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2018 Was a Whirlwind

Recipe for Success
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Gracie in Chefs Garden.jpg2018 was an exciting year for Recipe for Success Foundation. We launched our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ programs in a dozen new elementary schools in Texas and Louisiana where we teach kids healthy eating skills; we inspired over 12,000 people across the country --and even a few in Australia--to make healthy choices with our VegOut! Challenge; and we transformed 7.5 acres in Houston's Sunnyside neighborhood into a vibrant urban farm where we grew more than 50,000 pounds of fresh produce, inducted three U.S. Veterans into our farmer training program and welcomed thousands of visitors.

Hope Farms has become not only a resource for fresh, affordable produce in Houston, but also a bucolic setting to inspire people, young and old, to reach for the healthy choice. Our weekly farm stand, full schedule of cooking and gardening classes, hundreds of student field trips each year, community meals crafted from freshly harvested food and shared around the table in our Gathering Barn and our harvest celebrations like the annual Earth Day Festival, all help Houstonians connect with healthy food in a new and exciting way.

We have a hopeful vision and a commitment to building a healthier world. Hoping to see you around our table in 2019!

Ultimate Dinner Party

Recipe for Success
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Marinated Hope Farms Vegetable Salad by Kevin Naderi Roost.jpgWhat is better than a great dinner party--a leisurely evening spent at a table filled with friends enjoying a great meal and conversation? The dinner party we gave on Monday night that raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars for our work--20% of our annual budget!

On the first Monday in May, 92 guests were transported to the Italian countryside for our intimate Delicious Alchemy Banquet at the villa-style home of Lisa and Michael Holthouse, which is perched lakeside--tucked away in the tall trees of Houston's Memorial neighborhood. Responding to the garden chic/no ties dress code, our relaxed guests gathered around long family-style tables lined with silver and crystal and referred to handmade menu portfolios to keep up with the culinary action. Presented by Brunello Cucinelli, the evening featured ten extraordinary Houston chefs who created ten exquisite courses matched with ten superb wines. Thanks to the generosity of Cucinelli--and a host of inkind donors of food, beverages, service, music and décor--100% of the ticket income went directly to our programming.

"The setting, the food and people were all so perfect. We truly felt like we were in the Italian countryside. Everyone was so relaxed and having so much fun! Just when I thought I could not eat another bite, the short ribs arrived. My favorite! And I still managed to fit in the dessert," enthused Brunello Cucinelli's Houston General manager Kelly Kavaler.

Brunello Cucinelli offered a specially-tailored, private two day/one-night tour of Solomeo--the organization's home village in Tuscany and bidding was so exuberant, they ended up awarding trips to four donors. Congratulations to Cynthia and Tony Petrello, Sheree and Norman Frede, Lisa and Ralph Eads, and Gwen and John McCauley--you're going to Italy!

Mark your calendars for the First Monday in May, 2019 when we will try to live up to ourselves. Until then, enjoy the photos:

Delicious Alchemy: The Banquet 2018


Recipe for Success
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Gracie& Bob Cavnar copy.jpgIT WAS A PERFECT EVENING AROUND THE TABLE ON EARTH DAY. Sapphire skies, bountiful fields, fifty guests, three chefs, Texas wines, a hot new grill, and a stellar menu--including freshly harvested produce from Hope Farms: The Recipe for Success Foundation's inaugural Chefs in the Field supper at Hope Farms was a success by any measure.

All members of the Foundation's Advisory Board, volunteer chefs--Jean-Philippe Gaston (Izakaya), Vincent Huynh (Agricole Hospitality), and Greg Martin (Bistro Menil)--who built the new grill themselves as a gift to the Farm, wowed guests on Sunday night, where the 50-foot-long table laid out in the farm's Gathering Barn was the scene of delicious fun.

Festivities began in the Chef's Kitchen Garden where Agricole Hospitality proprietor, Morgan Weber poured his signature Indianola Distillery Old Fashioneds, and Foundation Board member, Kathryne Castellanos and her volunteer brigade passed grilled polenta cakes and octopus bites along with Christian Martin Blanc de Blancs and Saint Arnold Beers. After exploring the fields and meeting the chickens, guests took their seats for a five-course feast featuring wines from William Chris Vineyards. Progressing from Hope Farms veg crudité and roasted beet borscht to melt-in-your-mouth short ribs and whole grilled snappers--all served family style, the meal concluded with Dairy Maids cheeses, Bee Hive honeycomb and strawberry shortcakes. Sponsors Blue Horizon Seafood, Buckhead Meat, Hive Bee Farm donated their top-quality provisions for the meal.

Spotted at the table: tennis great Zina Garrison, Bryan Christ, Emily and Robert Clay, Dona & Al Clay, Erin Stewart O'Leary, Shamika Johnson, Genevieve and Shawn Patterson, Melanie and Daniel Ringold, Lisa and Paul Mason, Marnie Greenwood, Ana Llovera and Carlos Gonzales Centano, Sheryl and Ernie Rapp, Carrie and Sverre Brandsberg-Dahl, Yasmine Haddad and daughter Tatiana, Honi and Glen Boudreaux, Haley and Michael Carter, and Ann and Tom Bastian. Old friends and new. It was a truly remarkable evening.

