon           honey

                                frozen grapes for garnish


    Remove grapes from stems and place in the freezer.
    Slice the oranges in half and squeeze over a fine mesh strainer to catch the seeds (or use a juice reamer).
    Slice the cantaloupe in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.
    Scoop the fruit out into a bowl.
    Peel the banana and slice into 1 inch pieces.
    Measure the yogurt and honey.
    Add all ingredients into a blender and place the lid on tightly.
    Blend until smooth and creamy.
    Taste to see if a little more honey needs to be added.
     Pour into glasses, garnish with frozen grapes, and enjoy!


Note:  You can make this recipe into several different kinds of smoothies by using different juices or different fruits. How many different smoothie combinations can you come up with?

Little Chefs, Big Culinary Skills: Iron Chef Competition

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BriscoIronChef2.jpgAs the fourth graders filed into the Recipe for Success (RFS) Classroom, the excitement was tangible. Today was the day for the Iron Chef Competition, a contest specifically organized as a fun and interactive wrap up for the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education (S2P) class. And these little chefs were armed and ready for this culinary battle.

Battle Fruit Salad with Berry Yogurt Topping

As soon as distinguished Chef Barbara McKnight of Catering by Culinaire - volunteer through RFS Chefs in Schools Program - and Briscoe S2P Team Leader Anne Weinheimer gave the students a few tips and reminders, the students energetically went to work. Each workstation, outfitted with recipes, ingredients, bowls and knives, had four to five students, all who were bubbling over with eagerness to play their part in the preparation. A rainbow of colors, the smell of oranges, apples, grapes, pineapple, strawberries, mango and basil (yes, basil) wafted through the air as the busy little hands chopped, peeled and mixed with confidence and ease.

In charge of every step of the process, the students utilized all of their S2P knowledge as they easily transitioned into chef mode, discussing recipes and smelling their ingredients before using them. With a sense of control and responsibility, these little chefs were intent on creating the perfect bowl of fruit salad. And let's not forget the berry yogurt topping! The students whipped up a healthy and delicious topping that they could hardly wait to mix in to reveal their finished products.

BriscoIronChef3.jpgAs the students enthusiastically and animatedly took (somewhat) surreptitious bites of their ingredients, it was clear that the RFS motto "making healthy food fun" was truly at work in this classroom, connecting students to healthy, vibrant and whole fruits and vegetables and giving them the self-assurance to venture out and try new foods.

The judges - Chef Barbara McKnight, Juan Rosa (from Fiesta) and Molly Kaminski (RFS staff) surveyed the creative chaos, taking note of stellar teamwork and cleanliness.

Once the students presented their finished products to the judges, they sat down and eagerly awaited the results. The four categories included: presentation, teamwork, cleanliness and overall dish.

After the judges announced the winners of each category, to much applause and cheers, the students then dug into their own bowls of fruit salad, congratulating each other on the flavors and colors of their dishes, all the while unknowingly reinforcing long term healthy eating habits.

How do you get your fill of fruit each day?

And the Award Goes To... School Nutrition Employee Week

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School Nutrition Employee Week, May 7-11, seems to carry even more significance than usual this year, with lunchrooms at the center of national news regarding issues such as the pink slime debate Huffington Post Pink Slime for Lunch and also, in a more positive light, the current school lunch regulations USDA school lunch regulations. With the cafeteria in the spotlight - whether it's for positive or negative coverage - it's easy to get caught up in the national conversation and broad-spectrum issues, but for at least this one week (and all the rest of the school year, for that matter) we should take a step back and salute our school nutrition employees.

Balancing tight budgets, complex nutrition regulation and strict food safety requirements, cafeteria workers Tray Talk Blog do their best to serve the hundreds of students they see each day a meal that will feed the stomach and the mind. Just as lunchtime is at the center of each school, healthy eating is at the center of an alert and functioning mind.

4.30.12SNEWblogpost.jpgAs we raise our forks in support of school nutrition employees, we need to remember that cafeteria workers - although they are the first to come to mind - are not the only school professionals that influence our children's eating habits. The shift towards healthier eating in the lunchroom is part of the overall shift towards a healthier lifestyle.

Recipe for Success Foundation's (RFS) award winning Seed-to-Plate Nutrition EducationÔ (S2P) program offers a fully integrated cooking and gardening program that complements the students' core curriculum learning objectives. This S2P program provides students with the tools they need to make positive eating choices once they leave their cooking or gardening class; these choices are put to the test in the lunchroom and at home, putting their S2P knowledge to use as they make dietary decisions.

Now is the time for all school nutrition employees, no matter how directly or indirectly they are involved in the students' food education, to join forces and work in tandem towards the unifying goal of healthier students.

For some ideas of how you can celebrate School Nutrition Employee Week, check this out: School Nutrition

Do you have any creative ways to honor your favorite school nutrition employee?

Soon we will have a necklace of urban farms in Houston--Hope Farms!

Gracie Cavnar
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See the full episode at http://video.pbs.org/video/2214315175
Meet the ordinary people who bring food production back to basics in this clip from AMERICA REVEALED "Food Machine." New four-part series premieres Wednesday, April 11, 10/9c on PBS.

In honor of Poetry Month, a powerful poem

Gracie Cavnar
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Seriously Salty

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"Civilization was built on salt. Salt is transformative, its commonness, deceiving. Unlike most ingredients, it doesn't just add it's own flavor, making something saltier; it changes the very flavor profile of the thing itself..." - wholeliving.com

Saltgoogleimage.jpgThought salt was merely a fixture at the dinner table? Wrong.

