Recently in Food for Thought Category

Volunteer of the Month - August 2015

Vote 0 Votes

We are proud to recognize Alicia May as our Vounteer of the Month! Alicua volunteers at MacGregor Elementary and Briscoe Elementary and at our RecipeHouse Summer Camps. We asked Alicia a few questions about her experiences and the things she loves about volunteering with Recipe for Success.  

Summer Camp_AlicialMay_LoRes.jpeg

 What sparked your interest to volunteer with Recipe for Success?

Alicia: Recipe for Success jumped out at me because it's everything I love. I'm a retired teacher so it gets me back into the classroom. I love to cook, I love to garden, so it just encompassed everything I enjoy. Being new to Houston, it was a nice way to meet people.

What keeps you coming back week after week? You're our summer camp MVP signing up every week. What about what we're doing gets you jazzed?

Alicia: It's just how happy the children are. A lot of kids don't like vegetables. I know parents are sending their kids to the camps so they can learn more about food, and maybe the kids are hesitant to try new foods, but Recipe for Success is doing a great job of getting them to try their vegetables and making it fun. There's the odd child that pouts in the back once in a while, but most of the time they all have smiles on their faces the entire time. They're happy at camp. I'm doing what I love, it's a small classroom setting, and I don't mind doing the dishes, because interacting with the great instructors and the children - it's a positive thing during my day. 

There are also no electronic devices. It's good old-fashioned learning, hands on, touching, feeling, smelling! During the school year, they're in the classroom all day -- smelling is not part of learning in the classroom. This brings a whole new dimension to their learning.

 What's your favorite memory / story thus far? 

Alicia: For all the school classes, you can see the weight off their shoulders in the classroom. It's completely different, no pressure, they're using a completely different part of their brain, and you can just see the, ''ahhh" on all of them. There was even a child who obviously had tactile issues - it was at Briscoe - and some of the food he couldn't touch. You could see his anxiety level rise and he would go sit down. But he still participated and it still flowed even though you could see he was stressing out. He would gently go sit down compose himself, come back and no one would make a big deal about it.

It's Recipe for Success' 10th Birthday: where would you like to see the organization in another 10 years?

Alicia: Ideally, in every school. The children get so much from this. The US has become so international and it just comes together over food. The best diplomacy has been conquered over food. Food brings everyone together. It's great to see all these new tastes for the children and it opens their world. A certain smell will remind them, oh this is India! Or this is Greece! They don't even have to be eating the food, they can just walk past a restaurant and they'll say, "hmm, I know that smell!"

Thank you, Alicia, for your consistent commitment and support!

Interested in volunteering with us? Email us! 

Why We Are Front & Center @Bayou Green Day

Vote 0 Votes

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

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

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


Vote 0 Votes


School is back in swing and cooler days are on the way, which means it's also nearly time to for national Food Day. Founded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day is a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food. Since its inception Recipe for Success Foundation has coordinated a variety of engaging activities each year centered around Food Day on October 24.

This year, we've cooked up a fun and easy way for all of Houston to get involved: Houston Digs Real Food. On Friday, October 24, 2014, folks citywide will show their support of fresh, sustainable produce and eating local by planting their very own veggie seeds. Our friends at Botanical Interests have even donated seed packets for everyone who wants to participate. Get your school, company, family or group of friends together to be a part of the first annual Houston Digs Real Food planting! And don't forget to share with us on social media: #HoustonDigsRealFood.

For more details and to take part in Houston Digs Real Food, email


Junk Food Marketing a Niños

Vote 0 Votes

The Center for Digital Democracy has created a new infographic that shows how food and beverage companies target Hispanic youth with digital marketing for unhealthy food and beverage products. Think on these unappetizing numbers, then share with your networks! 


Next Stop: A Healthier Generation

Vote 0 Votes

The road to providing healthy foods in our nation's schools began in 1946 and continues today.  From its origin in the 40's, the legislation concerning school foods has been developed to regulate what schools can and cannot feed students to ensure maximum health. 

FoodMarketing-VendingMachines.jpgCracking Down on Junk Food in Schools
In 2010 the
Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act was passed, which allowed further regulation of school meals as well as a way to regulate snacks offered in schools.  The "All Foods Sold in Schools" standards released in addition to the 2010 Act mandated that vending machines and other sources of "junk foods" be unavailable to students during the school day.  Any food available to students must meet several nutrition requirements including being "whole grain-rich"; having a fruit, vegetable, dairy product, or protein as the first ingredient; containing 10% of the Daily Value of one nutrient of public health concern; and limiting calorie, sodium, fat, and sugar levels. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act also requires schools to implement a local wellness policy to oversee healthy practices. Recently, the USDA proposed further guidelines for implementation of these wellness policies. 