Come Have Dinner In Our Fields

Recipe for Success
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CIF 4.22 Invite .jpgWe have been eagerly awaiting the day when we were ready to have you come share a meal with us at Hope Farms. I'm practically giddy to invite you to the Farm on April 22 for our first Chefs in the Field supper! On day two of our Earth Day Celebration/Birthday, we will start at dusk with a reception and wine tasting in the Chefs Kitchen Garden, then make our way to a magazine-worthy setting: one long table arranged amidst our fields of crops where we will enjoy a three course meal crafted by Chefs Ryan Pera (Agricole Hospitality), Jean Philippe Gaston (Izakaya), and Greg Martin (Bistro Menil). We will limit April's dinner to fifty guests and you can get your seat at the table by clicking here. Other supper dates set for 2018 are June 24, September 30 and November 11. Tickets for the evenings are $250 per person, and 100 percent of the proceeds support our projects to teach children healthy eating habits and grow healthy affordable food for our neighbors.

James Brock in the House

Recipe for Success
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James Brock.jpegJames Brock has joined us as Director of Advancement, overseeing media relations, special events production and donor cultivation.

Brock has held editorial positions with print and broadcast news organizations around the world, including writing and editing roles in New York, Paris, Dubai, and Houston. His reporting and writing has encompassed a wide variety of subjects, including profiles of Federico Fellini, Anthony Bourdain, and Tom Ford, food and wine and other culinary matters, the arts and culture, and personal finance and investing.

"I have long admired the work done by Recipe For Success - in fact, not long after moving to Houston, in 2013, I was urged by someone close to me to volunteer for the organization - and so many of my passions, interests, and skills dovetail with what it does," Brock said. "I am looking forward to helping take Recipe for Success even further and changing the lives of young people for the better," Brock said.

Brock has, in addition to his journalism career, worked in the kitchens of restaurants in Brooklyn, Spain, Germany, and Paris, produced an array of special events celebrating the shared meal, and in 2014 founded The Brockhaus, a culinary think tank and moveable dining club, which has welcomed guests to pop-up events in Houston and Dallas and on Nantucket.

"Recruiting donors to support our work and producing successful special events are both like telling a wonderful story that everyone wants to be in. Creating that story, with both attention to detail and sensitivity to guest experience is critical. So we are delighted to welcome James, a consummate storyteller, passionate foodie and experience-magician to our team," says Recipe for Success founder and CEO, Gracie Cavnar.

Welcome James!

Sprouts Helps Grow Hope Farms

Gracie Cavnar
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An Apple a Day.pngSprouts is passionate about supporting organizations that are stewards of health and wellness in the communities where our team members and guests work, live and play.
Launched in 2015, the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation was created to support local nonprofit organizations creating stronger and healthier communities served by Sprouts.

In April, stores hosted a first ever in-store "Round Up for Our Community" campaign, where customers were given an opportunity to donate change to the Foundation. Thousands  participated, raising $258,000 in just eight days! These dollars, and contributions from the Foundation, funded the 2016 Neighborhood Grants program, designed to keep 100 percent of donations in communities where the donations were collected.

Recipe for Success Foundation is honored to be among the 54 non-profits selected to receive grants, ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. In total, the Foundation distributed over $400,000 in Neighborhood Grants. Thank you Sprouts Farmers Market for awarding $10,000 to support our Hope Farms project!!

Partnering For Social Change

Gracie Cavnar
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Meredith BrandFront.JPGNEW YORK September 14, 2016.  TODAY Meredith Corporation, the nation's leading media and marketing company serving 102 million American women, and Recipe For Success Foundation, a national leader in the effort to end childhood obesity, announced a broad-reaching collaboration tied to Meredith's new "Partnerships That Will Change the World" initiative, which was unveiled during the company's first-ever BrandFront presentation. The Partnerships That Will Change the World campaign is designed to engage Meredith's young, female audience in influencing social change in measurable and meaningful ways.

"This partnership opens the door for Recipe for Success to help millions of women and families across America live healthier lives," said Gracie Cavnar, Founder and CEO of Recipe for Success Foundation. "We will be working across all the Meredith brands, which include Parents, Rachael Ray Every Day, Family Circle, Martha Stewart Living, Better Homes and Gardens and EatingWell, along with websites, television shows and multi-media."

Parents magazine launched the new collaboration by funding a new Recipe for Success Foundation Affiliate Partner School in the New York metro area next year.  Meredith and Recipe for Success will develop a variety of 2017 collaborations including cross-channel editorial, original video series, live events and social media campaigns to feature Foundation initiatives.

During the event, Cavnar appeared onstage with EatingWell Editor-in-Chief Jessie Price to announce the first of many Meredith collaborations for 2017. EatingWell will leverage the Recipe for Success VegOut! 30 Ways in 30 Days Challenge, incentivizing their readers to step up to the plate and pile it with veggies.  Price said her team is motivated to drive downloads of the Foundation's VegOut! mobile app to 50,000 users by 2020.

"We are excited to launch our Partnerships That Will Change the World," said Jon Werther, Meredith National Media Group President. "Giving back, promoting family safety and connectivity, empowering women to lead healthier lives and supporting female entrepreneurship are all key parts of Meredith's heritage."

Meredith Corporation (NYSE: MDP; has been committed to service journalism for 115 years. Today, Meredith uses multiple distribution platforms - including broadcast television, print, digital, mobile and video - to provide consumers with content they desire and to deliver the messages of its advertising and marketing partners.