From currency to cures, salt has always been a staple in our civilization, preserving foods, tanning hides and dyeing cloths. The oceans contain it, the scientists seek it on other planets and an iconic image - Morton's Salt- represents it. The once majestic and revered qualities of this crystalline mineral, so important in fact that it represents one of the five basic tastes, has (relatively) recently become the culprit for (or at least a factor in) many chronic healthy problems - hypertension and Type II diabetes to name a few- a topic that seems to be at the forefront of current food news.

With the rise of fast food consumption has come the rise of (inordinate) sodium intake. A recent study, America Has Saltiest Fast Food examining six fast food chains - Burger King, Domino's, KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Subway- in six different countries showed that the U.S. Food Industry lays claim to the title of "Saltiest Fast Food," a title that surely does not come with bragging rights. It is precisely the soaring salt levels in these fast food items that make them so appealing/addictive to the palette, with some researchers claiming Salt Stimulates Brain Cells Just Like Hard Drugs that it stimulates the brain cells just like cigarettes or hard drugs.

Incremental change is the name of the game. Even if fast food giants don't completely eliminate all sodium-saturated items off their menu, they can at least begin to reduce the levels of sodium in the more popular items, easing the fast-food eating public into a healthier lifestyle.

What is the easiest way to cut your sodium intake and achieve a normal, healthy attitude towards food? Eating freshly prepared meals, that's how.

Houston elementary students in Recipe for Success Foundation's (RFS) award-winning Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education (S2P) program are getting an early introduction into this more natural approach to eating. With hands on, interactive cooking and gardening classes, their minds are stimulated and their appetites are sated, empowering them to bring their food knowledge into their own homes and share it with their family and friends. Using only the freshest of foods- many times from their own gardens- the children get to taste the true flavors of their culinary creations, unsullied by excessive salt or additives.

Next time you go to a fast food chain, find out how much sodium is in your item of choice.

Redefining the Happy Meal

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In response to a 2010 proposed class-action lawsuit (that was recently dismissed), McDonald's spokeswoman Danya Proud stated "We stand on our 30-year track record of providing a fun experience for kids and families at McDonald's." The word "fun," in this case, refers to the familiar toy that comes in every Happy Meal, a big draw for children when they are choosing where and what they want to eat.

But what if the word "fun," when referring to children's meals, took on a different connotation? What if children played with their food instead of the toy that came with their meal? No, I don't mean throwing overcooked and unwanted vegetables across the table at their younger siblings. I'm talking about an altogether different approach; I'm talking about turning the tables and actually encouraging children to participate in the cooking process, making fresh and healthy food an interactive experience, from assisting with preparation, experimenting with recipes and of course partaking in the end result, designating a positive association to a phrase that was once deemed a reprimand: "playing with your food."

Recipe for Success Foundation (RFS), leading the way in hands-on nutrition education aimed at preventing childhood obesity and encouraging long-term health, promotes interaction at every level of the learning/food process. RFS's nationally recognized Seed-to-Plate Nutrition EducationÔ (S2P) program teaches children how to grow, harvest and cook their own healthy food; the children co-pilot the food progression from the school gardens to the classroom kitchens, instilling a connection to and an enthusiasm for fresh and nutritious fare.

But who helps to positively influence children's dietary decisions once they leave the S2P classroom?

It is up to family and friends to intercede and induce an interactive and healthy approach to eating. Instead of spending 20 minutes in a car to sit in a drive thru line or waiting 30 minutes for the pizza to show up at the front door, spend a few minutes rolling meatballs for a spaghetti dish or prepping fresh vegetables for a homemade pizza. Easy, affordable and a bonding experience to boot, these activities inspire children to become more independent and self-assured about healthy eating habits, especially if they see role models such as parents or older siblings and friends helping out in the kitchen. Once a child has had fun "playing with their food" in the kitchen, they will be more apt to try new and different dishes, dishes with more vegetables and fruits, dishes that wouldn't be sold on a fast food menu.

So take charge of your very own competitive healthy food marketing campaign. Make your own Happy Meal.

What do you think about letting children "play with their food?"

Edible Art: FOODIE Exhibition at Rodriguez Elementary School

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In honor of national nutrition month, RFS Showcase School-Sylvan Rodriguez Elementary will put on a sweeping and stimulating art show entitled "FOODIE: Food as Art, Art as Food." FOODIE, a school wide display that features art that is inspired by or made by food, combines the students' foray into the art world with their appreciation and understanding of healthy foods. FOODIE.jpg"The focus of the RFS Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ is to create a campus wide culture of health--not simply limit the subject of healthy eating to the RFS gardening and cooking classes, and the Foodie project is a wonderful example of the sort of creative ways our partner schools can approach engaging projects that complement our core work," remarked Chef Kendall Moister, the RFS Team Leader at Rodriguez.   "Thanks to resourceful and collaborative efforts made by Rodriguez Elementary Art Director, Michael Bourquin, this is a perfect example of how to integrate positive healthy messaging into other school subjects and help us create a more fluid and far-reaching platform.  Besides having a hit on his hands at Rodriguez, his hard work has paved the way for our other partner schools to implement a Foodie project of their own."

Opening on April 19, FOODIE will be on display for the remainder of the school year, a constant reminder of the combined effort that was put forth and the multi-subject lessons that were gleaned from the extensive project. From pre-schoolers to 5th graders, students of all ages and backgrounds participated in the school wide project, which has been in production since the beginning of the school year. "I like to give these kids a much larger chunk of the world than they are used to," says Bourquin. Multiple educational perspectives and art avenues will be explored in this eye-catching and thought provoking art show.