Embracing Wellness on Campus
Under the proposed rule, each local educational agency participating in the school lunch program must create a written wellness policy detailing specific goals for nutrition promotion, nutrition education, physical activity, and other activities to promote student wellness. Each agency must establish leadership for the wellness policy including school officials and members of the general public must be permitted to participate in the process. The policy must ensure that each school is abiding by requirements stated under the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act and the Smart Snacks in School standards. 

Next Up: No More Junk Food Marketing in Schools
Additionally, the rule limits marketing in schools to only that which promotes foods that meet the nutrition standards discussed above.  Until now, marketing has not been regulated which, some say, can undermine parents' attempts to encourage healthy choices by kids.  The idea here is to "ensure that schools remain a safe place where kids can learn and where the school environment promotes healthy choices," states USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. 

The proposed rule is currently open for public comment specifically concerning this marketing component. The USDA wants to hear our thoughts and ideas about this.  If you wish to join the fight for a healthier school environment please make your voice heard.  The comment period will end April 28. 

Speak out about this critial issue hereLearn more about the proposed policies at

Health Tied to Success

Vote 0 Votes

5-a-day winner celebrates.jpg Fitness, nutrition, proper sleep and TV restrictions appeared to make a difference at school according to a study of city kids

SATURDAY, Feb. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and being physically fit are important for students' success in school, a new study suggests.

When students' home and school environments support their physical health and well-being, they perform better academically, the researchers found, so programs in and out of the classroom to promote healthy behavior may be a smart investment.

The study looked at survey results and district test scores of 940 fifth- and sixth-grade students attending 12 randomly selected schools in New Haven, Conn., a poor and ethnically diverse city.

Researchers also assessed the students' physical fitness three to six months before they were tested and again after the scores of the standardized tests were released.

Students with environments that supported their physical health were more likely to reach their target scores in reading, writing and math. They were more than twice as likely to achieve this academic success than students whose environments supported their health the least, the investigators found. However, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The study, published online recently in the Journal of School Health, revealed health factors that were linked to improved test scores in the children, including the following:

  • Not having a television in the bedroom
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Being physically fit
  • Having access to healthy foods
  • Rarely eating fast food
  • Not drinking sugary drinks, such as soda
  • Getting enough sleep

"Many urban families sadly face the harsh challenges of persistent poverty," study lead author Jeannette Ickovics, a professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, said in a Yale news release.

"Health and social disparities, including academic achievement, are increasing," said Ickovics, also director of the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement, a research program at the Yale School of Public Health.

"One way to reduce disparities and close the equity gaps in health and education is to coordinate community and family-based efforts with comprehensive school-based approaches," she concluded in the news release.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the link between health and academic success.

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, Feb. 17, 2014

Problem In Aisle One

Vote 0 Votes

grocery blog entry.jpgA recent study by Johns Hopkins compared grocery and food access across the spectrum to test popular thinking that healthy choices improved as families worked thier way up the economic ladder.  The findings might surprise you.  We already knew that poor, racially segregated black neighborhoods lack supermarkets and the study reconfirmed that.  But the small grocery stores they do have offer very few healthy products, instead favoring high fat, salt and sugary foods on their shelves.  Though segregated Hispanic neighborhoods also have fewer supermarkets, their small gracers tend to stock healthier items.  Even more shocking are stats reflect that even wealthier black neighborhoods have far fewer super markets and healthy grocery options than poor white neighborhoods.  You can read more about the study in a recent LA Times story or in the Preventive Medicine journal.

As we prioritize efforts to provide healthier options for all our neighbors, perhaps we need to consider more than affluence and the fact that you can't simlply provide healthier options, people need to buy them.  By identifying cultural favorites that are poor nutritional choices and working to educate folks on how to prepare them in a healthier way, we can influence the market.  This is one of the things we do at Recipe for Success Foundation in our work with kids and their families.  We rely on ideas like our friend Lindsey Williams suggested in his book Neo Soul: Taking Soul Food to a Whole 'Nutha Level.  No one said you can't ever have red beans and rice again, just consider making it with smoked turkey sausage and maybe serving it with a green salad.

Food Show Comes Up Short

Vote 0 Votes

FoodShowFlyer.jpgby Sarah Tanner, Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education Program Coordinator

Last week Houston ISD hosted its first-ever, district-wide Nutrition Innovation Food Show.  Allowing students, parents, and community members to have a chance to taste-test new products and ask questions of food suppliers was a step in the right direction.  However, the show left one wondering where all the truly nutritious foods were.  The only product that resembled something grown in the ground was pre-diced white potatoes!  Other fruits and vegetables were freeze-dried, packed in salty water, or pureed into a colorful pouch.  It is disappointing that HISD is reinforcing the idea that children will only accept fruits and vegetables after processing them to an unrecognizable form.