Meredith's National Media Group reaches more than 100 million unduplicated women every month, including nearly 75 percent of U.S. Millennial women. Meredith is the leader in creating and distributing content across platforms in key consumer interest areas such as food, home, parenting and health through well-known brands such as Better Homes and Gardens, Allrecipes, Parents, Shape and EatingWell.

Meredith also features robust brand licensing activities, including more than 3,000 SKUs of branded products at 4,000 Walmart stores across the U.S. Meredith Xcelerated Marketing is an award-winning, strategic and creative agency that provides fully integrated marketing solutions for many of the world's top brands, including Kraft, Lowe's, TGI Friday's and NBC Universal.

Meredith's Local Media Group includes 17 owned or operated television stations reaching 11 percent of U.S. households. Meredith's portfolio is concentrated in large, fast-growing markets, with seven stations in the nation's Top 25 - including Atlanta, Phoenix, St. Louis and Portland - and 13 in Top 50 markets. Meredith's stations produce over 660 hours of local news and entertainment content each week, and operate leading local digital destinations.

Powerful Messages

Recipe for Success
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foodmarketing.jpgThe very creation of Recipe for Success Foundation stemmed from Gracie Cavnar's anger at the powerful marketing dollars being levered to pedal junk food to kids.   

To help parents and teachers inspire their kids to resist the lure of junk food marketing, we created farmers marKIDS, a free curriculum that teaches children about the whole food chain from farm to grocery store and nutures their entrieprenurial spirit by guiding them through the process of turning their fresh garden produce into a market stand business.  Read more about farmers marKIDS and get your free curriculum.

And as part of our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ programs in schools, we created an in-depth curriculum called Eat This!, designed to teach kids exactly how food is marketed to them, so that they could become discerning customers.  Our Affiliate Partners in Houston and across the country can provide Eat This! as an after school, in school or summer camp program and we offer it at RecipeHouse each year. Read More about our Eat This! Summer Camp.

So we spend a lot of time making sure kids understand the power of marketing.  Now Recipe for Success has teamed up with the Center for Science in the Public Interest to take a look at U.S. standards for advertising food to kids.  Food marketing to children affects their preferences and diets, which is why 18 companies participate in the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. But how successful are those efforts to protect children from unhealthy food ads? To find out, Recipe for Success Foundation is collaborating with the Center for Science in the Public Interest to compare American nutrition standards for food marketing to those recently adopted by the WHO for Europe.

Working with Margo Wootan, CSPI's Director of Nutrition Policy, and Jessica Almay, Senior Nutrition Policy Counsel, the Recipe for Success team, with assistance from our Dietetic Interns analyzed more than 200 kid-oriented food products to see whether they would meet new WHO nutrition standards for advertising to children. Our goal is to publish the results in a leading peer-reviewed journal.

"It can be hard for kids to eat well in America today--and all the ads on TV don't help," says Jessica Almy. "Companies believe that Frosted Flakes, Happy Meals, and Fruit by the Foot are healthy enough to advertise to American kids. Our study looks at whether foods advertised to kids in the U.S. would meet WHO nutrition standards for Europe.

Recipe for Success Foundation is a valued partner in our shared efforts to protect children from unhealthy food ads," says Almy. "We are happy to have this opportunity to collaborate on this research project."  Visit the Center for Science in the Public Interest at

My Compliments to the Chef

Gracie Cavnar
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Banquet-chefs-banner-banquet.jpgRecipe for Success wouldn't be where it is today without the help of dozens of professional chefs who have donated time and treasure to help us create and sustain our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ programs.  Now in celebration of of first decade, the chefs are steping up again.

On May 19th a few lucky guests will gather at an exquisitely table set under the sparkling chandeliers of The Dunlavy to dine on a sumptuous ten-course Banquet prepared by ten iconic chefs, all founding members of the Recipe For Success Foundation's Chef's Advisory Board.  Chefs Bryan Caswell, Charles Clark, Robert Del Grande, Monica Pope, Ouisie, Randy Evans, Lance Fegan, Randy Rucker, Peter Garcia and John Sheely will each create a course for The Banquet, complimented by wines provided by Anna de Codorniu Cava Brut and Long Meadow Ranch and a craft beer curated by the brewmasters at Silver Eagle Distributors. Specialty gourmet items donated by DR Delicacies, D'Artagan and Sysco promise to tantalize the tastebuds during this unforgettable evening with music curated by Paul English. Tickets are $2,500 and limited to 100 guests and I hope you are one of them! Link to buy.

Life Around the Dinner Table

Gracie Cavnar
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Viv tackles a Turkey dinner.jpgNovember hosts America's most high profile meal, forever fixed in our mind's eye by Norman Rockwell, who used the Thanksgiving table to showcase his idea of a traditional family dinner. But contrary to national myth, our treasured Thanksgiving holiday wasn't handed down from the Pilgrims. It was a post-civil war effort of Abraham Lincoln's to promote national unity. Shared meals have that kind of power, not only to heal a nation, but also to build community and strengthen family ties.

Every one of us harbors powerful memories of family food traditions that are woven tightly into defining who we are as individuals and as part of our tribe. A look at the history of mealtime illuminates our progression from hunter-gatherers to agrarian life to workers in the industrial revolution to our present fast-paced, tech filled lives. As the way we secure food has changed, naturally so has the way we consume it. 10,000 years ago, killing a wild deer meant the entire community had to prepare and eat it together, or it went to waste, so shared meals were tied to our very survival. Now that we have so many choices for how we source our food--ranging from growing it ourselves to finding it on grocery shelves and in the drive-through, packaged in single servings--sharing is no longer mandatory, and sadly it's a tradition that many Americans have left behind. Not me!