Beginning as a pilot school in Recipe for Success Foundation's (RFS) Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education Program (S2P), Rodriguez Elementary - now in its 6th year of a fully integrated ancillary partnership with RFS that serves all grades - extends the boundaries of RFS Seed-to-Plate subject matter with its comprehensive and inspiring works of art.

"I've always wanted to do a show that brought in the food element. I think we've really pushed the definition of what a 'foodie' is," says Bourquin. From a marketing campaign for Super foods to time lapse photography of the school's Recipe Garden and from food paintings to compost sculptures, even the school Recipe Garden beds will be incorporated into this not-so-average exhibit. Approaching the unity of food and art in an organic manner, FOODIE breaks down barriers that normally deny children the opportunity to fully explore the two worlds and emboldens them to "think outside the box."

"I have watched the RFS Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ project develop from a program reserved for 4th graders to a fully integrated part of our school's curriculum and culture--touching every student," says Bourquin.  Just as the RFS Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program focuses on children understand, appreciate and eat their food, Bourquin's Foodie art project is on a mission to increase students' confidence and independence in the way they approach art, by encouraging dialogue, interaction and independence.

What kind of interactive projects did you participate in for National Nutrition Month, Earth Day or National Gardening Month?

Volunteer of the Month...Jamie Lee

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Jamie, originally from Malaysia, moved to the Houston area about 15 years ago. Always interested in nutrition and health, Jamie has had a wide range of working and volunteer experience, from a nutritional representative for infant formula for four years in Malayasia to an internship in an internal medicine in Georgia to volunteer work in nutritional counseling and dietary analysis right here in Houston.
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A recent graduate of University of Houston Science and Nutrition Degree Program, Jamie felt that volunteer work with Recipe for Success Foundation (RFS) was a natural next step for her career in health and nutrition. "The mission statement of RFS is a precursor to what health and nutrition is all about." Jamie is new to the RFS volunteer scene, but she has already noticed big changes in the students and classes she works with. "You think these kids will never touch the healthy food on their plate, but by the end of the program, they are very receptive."

Jamie and her family are very involved in the Houston art scene. Always interested in the newest exhibits at one of the many Houston museums, Jamie's family also has traveled extensively, from Japan to Australia to China to Indonesia, just to name a few exotic adventures.

Already known in the classrooms at many of RFS's program schools, including MacGregor, Briscoe and Rodriguez, Jamie plans to continue volunteering and immersing herself in the healthy food scene.

Thank you, Jamie! We look forward to your continued hard work!

Food Facts: An Educational Pizza Party

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pizza.jpgWho said that learning had to be boring? And who said that pizza had to be that greasy, plastic-looking square on your lunch plate?

Although every Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education class has a common goal of uniting food with knowledge, I had the pleasure of watching as this particular class took it to the next level, integrating science (perfectly paired with the science fair that was held on the same day), math and nutrition all into one, demonstrating that healthy food and learning can be fun and delicious!

Chef Randy Evans, a founding member of the RFS's Chefs Advisory Board, joined S2P Team Leader Chef Alyssa Doyle to teach a class this week that excited the senses and expanded the minds of twenty-five fourth graders.  They will never think of pizza in the same way again.

Whereas normally the pizza crust takes a backseat to the plethora of pizza toppings and sauces, Chef Randy had a different approach; emphasize the process of dough making; after all, you can't have a pizza without it. After pronouncing that dough making was akin to a science experiment (which made all eyes focus on him), he began to spout words and phrases such as "chemical reactions," "carbon dioxide," "activation" and "gluten," while intermittently telling personal stories of a gristmill that he once visited; each story had a purpose, and the students listened attentively, hanging on stimulating sentences such as "flour is an explosive when it's being ground fresh."

Throughout the sauce making (pesto sauce made from the MacGregor School gardens - parsley, spinach and oregano) and topping (bell peppers, tomatoes, goat cheese) process, Chef Randy and Chef Alyssa kept up a steady stream of questions and answers, keeping the students involved. From dividing the pizza into fractions to learning how to activate yeast in the dough to discussing the food groups in the My Plate Pyramid, the classroom of 4th graders had unknowingly combined several different lessons into one, all under the guise of a pizza party.

As Chef Randy put the brightly colored and already fragrant pizzas in the oven, he summed up the lesson with a few thoughts that cut to the heart of what RFS strives to impart on all children. "You need a good balance of all five food groups to keep yourself healthy. When we cook our meals ourselves, we can more easily balance ingredients, and it ends up tasting great."

Do you make pizza with your kids?  What are your family's favorite toppings?

National Nutrition Month: How Do You Celebrate?

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Four weeks of celebrating encouraged by the USDA? Sounds good to me. March is National Nutrition Month, and local, state and national leaders and organizations are jumping on the healthy lifestyle bandwagon to participate in numerous events to raise awareness and interest in promoting healthy diets.

Although the word "celebrate" usually connotes images of excess food and drink, National Nutrition Month celebrations are focused on moderation and nutrition, offering fun and interactive events and outreach programs such as Get Your Plate In Shape, Spot The Block Campaign, and My Plate Community and National Strategic Partners. From the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), with many more organizations on board, National Nutrition Month makes a sweeping effort to reach all eaters and to emphasize the importance of reaching for the healthier food option.

So how will you celebrate National Nutrition Month?