Beyond fruits and vegetables, vendors provided samples of many of the ready-made meals that are served in school cafeterias.  Most foods were touted as low-fat or whole grain, but a closer look at the ingredient lists filled with added sugar and unpronounceable ingredients are still a cause for concern.  Of course, until schools have more money to spend on school lunches, utilizing frozen foods and some level of preservatives is necessary.  However, one vendor was more than ready to explain how chemical dyes are used so their food would more closely resemble the fried food students are accustomed to!  That certainly doesn't seem necessary.

A concerted effort has obviously been made to reduce calories, but vendors (and the schools they sell to) are still missing the point.  Until schools are able to provide whole ingredients and fresh fruits and vegetables, the nutritional needs of students are not being met.

SNAP, the Farm Bill & Kids

Vote 0 Votes

"Members of Congress are working to reauthorize the Farm Bill, legislation that provides funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, formerly known as food stamps, and for the SNAP education program. Drastic cuts to SNAP are on the table in the Farm Bill and nearly half of all SNAP participants are children. If Congress cuts funding for this poverty relieving program..."

Read the complete post by Clay Dunn at

Thumbnail image for Infographic-CutstoSNAP.jpg

The Caloric Gap can be closed

Vote 0 Votes

Many of our nation's children dealing with obesity are the very same youngsters who face hunger, as poverty leaves their parents only with the option to stretch food dollars by purchasing cheap processed "junkie" foods that are high in sugar, fat and sodium and low in nutritional value. Learn more about how food policies are shaping the state of hunger in America.

infographic-caloricgap.jpgView original post by Cargil here

Have a Minute?

Vote 0 Votes

PJ-BQ601A_DINNE_G_20130917221816.jpgNew studies show that spending an extra 3 1/2 minutes at dinner with your family has a direct effect on obesity and health.  Early-on we learned that it takes thirty minutes for your stomach to communicate to your brain that it's full.  But in this fast food nation, we dont spend thirty minutes eating.  No wonder we consume too many calories!  One of the important aspects of the Recipe for Success Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education is classes sitting down together to share the dish they have just prepared.  We are trying to instill an appreciation for the custom of shared meals.   American families now spend an average of just sixteen and a half minutes eating dinner together.  (That is if they sit down at all.)   But as The Wall Street Journal reports, closer to twenty minutes sharing a meal at the table, along with having a real conversation while you're at it, makes a real difference.  Watch the report and read more.

Chipotle Goes After Big Food

Vote 0 Votes

chipotle scarecrowBravo to our generous sponsor Chipotle for shining a spotlight on the growing issue of overmedicated factory beef in their short film The Scarecrow.  Read the full story by Eliza Barclay in the salt.

Scientific American Weighs In

Vote 0 Votes

Happy salad eating kid.jpgWe are delighted to learn that the venerable Scientific American has pulled their chair up to the table and begun a regular blog and column called "Food Matters."  In their first article, Patrick Mustain maintains that "It Is Not True That Kids Won't Eat Healthy Food: Why The New USDA School Food Guidelines Are Very Necessary."  We couldn't agree more . . .but read for yourself and let us know your thoughts on the new school lunch guidelines.

TX Lawmakers Undermine Health

Vote 0 Votes

junk-food.jpgIn a recent article by Marion Nestle, a nationally respected food policy expert, some heavy news for childhood obesity battle in Texas:  "The Texas governor signed a bill this summer that was supposed to allow Texas high school students to buy "competitive" (because they compete with federally funded school meals) fast foods.  But a mistake in the wording allows them to buy "foods of minimal nutritional value"--candy, sodas, and the like in conflict with long-standing USDA regulations."  Read more.

And a more indepth look at this fiasco by Bettina Siegal on The Lunch Tray who broke the story.  Time for concerned citizens to reach out to our legislators and remind them that our children's health is more important than the financial health of junk food maker and sellers.

This is a huge setback in our work to make school meals healthier for all our kids.  To think that under Susan Combs as Texas Agricultural Commissioner, Texas was one of the first states to ban vending machines and foods of minimal nutritional value in our elementary schools statewide.

Prevention Means Business

Vote 0 Votes


Supporting a healthy workforce is a good business decision and we love seeing the numbers expressed so clearly.  At Recipe for Success we offer support for companies that are interested in teaching employees how to make healthy eating decisions by offering our popular cooking classes in a variety of forms. 

Learn more about our Worksite Wellness programming here.

Yuck: A Short on School Lunch

Vote 0 Votes


Ever wondered what's actually served in school lunchrooms? Or maybe based on what you remember from your own childhood, you're afraid to think about it. In this amusing yet telling 20-minute documentary, a brave kid filmmaker goes undercover to reveal the truth about the food service program at his elementary school. Even for those with an idea of the issues surrounding school lunches, it's surprising to see how little his actual daily meals reflect the tasty-sounding menu descriptions posted online. Take a peek!