I am sad to see meals demoted to something eaten on the run, jammed in between other activities. A lot has been lost along the way: conversation, communal tasks, leisurely consumption, and each of those missed opportunities has left a trail of unintended results. Researchers tell us that children who eat at least one home-prepared meal a day, while sitting around a table with their family, are less likely to have drug issues, tend to do better in school and are generally healthier.  At Recipe for Success Foundation, our students sit down to eat together after preparing food. Along the way, they learn sharing, teamwork and a little etiquette. Seems like a good enough reason for all of us to get back around a table for dinner.

My family's meal traditions are woven into my soul. Each memory makes me smile and salivate. I've passed many down to my own kids and grandkids: pulling them into the kitchen as soon as they could stand; teaching them to set the table and share their stories; picking dinner ingredients from the garden; preparing dishes their great grandmothers made alongside newer ones. At dinner is where we continue to bond through the generations with no topic of conversation off the table. It doesn't take a holiday like Thanksgiving to get my family to sit down for a lively meal together, but if you haven't tried, it's a good place to start.

Go Green

Gracie Cavnar
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FMK Pitch.jpegDid you know that domestic produce travels an average of 1,500 miles before making it to your local grocery store?

Every October 24, thousands of events all around the country bring Americans together to mark Food Day by celebrating real food, such as produce that is seasonal and locally grown. Another purpose of Food Day is to advocate for better food policy.

October 24 is a day to resolve to make changes in our own diets and to take action to solve food-related problems in our communities at the local, state, and national level. For 2015, Food Day planners are encouraging people worldwide to shift "Toward a Greener Diet" by seeking more locally grown real food.

Recipe for Success Foundation's engaging, free, downloadable farmers marKIDS curriculum offers a rewarding way for kids, teachers and parents to celebrate Food Day, joining in the nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Participating in the farmers marKIDS program not only connects entrepreneurial kids to a healthy, sustainable way to raise funds to support their gardens, it also makes fresh produce easily accessible to the surrounding neighborhood. Kids are encouraged to stage their farm stand the week of Food Day: October 20-26, during the nationally celebrated, annual farmers marKIDS DAYS.

We think a great way to green-up your diet is to buy homegrown produce from local neighborhood kids! We hope to see lots of Houston supporters come out to our farmers marKIDS stand at Discovery Green on October 24. Don't forget: All kids who participate in the program and register their market stands with us have a chance to win garden seeds, and farmers marKIDS who send in a photograph of their stand in operation will earn a chance to win up to $500 in garden supplies and be featured on the Recipe for Success Foundation blog, social networking sites and in media coverage. Just be sure to register and submit photos of your stand! Get your class, scout troop or family started with the free, downloadable farmers marKIDS toolkit, which includes five lesson plans to develop financial literacy, entrepreneurial skills and business experience.

Call Congress For Lunch

Gracie Cavnar
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good school lunch(1).jpgIronic that fall hosts both National Childhood Obesity Month in September and National School Lunch Week in October. It was the sad state of school food that snared my attention nearly twenty years ago, eventually inspiring the launch of Recipe for Success.

Our school hallways were filled with snack vending, and junk food concessions crowded the lunch line. These efforts to monetize poor eating choices among our youngest and most vulnerable were having a devastating effect. A deadly epidemic was spiraling out of control, (30% of American kids are obese.) Those in charge had perfectly plausible excuses: we are just giving the kids the food they prefer and therefore eat; the commissions and licensing fees are supporting our arts, our scoreboard, our music program; this is the best we can do on our limited budgets.

As many as 12 million American children eat their only meals of the day at school and 32 million eat school-provided lunch. For decades, the typical fare, bursting with sodium, fat and sugar, practically guaranteed poor health for the kids who depended on it. Something had to be done. Congress passed the Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 with bipartisan support with guidelines and incentives designed to deliver more fresh produce and whole grains, low fat dairy and portion control. "Oh, the sky is falling!" Reports on tossed food and student lunch line revolts flooded the airways. But according to a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey, 70% of the kids now report liking the new food. And districts that were enthusiastic early adapters have already begun to see impact on student waistlines.

In August, the Kellogg Foundation reported that two-thirds of Americans say the nutritional quality of food served in public school cafeterias is good--even excellent--up from 26 percent from 2010, before the new standards. And 93 percent of those surveyed believe that it is important to serve nutritious foods in schools to support children's health and capacity to learn.

You would think we might have rounded the corner on this issue. But there were and still remain lots of powerful companies with skin in the game. I have learned that when a great deal of money is involved, common sense rarely prevails. Some $52 billion a year is spent advertising junk food to kids--obviously a large target market, and school lunch contracts are very lucrative. Don't think these companies are going to take huge slashes in market share with a smile on their faces. No, they are now spending billions to
promote "free choice" and softening the standards--a lot of that money is being spent on
Capitol Hill.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is due for reauthorization by September 30, 2015. As consumers and parents, we must hold the line and fight for what is best for our kids--healthier school lunches. Call your U.S. Representative today and insist that Congress stand up for our kids, not for deep-pocketed junk food makers.