Twelve Houston elementary schools recently participated in the Recipe for Success Foundation (RFS) 5-A-Day Teacher Challenge, daring participating faculty and staff to improve their diets by eating more fruits and vegetables and reporting daily progress to their students. Whether you are a schoolteacher, a parent or a community center leader, there are plenty of fun and educational games and activities to choose from in order to rally interest and participation in striving for healthier eating habits. With online resources such as eatright, offering nutrition-centered games, quiz and videos, and EducationWorld offering everything from nutrition news to healthy food activities to theater scripts centered on fruits and vegetables, there are enough activities to keep children's interest for the entire month of March and beyond!

Recipe for Success Foundation (RFS) works towards making nutrition a lifelong goal. Dedicated to changing the way children understand, appreciate and eat their food, RFS wholeheartedly supports National Nutrition Month, but also works to extend that same level of advocacy and awareness into the everyday lives of our children, encouraging them to make healthy meal and lifestyle choices all year long.

USDA Hires National Director Deborah Kane for Farm to School Program

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The USDA took another step in the right direction with the hire of Deborah Kane as national director for the Farm to School Program. Recognized by the White House as a "Champion of Change" for her work in regional food system development, Kane will join a team that is already working towards expanding the programming and increasing access to fresh foods.

In order for children to be receptive to acquiring and retaining an interest in healthy, fresh food, they need to be involved in the discussion of where their food is coming from. The Farm to School initiative, created in 2007, is "an effort to connect schools (K - 12) with regional or local farms in order to serve healthy meals using locally produced food" http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/F2S/about.htm#Initiative. The National Farm to School Network works to link children and the community to the story behind their food. From these stories comes more appreciation of the land, animals and labor that goes into producing the next meal, whether in the lunchroom or at the home dining table.

Just as Recipe for Success Foundation (RFS) focuses on involving children in the entire food cycle, implementing programs such as the award winning Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education (S2P) - an interactive, educational in-school program that concentrates on making healthy food fun- the Farm to School Program pushes for healthier understanding of the entire food process, from the soil to the dinner table.  Once students become a more integral part of this process - whether that means discussing which produce are in season, understanding the health benefits of whole foods, visiting a nearby farm, or perhaps even harvesting produce themselves- they will be more likely to incorporate healthier foods into their lifestyle.

Changes - whether incremental or sweeping- in the way food is presented to children are a necessary step in the quest to reverse childhood obesity.

Volunteer of the Month... Leslie Yen

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Leslie grew up in California cooking, but had no gardening experience.   She later moved to New York, where she worked as a caterer, then made her way to Houston. While she is very busy now studying to get her masters in Nutrition, she enjoys taking some time away from her studies to work with the kids at Briscoe Elementary, where she has been a volunteer for over a year now.  She really enjoys exploring recipes with the kids-and is very excited about all she has learned about gardening. 


"In every nutrition class I have taken we discuss the growing problem of childhood obesity. I relish the opportunity to take action against the epidemic by working with Recipe for Success. It is such a terrific organization and I feel privileged to be a part of it."- Leslie Yen

Leslie, Thank you for all of your hard work!

Going Halfsies

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Remember the days when you weren't allowed to leave the table until you finished all the food on your plate? 

Getting children to eat healthier is the topic of a national, multi-layered discussion/debate; with vanguard issues such as eating more fruits and vegetables, eating less sugary and fatty foods and getting more exercise at the forefront, it is easy to lose sight of lesser-broached, but equally as important issues, such as portion control (a topic that is mainly addressed in adults, but, if addressed at a young age, would have a more profound effect later in life). 

In a society that seems to be gaining momentum in lifestyle pace, with more extracurricular activities for children and longer workdays for parents, the home-cooked meal is becoming the exception to the rule. Instead, eating habits are learned from restaurants, fast food chains and commercials, with all three options offering a common theme: outlandish portion sizes, and usually at a relatively inexpensive price, making the temptation to overeat that much stronger. If the large portion sizes consisted of fresh veggies, fruits and lean proteins, there would not be much of a problem, but that is not usually the case. Plates are being piled with greasy, fatty foods that are nutritionally subpar.

A healthy, balanced meal needs to define not just what is on the plate, but how much is on the plate. 

Go Halfsies, a new social initiative that addresses the issue of portion control along with other interrelated issues such as obesity and food waste, advocates for smaller restaurant portions (in comparison to the current restaurant portions that range from two to four times the size of recommended portions) at full price. Go Halfsies is partnering with restaurants--the first are in Austin and New York City--that have designated items on their menus to the initiative. When customers choose a meal with a Go Halfsies symbol, they pay full price while receiving only half of the portion. Extra proceeds are donated to support the fight against hunger.  

Recipe for Success Foundation's hand-on Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ is aimed at preventing childhood obesity by helping children develop healthier habits. Portion size is something we regularly address.  Whether in the classroom, in the lunchroom, around the dining room table or seated at a restaurant, we encourage children to focus on the quality and the quantity of their food. So we add our voices to the clarion call:  When dining out--whether there is a special promotion available or not, just eat half!

Carrot and Kolhrabi Soup

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Carrot & Kohlrabi Soup

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For the soup:

1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

2 large        kohlrabi, peeled and thinly sliced

1         onion, peeled and thinly sliced

3 cups water

2 cups chicken broth or stock

½ cup milk

To taste         salt and pepper

For the croutons:

1         whole grain french bread roll

2 tablespoon olive oil

Make the soup

Peel and thinly slice carrots, onion, and kohlrabi.

Place water in a sauce pot. Bring to a boil. 

Add the vegetables. Simmer until the vegetables are soft 

Place a strainer over a bowl. Drain the vegetables into the strainer.  Save the liquid. 

Place the vegetables in a blender or food processor.  Puree until smooth.

Place the puree, the cooking liquid, chicken broth and milk into a sauce pot. 

Heat to a simmer.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Make the croutons

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Cut the bread into cubes.

Place bread into a bowl.  Add the oil. Toss to combine.

Spread cubes on a sheet pan. 

Place  pan in the oven. Bake until crisp. Remove from the oven.


Place the soup in bowls. 

Pass the hot croutons at the table.

*Try substituting broccoli or squash for the carrots for 2 new and different recipes.  

CultureMap Raves about RecipeHouse

Gracie Cavnar
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A top chef school in Houston: Gracie Cavnar's RecipeHouse offers cooking classes from masters
02.15.12 | 11:31 am
Houston may not be dense, but it can be quite good at hiding gems just out of sight. So when I was invited to a cooking class to celebrate the opening of RecipeHouse, an extension of Gracie Cavnar's Recipe 4 Success, I was stunned to learn that the organization, keeps its headquarters just a few steps from my front door in Montrose.

Read Sarah's entire story here.

Bettina Siegel Joins RFS on a Field Trip With Students from MacGregor ES

Gracie Cavnar
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Wasabina, Daikon and More! Cooking With the Kids from Recipe for Success

Last week I volunteered, as I do every month, with Recipe for Success - a comprehensive "seed to plate" instructional program that brings gardens, cooking, nutrition education and celebrity chefs into local schools.  I don't always post about my experiences with R4S, but last week's class was so fun I wanted to share.

Instead of meeting my assigned fourth grade class at its elementary school, as we usually do, we all gathered at t'afia, an innovative Houston restaurant which uses only local foods.  T'afia is the brainchild of Monica Pope, a much-lauded chef (James Beard nominee, Top Chef Masters contestant, etc.), R4S Board Member and classroom volunteer.  Our assignment was to make Monica's Winter Vegetable Slaw which we would then enjoy along with a full meal prepared by the t'afia kitchen.

One of the things I like best about volunteering with R4S is sharing information with kids about food -- exposing them to new produce and herbs, exploring new flavors and then talking about what they like and don't like.  But this time around the kids weren't the only ones learning:  I encountered a vegetable I'd never even heard of before,"wasabina," a leafy, peppery green with a slight wasabi taste.  I also learned how to properly sprout my own grains and seeds, something I've been interested in trying.
Read the rest of Bettina's story on Lunch Tray.

The Houston Chronicle features our Rolling Green Market

Gracie Cavnar
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Sunday, February 5, 2012
by Allan Turner, The Houston Chronicle City&State section

"As an oasis in one of Houston's sprawling "food deserts," the little grocery store wasn't much. Wilted mustard greens, pocked tomatoes and past-their-prime cantaloupes filled the produce bins. Soft drinks, candy and salty snacks lurked tantalizingly nearby." Read the whole story here.

RecipeHouse Offering Hands-on Cooking Classes in Museum District Kitchen

Gracie Cavnar
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On January 18, Recipe for Success Foundation launched the first of what will be a stimulating assortment of 2012 healthy cooking and gardening classes at the newly opened RecipeHouse (RH), located in Houston's Museum District at 4400 Yupon Street.

RH kickoff with board.JPGThis hands-on cooking class boasted Chef Garth Blackburn - executive chef for Subzero/Wolf showroom in Houston- as instructor, and RFS board members and some special guests as attendees. A meticulously measured blend of dialogue, instruction, eating and imbibing, the cooking class proved to be a resounding success; with sated appetites and renewed interest in and advocacy for RH, board members offered up their own thoughts about the evening.
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"Garth was great - his idea that we, not him, would make dinner under his guidance made it real and the food more appreciated" - Amy Anton. And it's not too often that you hear - whether from a child or an adult - "Best Brussels sprouts I ever had!" - Frank Steininger.

Adrienne Ryherd Considers Pint-Sized Chefs: When Kids Rule the Kitchen

Gracie Cavnar
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This story from Adrienne Ryherd, who volunteers at MacGregor Elementary:

"Think it's improbable (or impossible) for young students to get energized about cooking and eating healthy foods? I thought so too.  Think again.

Kids-chopping.gifI recently heard about the RFS Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ Program (S2P)- designed to involve children in the entire process of healthy eating and targeting under-served schools where nutrition education is needed most.  It began in 2006 as a pilot program in Houston schools such as MacGregor Elementary (which now continues as one of the program's showcase schools.)  They reported earlier this year that because of overwhelming success, will soon be available nationwide to licensed S2P Affiliate Partners.   I wanted to see for myself.

Walking into the MacGregor Elementary (one of Recipe for Success Foundation's Showcase Schools) classroom is akin to walking into a proper test kitchen, only this kitchen happens to be in an elementary classroom that is tailored to fit the culinary needs of young students - in this case, 1st graders, to be exact. Mobile cooking stations outfitted with all the necessary cooking utensils are lined down the center of the room and kid-friendly diagrams (food plate, ABCs of vegetables, the five tastes) adorn the walls, making the atmosphere approachable and exciting.

As the children filed in, anticipation tangible in the air, they all knew the routine. After picking up their very own Recipe for Success apron, they proceeded to wash their hands and take their places at a cooking station of their choice.

Choices - healthy ones, that is- are exactly what the S2P program is encouraging young students to make. And what better way to approach this goal than by including the students in every step of their cooking journey, from the seeds they plant in the school gardens to the type of dishes they prepare in the classroom (a.k.a. kitchen).