Happy Birthday to Us

Gracie Cavnar
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Recipe for Success Foundation-Changing the way our children eat with our signature Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program - 01.jpgAugust 5, 2015.  Today is Recipe for Success Foundation's tenth birthday, when the new non-profit I registered with the Secretary of State was officially acknowledged and our work could commence.  When I received that stamped document, I had a list in my hand of the projects I wanted to execute with this new foundation: teach kids to cook and garden, publish cookbooks for kids, create an urban farm in Houston and produce a kids cooking television show.  It was a lot, but I am a headstrong Gemini; I was confident in my vision, fueled by my passion and enabled by a generous grant from my husband, the support of my kids, the enthusiasm of my friends and the ability to work for free.

Ten years and 30,000+ kids later we are commencing today on a yearlong celebration of our roots while we plant the seeds of our future.  Throughout the year, we will be celebrating all those folks--family, friends, chefs, volunteers and patrons who have helped turn my dream into a reality. Before the year is out, we will have checked the box on each of those original projects--with some having grown to a national footprint beyond my wildest dreams, and we have added a few more to the list.  We aren't pausing, satisfied that our work is done, but we are taking the moment to reflect on that original vision and all that has gone into turning it into a real Recipe for Success!

By that summer of 2005, I had already been dancing around the edges of getting proactive for years after discovering to my horror the breathtaking rates of childhood obesity, especially in Texas.  I first worked to get soda machines removed from our elementary schools, and then I created the Recipe for Success initiative of our family foundation to launch informal talks among stakeholders in Houston to map out a possible solution plan that captured synergies.  There was lots of handwringing, plenty of ideas, not a lot of collaborative action.  I realized that I would need to be more than a yenta; I would have to jump in and do something.  That ignited my insatiable study of how other communities--at home and abroad--were addressing this issue and what the global experts and researchers were saying was at the root of the problem. I got my hands on Slow Food's Terre Madre curriculum for Italian children and Jamie Oliver's lesson plans for his London project and the Minister of Culture's outreach materials for French schoolchildren and I looked at Alice Water's nascent project in Berkley.  I read research studies and white papers like novels, including Robert Wood Johnson's comprehensive community action plan, developed with a national advisory group and the American Public Health Association and published in 2003.  It became my bible.

I didn't have a personal dog in the hunt, what I did have was a lot of time on my hands after retiring from decades of workaholic behavior, a personal passion for cooking, local food and gardening and the pleasure of seeing family and friends regularly around my dining table.   And after many years in the hospitality industry, I enjoyed friendships with loads of great chefs.  If I was going to get into this fight to make a difference, I knew that I had to connect my work to my passion.  When I discovered that of all the causes of childhood obesity--and there are many, the predominant, underlying issues were the changes in the food we eat and the way we eat it.  Cooking fresh food from scratch and sharing it around the table with family and friends--this was a campaign I could get behind and I knew just the group to add some spice to my efforts.

My first call very early on was to Monica Pope.  If I wanted to teach kids to cook, would you help me?  She likes to say now, that she really didn't think I would actually do anything, so it was easy to say yes.  But when I circled back in 2005 and said I was ready, she swung into action helping me convince other Houston chefs to join us.  Bob and I invited dozens of chefs and many of our friends to a Sunday brunch at our place, so I could tell everyone at once what our plan was.  YEAR ONE we're all neighbors invite.jpgMonica hosted a gathering in November at tafia for our new Houston First Lady, Andrea White's We Are All Neighbors outreach to Houston's community leaders to showcase Chefs in Schools™ the first project I planned to launch.  Monica, Claire Smith, Lance Fegan and Bryan Caswell prepared the lunch with food donated from Jolie Vue, Lowell Farms, Gunderson Farms, Bar N Ranch and Rio Grande Organics. Flat Creek Estate, Haak Vineyards and Texas Hills Vineyards poured their wines.

By December, fueled by those two gatherings, we had recruited a dozen folks to join our board of directors and twenty-five chefs to help: John Brock, Carolyn Carcassi, Bryan Caswell, Charles Clark, Louis Cressy, Robert del Grande, Randy Evans, Lance Fegan, Chris Garcia , Peter Garcia, Lauren Gockley, Jason Gould, Anita Jasinghani, Ouisie Jones, Al King, Sandra Mangini, Jim Manning, Veronica Ortiz, Monica Pope, Philippe Schmidt, John Sheely, Randy Rucker, Chris Shepherd, Claire Smith and Brendon Treanor.

All spring, while I worked with Linda Clarke--Mayor Bill White's Special Advisor for Education, to line up schools for our pilot program, we started raising money.  If Recipe for Success was going to be a public foundation, we needed 75% of our support to come from outside our family.  Cissy Segall Davis, jumped in to lend a hand with a series of special events I called We're Cooking Now, a gala in small bites.  The concept of a deconstructed gala made up of exquisite dinner parties in private homes was perhaps a reaction to the past decade during which Bob and I chaired and attended scores of galas, but it also exemplified the culture we wanted to promote and teach.  We produced a dozen small dinners individually hosted by Cathy Brock, Yvonne & Rufus Cormier, Franci Neely, Gayle & Mike DeGeurin, Sonny Garza, Phyllis Hand, Eileen & George Hricik, Karen & Mike Mayell, Phyllis Childress, Kim & Dan Tutcher, Andrea & Bill White and Bob & me, each featuring a headliner chef.  Two hundred donors came to dinner.  We finished that first year with money in the bank, a committed founding board of directors, dozens of chefs willing to help and a plan of action in hand.  It was the start of something big.Lynn Wyatt We're Cooking Now.jpg

Third and Goal

Gracie Cavnar
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Healthy Lunch.pngIn June, the Texas State Ag Commissioner rolled back progressive rules to support healthier lunches in Texas citing complaints by lunch providers that it was too difficult to meet the standard and that students rejected healthier options.  Well, that's not what the rest of the country is reporting, according to a recent survey by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  Hopefully Texas schools will stay the course and help our kids grow up healthier by rejecting poor nutritional options offered by the big food manufacturers.  But, it will be up to parents and concerned citizens to ensure this outcome.  We have seen ever and over again, its the squeeky wheel...