Before food preparation began, the students and Alyssa, (a Recipe for Success Foundation staff chef and "Team Leader" at this school), engaged in conversation regarding the dish of the day.  It was "green eggs and ham." But this children's classic had a twist:  instead of using green food coloring, the children used different types of greens (harvested from their very own gardens on the school grounds) to create a pesto to be mixed into the eggs. After identifying and discussing all the greens they would be using (and the list was prolific, even for an adult) such as mustard greens, kale, dino kale, red Russian kale and rainbow chard, the children continued to tear and cut the greens, of course with some questions and comments along the way.

After delivering their chopped up greens and eggs (which they cracked in a bowl themselves) to Chef Alyssa, the children waited expectantly as she blended the greens with Parmesan cheese, olive oil and garlic, discussing each ingredient as she added it to the blender. Between discussions of ingredients, colors, smells, health benefits and texture, the students engaged all of their senses and gained confidence in their cooking skills, ending the class with a resounding "Bon Appetit!" as they heartily dug into their freshly-made dish. 

I would have never believed it, if I hadn't seen for myself."  Adrienne Ryherd.

Help Us Get the Truck Rolling!

Gracie Cavnar
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"On January 18, 2012 Mayor Annise Parker's & Recipe for Success Foundation's Rolling Green Market initiative earned $25,000 and a second place finish at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' 2012 Childhood Obesity Prevention Awards."  See the press release issued by Mayor Parker here:

Imagine this scenario:
A beautifully painted vehicle rolls down your street every Tuesday, 
music playing and bells ringing.  It reminds you of when the ice cream truck
used to roam this neighborhood, but it's the Hope Farms Rolling Green Market.

It parks on the corner, a half dozen young people jump out, and within minutes it is transformed into the most bountiful Farmers Market stand you have ever seen.  Under a striped awning, crates of fresh produce cover tables.  The vegetables you don't recognize are accessorized with recipe cards for delicious, affordable family meals.  A chef holds court in one corner doing a cooking class--ratatouille--he even lets your 5-year-old help.  And a smiling young woman is offering tasting samples.  "Try before you buy!" she encourages your neighbors.  When you look at the blackboard pricelist, you can't believe your eyes!  The summer squash is only 50¢ a pound!  At these prices, you can make that ratatouille for your whole family for just a couple of dollars--even less than getting everyone a 99¢ value meal at the fast food joint on the corner.  And they take WICS, too.  You look forward to Tuesdays all week long.  The arrival of the Hope Farms Rolling Green Market every Tuesday afternoon has become a defacto neighborhood gathering, which is so much fun.  But it has also been a lifesaver for you and your whole family.  It is your only resource for fresh produce . . . it has changed your life.

We must raise an additional $200,000 to get the Hope Farms Green Market Rolling.  Will you help us? Donate any amount today.

Our goal for the Hope Farms Rolling Green Market is to alleviate serious health risk and promote good nutrition by delivering significantly reduced-priced, fresh fruits and vegetables directly to families who are now marooned in identified Houston neighborhoods that are known as food deserts or who are otherwise considered to be suffering from nutritional insecurity, thereby empowering caregivers to provide a healthy diet to Houston's children.  The secondary goals of Hope Farms Rolling Green Market Are: To promote the increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and good nutrition to all Houstonians, and to be a national roll model that inspires similar initiatives throughout the country.

The Hope Farms Rolling Green Market vehicle will be fabricated from a used Mercedes Freightliner stepvan.  It will have a fully refrigerated cargo area with added coolers, a vegetable prep and washing station, a portable cooking station, a pop-open window, a fully retractable side awning and all the tables, chairs and equipment required to transform it into an impromptu farmers market stand and cooking demonstration area.  It will be 100% wrapped in graphics, which will transform it into a fulltime rolling billboard for fresh food.

The day-to-day business operation of the Hope Farms Rolling Green Market will be undertaken by our city's youth--a team of five 16-24 year old interns selected through a highly competitive process for a one-year internship as a member of the Rolling Green Team.  Each intern will receive an annual stipend of $5,000 minimum.  The Rolling Green Team will actively participate in a career development program focused on expanding their job skills and preparing them for the workforce, with the support of selected mentors and advisors.  The Team will be responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with food donors, collection of produce, community outreach and customer development, sales and distribution of produce, collection of payments, and submitting detailed reports, and will be mentored and managed by a member of the Recipe for Success Foundation professional staff--the Director of Rolling Green.

The Hope Farms Rolling Green Market will operate on a regular timetable Monday through Sunday, circulating throughout Houston's most critically at-risk neighborhoods - the ones marooned in food deserts.  In a pending agreement with the City of Houston Heath Department and Harris County Health Department, it may also make frequently scheduled appearances at the neighborhood clinics.

Green Eggs and "Ham" with Cynthia Stephens

Guest Volunteer
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One word to describe my day as a volunteer: enchanting! 

To aptly describe my recent volunteer experience with this wonderful organization, I offer one word: enchanting!
As the children lined up single-file at the door of the cooking class, I was immediately taken in by the contagious innocence. The 20+ kids glowed with a wide-eyed anticipation while waiting patiently to be fit with small aprons emblazoned with "Recipe4Success."
The enchantment continued as grins and giggles permeated the classroom and hands were dutifully washed and even numbered children were grouped around separate work areas. As each young student explored all the large fresh-from-the garden collard and mustard greens, Swiss chard, kale, eggs and neatly displayed cooking tools, I learned you can't touch anything more than twice, what a whisk was probably for, and their firm opinions on vegetables.
Mouths were zipped and hands went into pockets as Alyssa efficiently captured their attention. Then the transformation began for a healthy repast of something wonderful resembling a kind of pesto, comprised of green eggs and "ham."
As class commenced, outstretched arms waved to proudly volunteer what they knew of healthy eating, protein, and where ham comes from and each child got to taste the bitter greens, whisk eggs and stir the vegetables, eggs and turkey together (ham substitute for nutritional value). I learned that all the vegetables were grown on the premises and quickly glanced out the window to admire neatly displayed rows of tall fresh vegetables and herbs for use in forthcoming healthy adventures.
I'm a cook and while I take pride in all that entails, I gained immense admiration for a wonderful program that was clearly one of the highlights of a routine elementary school day. After the hour had quickly passed, I realized that this was unquestionably one of the highlights of mine.

Cynthia Stephens.  A Good Writer

Houston Chronicle reports: Board gets hands-on for Recipe for Success

Gracie Cavnar
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Gracie Cavnar laughs with Chef Garth Blackburn, who led her Board of Directors through a hands-on cooking class to prepare an impressive 3-course meal at RecipeHouse.

Read the full story by Molly Glentzer for The Houston Chronicle, here.

Volunteer of the Month...JoAnn Sittig

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Joann Sittig.jpg"Every time Joann visits the Culinary classroom at Rodriguez Elementary we are in luck!  She is always jumping in to help and has no fear getting her hands dirty in the garden.  Students are always excited to get to work with Joann and the positivity she brings with her each day.  Whether she's sharing her tips for tasty kohlrabi or making sure the students pick radishes ready for harvest, she is always a tremendous help to us." Kendall Moister, Rodriguez Team Leader
"I really enjoy volunteering for R4S at Rodriguez. The 1st and 5th graders are a lot fun. They are willing to taste unfamiliar foods, and they love seeing the seeds they planted out in the garden actually end up as something they recognize. To bring the whole project full circle, Chef Kendall then prepares the harvest in ways that can appeal to the taste buds of kids without surrendering its healthy aspects. To top it all off, I get to work with three thoroughly enjoyable professionals: Chef Kendall, Mrs. Healy, and Chef Frank." -JoAnn Sittig

This is One School Announcement That You Don't Want to Miss.

Gracie Cavnar
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First Lady Michelle Obama, catalyst and creator of the "Let's Move" campaign (focused on eliminating childhood obesity epidemic within a generation) and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack just announced the first big changes to school lunches in 15 years.

"Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids," Secretary Vilsack.

Recipe For Success Foundation's mission statement - combating childhood obesity by changing the way children understand, appreciate and eat their food- is firmly aligned with the new USDA ruling.  Both campaig for those who do not yet have the power to advocate for themselves: children.

The rule - which phases in changes so as to allow all children (grades K-12), schools and food supply chains to adapt- will require most schools to "increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat fluid milk and reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat" (Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, Vol. 77, No. 17).

The government ruling, although widely praised and long sought after, isn't necessarily a "eureka" kind of moment for many; the results of the ruling  - largely based on recommendations and backed by research issued by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science- outline changes that could be viewed simply as common sense, describing a simpler diet with an emphasis on vegetables and fruits rather than processed foods high in saturated fat and sugar. While this seemingly novel diet may be relatively easy to achieve on an individual level, it is a mammoth of a task to accomplish on a national level, especially in a sector where the consumer (in this case, schoolchildren) gains most of his or her food knowledge and eating habits from a very limited environment - the school lunchroom.

With public figures such as First Lady Michelle Obama and celebrity chefs from Alice Waters to Rachel Ray crusading for this national cause, a glimmer of hope - in the form of brightly colored veggies and fruits - seems to be peeking through the obscurity that was once a mound of colorless mystery meat.

A lot of children - especially those who qualify for school meal programs- eat two meals a day in the school lunchroom.  In Houston ISD alone that means 80% of our students (or 161,600 children) will benefit.   This mostly untapped corner of the education world can have a major impact on a child's relationship with food, introducing healthier dishes in a familiar setting, but the 16,000 children who have participated in RFS Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program in the last six years will be ready.  They already love their veggies!
The school cafeteria will soon become an extension of our RFS classrooms.

2011-2012 My Favorite Holiday Food Essay Contest

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Lyons.jpgCongratulations to our 2011-2012 Journalism Contest winner, Dottie Warren of Ms. Monteil's class, from Lyons Elementary!

Thanksgiving Tamales with Grandma!

Tsssss! I can hear the screaming of the crisp steam, as my mother lifts the top off a gargantuan pot full of one of my favorite foods. My favorite holiday food tradition is when my family prepares Turkey Tamales for Thanksgiving. My grandfather Arturo created the recipe because he wanted to combine the Mexican tradition of preparing tamales for special occasions and the American tradition of eating turkey at Thanksgiving. First my family and I visit our local Farmers' Market where we buy all of the fresh ingredients we need. Next, we prepare our multi-step recipe using a cornucopia of different ingredients. Lastly, we celebrate Thanksgiving by eating over delicious creations that everyone will enjoy!

        When we visit the Farmers' Market that my mother has shopped at for over forty years. My mother and grandmother share stores about the hilarious things my grandfather would do on visits there. We buy all of the freshest, greatest, vegetables straight from the farm like spinach, kale, chayote, bell peppers, garlic, tomatillos, green onion, celery and cilantro. Since we make our tamales in such large quantities to share with the rest of the family, we try to find the fattest turkey available! This will turn out great! Our new tradition is to make a non-meat, vegetables version using wild rice, garbanzo beans, lentils, and carrots in addition to making the turkey tamales. The traditions continue to grow.