Eating Mindfully?

Gracie Cavnar
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Salad.JPGConcerned about how we are going to feed an exploding population AND make progress toward healthier diets? Wondering how you can positively impact a sustainable food system? We can all play a part--with our personal habits and daily descisions.  We have to walk the talk in our own lives. 

It's Déjà Vu All Over Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Help us #SaveSchoolLunch

Gracie Cavnar
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Over the past few years, the spiraling rate of childhood obesity has thrust the issue of school nutrition into a national spotlight. Nineteen million American school children, including 78% of Houston ISD students, receive free and reduced priced school meals, which are often their only meals of the day.  Until the new nutritional standards were mandated, the typical fare, bursting with sodium, fat and sugar, practically guaranteed poor health for the kids who depended on it. Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 with bipartisan support to help ensure that every American child has access to the nutrition they need to grow into healthy adults.  

Unfortunately, all of these efforts will be destroyed on Thursday if a House appropriations bill is approved that guts the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. It includes a waiver to allow schools to opt out of complying with all school meal standards if they are able to show any decline in revenue over six months, no matter what caused the decline. 

Rather than ensuring that lunch trays are loaded with fresh vegetables, fruit and whole grains and menus are low in sugar and sodium, we will throw the door open to invite junk food and high-calorie beverages right back into our school cafeterias, along with all the chronic poor health those foods guarantee.

This is unacceptable.  We want a healthy future for all American kids.  

Tell Congress to stop playing politics with our children's health. 

Photo credit:

It's a VeggieRiot!

Jenna White
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veggieriot.jpgDid you hear about the calamity that broke out in Houston this March? The 2014 VegOut! Challenge caused quite a ruckus!

Trouble viewing? Watch this video and more on our YouTube channel.

VegOut! on ABC-13 this March

Jenna White
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VegOut!-SharronMelton.jpgCould your kids learn to love veggies? That's the question posed by Channel 13's Sharron Melton, who found out that Recipe for Success Foundation and its supporters whole-heartily believe that YES, THEY COULD! She joined me to see Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ students in action and has taken an interest in our 2014 VegOut! Challenge, encouraging Houstonians citywide to eat 30 different vegetables within 30 days this March. 

Stay tuned for more VegOut! coverage to come, but catch a snippet of her story here:

Video clip originally posted here.

Veggies Still In Third Place

Gracie Cavnar
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food patterns.pngNPD Group, a market reaseach firm, recently released data showing that Americans are eating more fruit and drinking fewer carbonated beverages at home.  Of the five types of foods they measure--sandwiches, carbonated soft drinks, fruits, vegetables and milk, fruit climbed from #5 to #2 over the last ten years.  Veggie consumption remains stuck at #3.  And we know that for Americans, that vegetable is typically french fries.

Harry Balzer, an NPD spokesman, suggestd that since fruit requires little or no preparation and is self contained, it's easier to eat--just like a sandwich, the number one food.   "[The sandwich] is the number one food eaten at lunch; the number one main dish at dinner (hamburgers and hot dogs are included), and it's the fastest-growing breakfast food," Balzer says.

Although people care about their health, according to Balzer it's not the number one factor influencing their food choices. People are creatures of habit and their current eating habits have the greatest influence over their meals.  After that, "it's really a tossup between cost and convenience -- both are important," he says. "We like to try new versions of products we already know."

So, veggie sandwiches anyone?

Tips for a Healthy Halloween

Jenna White
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Gracie-flourkids.jpgThis week, Gracie weighed in on a heavy issue for a cover story in Houston Community News - avoiding processed, sugary treats during the holidays, starting with Halloween. It can be tricky, especially with kiddos, but is not an impossible feat! 

Read the full story by Kim Hogstrom in yesterday's Here Entertainment section of your Houston Community News or online here

Power Up for Back to School

Gracie Cavnar
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Joey makes Guacamole.JPGNew backpack--check. New shoes--check. Pens, paper, notebooks--check, check check. Kale--check. Wait a minute.  .  . kale?  Yes. That's right.  When the children go back to school this month, don't forget the brain food.

Resist the temptation to fall back on processed and fast foods when time gets tight.  It's the worst food for a young student's brain, impacting functions from short-term memory to learning capacity.  We've long known that our brains depend on essential vitamins and minerals to function well.  Now the experts maintain that the interior of the brain is just as integral to learning as the classroom environment with mounting evidence supporting a direct link between good nutrition and your child's ability to learn.

Here are my ten tips for boosting brainpower and sending your kids to school ready to learn:

  1. Start with a good breakfast.  In the morning rush, avoid canned breakfast drinks, cold/sugary cereals, doughnuts and the drive-through.  Stick to oatmeal, fresh fruits, low fat dairy and lean proteins.
  2. Eat a handful of walnuts or pecans every day.  Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, these nuts are a super brain food. Keep a bowl out on the counter to scoop up for a snack, toss into your salads and on veggies and chop to top fish or chicken before broiling.
  3. Offer blueberries, strawberries, pomegranate seeds and apples for desert and snacks.  Buy these high antioxidant fruits in season to keep them affordable.  A sack of apples costs less than a family sized bag of chips and powers up the brain.
  4. Use whole grain bread for sandwiches & toast.  I know kids love soft fluffy white bread, but the highly processed flour might as well be candy for its brain effect.
  5. Switch to brown rice as a side dish or added into soups and stews.  It's a great injection of Vitamin B to support good brain activity.   
  6. Keep kale chips on the counter. Kale is the ultimate super food, affordable all year long and kids love it as a crunchy snack.  You don't have to break the news that the chips are a healthy choice. 
  7. Offer whole oranges and grapefruit instead of juice.  These citrus fruits are vitamin-packed but lose their punch and fiber when reduced to juice.  What better portable breakfast, desert or snack?
  8. Replace shortening, vegetable oil and butter with olive oil.  We have all heard for years about the dangers of fats, but olive oil is rich in Omega-3s and a brain builder.
  9. Drink tea instead of carbonated beverages.  Hot or cold, tea is packed with flavenoids, which boost brain function.  Use honey to avoid the sugar blues.
  10. Use lots of green fruits and veggies--especially artichokes, avocados, spinach, asparagus and olives--on sandwiches, in salads, soups, even scrambled eggs.

Every one of these tactics will boost your child's school readiness.  But, don't bite off more than you can chew, get overwhelmed and throw in the towel.  Introduce one new idea a week until you work up to all ten.  By Thanksgiving, the kids will be firing on all pistons.

My tips for breakfast:

Oatmeal is one of the best ways to start the day, but it takes a long time to make.  I have found a great shortcut and time saver:  Before going to bed, I bring 4 cups of water, 1 cup of steelcut oats and a pinch of salt to a boil in a pot; put the lid on and turn the stove off.  Next morning, I wake up to perfectly cooked oatmeal, scoop out a cup, zap it in the micro for 45 seconds, mash in a ripe banana and add a pinch of cinnamon.  Viola!  a fast, nutritious breakfast.  Cook enough oatmeal on Sunday night to last the entire week, store it in the fridge, and dip out daily servings.

My tips for switching to whole grain bread:

Start with a whole-wheat version that's slightly sweeter, like honey & oats or one of the white whole wheat breads on the market.  Make sure that the ingredient list begins with names of whole grains and that you are avoiding corn syrup.  Consider spending a rainy Sunday afternoon making whole wheat bread from scratch with your kids.  Besides having fun together playing with dough, they are far more likely to eat something they have made.

My tips for kale chips:

At our house, I make kale chips every night and by the next afternoon they've disappeared.   Take a fresh head of kale, tear the leaves off of their spines in handfuls and collect them in a bowl.  Rinse the torn leaves well and blot dry.  Drizzle olive oil over the torn leaves and toss with your hands to coat them evenly.  Spread the leaves in a single layer onto cookie sheets and sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese and put in an 180° oven overnight.  The next morning, lightly sprinkle the crispy chips with a bit of salt and enjoy!

My tips for getting the kids to eat green:

It can be hard to get our kids to eat their green fruits and veggies, which tend to be the least sweet of all foods.  This is where combining them with foods they love is the better part of valor, even if it's ranch dressing.  Just make sure there is more veggie than coating!  It's better to avoid mandates like "eat your vegetables," which only turn kids off the concept and fortify their resistance.  This is where involving your kids in cooking really pays off.

My five year-old grandson spent a month with us this summer, and I had him in the kitchen everyday.  Each session would start with an exchange like this:

"Is it vegables? I don't like vegables. I don't like avocados. I don't like tomatoes."

"Did you know that avocados and tomatoes make great muscles so we can run faster?  Lets mash some up."

"Oh, this looks like guacamole.  I love guacamole! Can we have chips?" 

"Why don't we dip our carrots in it?"

"OK.  Hey! I love avocadoes!"

By the end of the month he was saying, I love about everything from peas to zucchini, but he still insisted that he didn't like vegables.

Gracie weighs in at

Jenna White
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FoodDay.jpgI just spent this spectacular May morning in an elementary classroom surrounded by dozens of excited second graders who were busily putting their creative spin on whole-wheat quesadillas so their team could impress the judges enough to win the Recipe for Success Iron Chef competition.  This final step earns each of them a coveted "RFS Kid Chef" award.

The judges--the Ft. Bend County ISD superintendent and four colleagues from the district HQ--took their jobs very seriously.  But, they couldn't help grinning as they listened to each team's earnest presentation and tasted their dish.  The kids talked about how they made their recipe special, what they loved to cook at home and their plans for summer gardens and dinner menus.  They listed their favorite fruits and veggies--things like kale and Brussels sprouts.  They patiently explained to the judges the fractions and multiplication required to adjust recipes to feed more people and wished the judges "Bon Appétit!"

Over the course of a year in our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education ™ program, these youngsters have become knowledgeable cooks, easily familiar with a host of fresh produce that they now love.  And that's why I created Recipe for Success Foundation in 2005--to change the way children eat.