        The success of the tamales rests with the quality of the vegetable base sauce. The sauce is used for making the masa, preparing the meat/or vegetable filling and the cream sauce on top. The sauce ingredients are: 2 heads of garlic, 1 bunch of kale, 4 chayote, 1 bunch cilantro, 4 bell peppers, 3 lbs tomatillos, 2 bunches green onion, 1 whole celery, 2 bags spinach. Wash and clean all the vegetables and place them except the spinach in a pot with water. Cook until tender. Place cooked vegetables in blender with the uncooked spinach and thin with the hot liquid. Return to pot and cook about 1 hour, season with salt to taste. Boil the turkey then shred. Use prepared vegetable sauce to simmer the meat for 30 mins. To prepare the masa, combine five, 5 lb bags of dry masa with 3 large tubs of Smart Balance Sprea. NOT LARD! Add the vegetable sauce until moist about 4-6 cups. Now spread about 3 tablespoon of masa evenly on moistened cornhusks. Place filling  (meat or vegetable) in center, then wrap both sides over each other and fold the bottom up to seal. Stock in pot and stem 1-1/2 hr.

        It's Thanksgiving day! By the time I am awake and out of my bed, the meat-filled bundles are steaming in the pot. Tssss! I help my mother lift the top off the enormous pot, and the steam and delicious aroma fill the air. The unique smell quickly reminds me of past family gatherings and of the one we will go to today.

        Finally! The moment I have been waiting for! As I unwrap the corn husk, the warm, green masa topped with a viscous vegetable cream sauce, which my mother just finished by adding sour cream to the vegetable base sauce, tastes like nothing I have tasted any where else but home. I Buen provecho!

Congratulations to our school finalists:
Bria Booker, MacGregor Elementary
Victoria Lopez, Rodriguez Elementary
Juliette Cedillo, Briscoe Elementary
Avery Robinson, Whittier Elementary
AJ Guerrero, DeZavala Elementary
Taylor East, Harbach-Ripley Elementary

Move Over Butter! Novo Nordisk Is the New Condiment in Town

Gracie Cavnar
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If you watch cooking shows, browse bookstores or stand in the checkout line at grocery stores, you most likely know of celebrity chef Paula Deen. Dubbed as "The Butter Queen," Deen is known for her southern charm and her southern (high fat, high sugar) recipes; she has been a Food Network staple for nine years, starring in her own cooking show, "Paula's Home Cooking," showcasing stick-to-your-gullet, down home southern comfort recipes.
Deen has announced that she has had Type 2 Diabetes for three years. Normally, how a person deals with his or her health issues is a personal matter, but when the health issue involves a public figure whose empire was built on the very foods that factored into her illness, then it's a different story. Her diabetes announcement coincided with another, even more surprising announcement: she will now be the official (paid) spokesperson for the diabetes medication Novo Nordisk.

Deen's endorsement of a diabetes drug only reinforces the already-engrained American mindset that we can eat however we want - no matter how unhealthy and no matter how much - as long as there is a pill that we can take to alleviate some of the damage. Why not take a preemptive approach and simply employ common sense and moderation when it comes to diet? Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic disease that can be avoided or at the very least managed with factors that are in our own (and not the pharmaceutical industry's) hands. Although anyone can get Type 2 Diabetes, the first factor is most often listed as being overweight or obese.
In addition to promoting the diabetes drug, Deen is also promoting - on a new website entitled "diabetes in a new light"- southern style dishes that are on the "lighter" side, more exercise, less stress and more doctor/patient partnering to manage the disease.   The public and her fellow TV star-chefs, are not buying it.  The Huffington Post continues to publish stories about the continuing backlash: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/paula-deen-diabetes-announcement-celebrity-chefs-support_n_1224454.html

Although the media frenzy surrounding Deen's declaration is focused on adults with the chronic disease, there is another section of the population - albeit surprising and disconcerting - that needs our attention: children.  Although just a few years ago it was rare to hear of a child with Type 2 Diabetes, those numbers - in conjunction with children's weight- are steadily increasing.  Type 2 Diabetes is a direct result of obesity.  This is a very serious problem across the country, especially in Houston where it is estimated that 28% of fourth graders, 16.7% of adolescents, 15-18 years of age, and 29.1% of adults are obese.  With this generation's fast-paced lifestyle, children (and adults) are eating out more and exercising less, paying more attention to the immediacy of food than to the health benefits of food.

Recipe for Success Foundation - with our focus on changing the way children understand, appreciate and east their food  - continues to advocate for improvements in the food world; and with each change, whether incremental or immense, we get closer to fulfilling a promise for healthier children.

Easy Kale Salad

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Kale Salad.jpgEasy Kale Salad

1 bunch of fresh kale, stemmed and chopped into bite-sized pieces

½ onion, diced

½ cup sunflower seeds (or any other seed or nut your prefer)

¼ cup Feta, crumbled 

1 lemon, juiced

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Optional extra ingredients:

mustard greens, chopped

dried fruit (RFS Staff favorites are currants and blueberries)

fresh herbs

green onions

  1. Combine all ingredients except for lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. 
  2. Add lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to small jar with a lid and shake to mix, then pour dressing evenly over the salad ingredients.
  3. Toss lightly with your hands or a fork to mix together and evenly coat.

Easy as 1-2-3!