In 2005, there were no smiling, supportive school administrators or generous funders.  I was greeted with crossed arms and skepticism when I insisted that I could get kids to freely choose healthier foods.  So, my family donated the seed money and time to get the Foundation started and I negotiated with principals at six schools to allow me to roll portable cooking carts into fourth grade classrooms and deliver my program for free. With the help of two-dozen of our city's finest chefs who volunteered to help, we began turning kids on to the magical adventure of real food.  

Since then, we have empowered over 20,000 children in pre-K through fifth grade with the knowledge and skills to support a lifetime of healthy eating.  The kids plant the seeds, grow and harvest the produce, transform it into scrumptious dishes, set the table and sit down to share the meal with their classmates.  Along the way they learn math, science, language arts and social studies, plus a little teamwork, sharing and etiquette.  After just one school year in our program--20 lessons in the garden and kitchen--participating kids are eating an average of 30% more fresh fruits and vegetables and they are willing to try unfamiliar foods.

We designed, tested, measured and codified this engaging, hands-on learning with over 320 lesson plans that link the garden and kitchen along with complementary grade-specific lessons in core curriculum subjects that are aligned to TEKS and Common Core.  At the request of the federal administration in 2010, we created, tested and launched an Affiliate Partner program to train and support schools across the country that want to implement our proven-effective Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™.  It is now available nationwide and meeting with robust enthusiasm.

No one's arms are crossed anymore.

This article originally post on Food Day's blog at Find it here.

Take a Page From Anti-Smoking

Gracie Cavnar
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stop-smoking.jpgBack in 1956, 57% of American men were smokers, and that year alone, 29,000 of them died from lung cancer. You hear that now and it seems . . . . mindboggling.

In fifty-seven years we have slashed the smoking rate to 18.9%. The fix was multi-layered and hard won over decades: school-based education; reducing minors access; healthcare provider counseling; increased excise taxes; warning labels; restricting or eliminating advertising--especially directed at youth; and establishing indoors as a smoke free zone.  Nowadays all that seems like just common sense.

But, because of the billions of dollars wielded by tobacco companies and their influence on lawmakers and the market, because everyone was in denial about the negative health effects and because the industry's continued to insist that nicotine was not addictive, these rational controls took nearly sixty years to finally get right.
In the meantime, over 22 million Americans lost their lives because of smoking.

We've seen this situation play out time and time again. From controlling drug and alcohol consumption, to mandating seat belts and establishing OSHA, ultimately, after years of needless injury, death and chronic disease, people come to their senses and fix the problem.

And it's time to do just that with the obesity epidemic.

Where Is The Outrage?

Gracie Cavnar
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junk or apple?.jpegWe have been saturated in recent weeks with new books that are filled with insider information and facts illuminating a decades long effort by an industry that reaps billions in profits to create and sustain the American people's lifelong dependency on a high calorie, low nutrition diet of junk food.  That processed food diet may be fast, affordable and easy, but it is now killing us off by the hundreds of thousands while costing taxpayers and employers billions of dollars thanks to the chronic disease it fosters.  So, we are poisoning our children and ourselves and paying for the pleasure, and we can no longer claim we didnt know.

Young children who don't yet have the skills to differentiate between promotion and facts are bombarded by $1.6 billion in junk food advertising every year.   Still efforts to manage access for children, or limit advertising to them, or control portion sizes or labeling, are all stalled--mired in politics and awash in lobbying dollars to prevent them.

Do we sit so idly by and allow our babies unfettered access to tobacco, drugs and alcohol?  Do we offer our toddlers a line of cocaine or a swig of scotch the way we so blithely pass out pop tarts and Cheetos?  It's time we started treating junk food as the controlled substance that it should be.

Fact is that the food companies have learned how to create hyper-palatable cuisine that looks just like the healthier stuff we used to eat.  The change in our diet has crept into our everyday lives slowly over the last forty years while we weren't looking. It's time to start looking, asking questions, reading the labels and demanding a stop to the slow poisoning of an entire generation. It's time to say "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" and insist that our policy makers establish controls that help us stay informed and protect our children.

And, we need to take back control in our own homes:  Turn off the ads, close the door on the promotional bribery of our kids, and vote with our wallets.  Simply quit buying the junk.  Cold Turkey.  A profit-driven industry will give us what we demand.  For the sake of our children, it's time we demanded healthier food.

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.

"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.

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?

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

Gracie Cavnar
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See the full episode at
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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Help Us Get the Truck Rolling!

Gracie Cavnar
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Rolling GreenTruck no logo.jpg

"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.

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.

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:

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.

Two Steps Forward; One Step Back

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

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

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Funding Opportunities

Recipe for Success
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UnitedHealth HEROES

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

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

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

Field Trip Grants from Target

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

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

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

The Devil is in the Details

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's Move with Beyonce

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

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

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

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

Academic performance will decrease.

Texas will have greater health care costs.

Myth Busting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

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

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

Read further about the bill and its effects.

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

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

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

Celebrate National School Lunch Week With a Boycott!

Gracie Cavnar
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Let Your Voice Be Heard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida may ban sugary drinks from public schools - Orlando Sentinel

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

Read here about what's happening in Florida now.

Report: Obesity hurts your wallet and your health

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

For all the details, read the AP report here

School meals study provides food for thought

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

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

New Study Links Early Soda Consumption with Lifetime Weight Issues

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

By Jennifer Sygo, National Post

Extracted from the full story:

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

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

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

Read the whole story here.