Yuck: A 4th Grader's Short Documentary About School Lunch from Maxwell Project on Vimeo.

School Meal Rules Cut Obesity

Vote 0 Votes

An Apple a Day.jpg"New federal school lunch regulations that require more servings of fruits and vegetables, more whole-grain content, less salt and fat, and limits on calories could yield a legion of children from low-income families who escape a trend of childhood obesity.

A study published Monday online in JAMA Pediatrics looked at states that cracked down on the content of school meals even before new federal school meal standards, which took effect this school year. A smaller share of students who received free or reduced-price lunches that had to meet these higher nutritional standards--about 12 percent--were overweight than was the case for students who did not eat school lunches." 

Read more in this article for Education Week by Nirva Shah

Having Some Veg Fun

Vote 0 Votes

Justin Timberlake VegOut.jpgWatch Justin Timberlake on Saturday Night Live having some fun with VegOut!

Betcha Can't Eat Just One!

Vote 0 Votes

24sugar1-articleLarge-v3.pngThere is a reason we advocate shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and keeping clear of those middle aisles packed with packaged foods.  Over 10,000 new processed food products hit the market every year and there is a billion dollar industry focused on selling them to us.  In his New York Times Magazine article, "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food," journalist Michael Moss uncovers the frightening facts: Scientists have been creating new "foods" that actually cause us to overeat.  Food companies are knowingly flooding the market and making millions of dollars on calorie-dense, nutritionally deficient foods that are cheap to make and that even the strongest among us can't resist.  It's killing us.  Read the entire story here.

Knowledge=Behavior? No.

Vote 0 Votes

Lots to lose.jpgIf we all know that eating healthier food and exercising extends our lives, prevents many catostrophic illnesses and makes us smarter and feel better, then why don't we do it?  The conundrum for advocates. Knowledge on its own does not change behavior.

Board Member Weighs In

Vote 0 Votes

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

Kids Who Cook are Hungrier for Healthier Food Choices

Vote 0 Votes

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

Here are the latest scientific findings that reinforce the reasoning behind our work:

Actions Vs. Words

Vote 0 Votes
Thumbnail image for girlscouts_make_pasta.jpg"Actions speak louder than words." An age-old adage that rings even more true when it involves the terminology that surrounds the contentious topic of childhood obesity. Stanford University's Scope Blog discusses the recently published reports that advise health professionals on how they should approach describing a child's obesity issue with the child and his or her parents.

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

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

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

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

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

Obesity: global public health challenge or investment opportunity?

Vote 0 Votes
With thanks to Marion Nestle who first reported on this in her Food Politics blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nickelodeon News

Vote 0 Votes
tv-flowers-lg.jpgNickelodeon and frozen vegetable distributor Birds Eye are teaming up to "empower kids to embrace a healthier diet by eating more vegetables." With Jennette McCurdy, star of the popular series iCarly, as the spokesperson, this campaign for healthier kids provides a breath of fresh air in a marketing industry that regularly pushes the more profitable high sugar, high fat snack foods to young audiences.

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

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

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

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

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

Treatment Vs. Prevention

Vote 0 Votes
In a society where it is much more lucrative to treat an ailment rather than to try and prevent it, we have become complacent with the same old health routines because that is what is presented to us as the only or best option.

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

Too Much

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

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

Too Little

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

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

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

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

Gone in a SNAP

Vote 0 Votes
kidscooking.jpgAt the beginning of this year, cafeterias across the nation celebrated as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a move towards healthier school lunches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you thoughts on the newly proposed budget cuts?

AMA Joins in National Obesity Prevention Education

Vote 0 Votes
Obesity has become a national public health issue, no longer just affecting the individuals who are deemed overweight. With skyrocketing health care costs due to obesity related chronic diseases, this issue now affects the nation's pocketbook, not to mention a chilling outlook for the health and longevity of our young generation. Most children's eating habits are formed by the time they reach the fourth grade, so it is imperative to positively influence their diet and lifestyle at an early age.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote 0 Votes
Mickey Mouse is throwing a dinner party. Junk foods are not invited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mythbusters: Reading Between the Price Tags

Vote 0 Votes
5:21mythbustersblog.jpgThe widely accepted mantra that healthy food is more expensive than junk food has officially been squashed by new USDA research. With the pervasive fear of a rising grocery bill one of the main reasons why more people don't buy fresh, healthy produce, eaters everywhere will be pleasantly surprised to find out that delicious meals can be both affordable and nutritious, a combination that families nationwide try to achieve when setting the dinner table.

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

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

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

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

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

How will you adjust your grocery list?

Stealthy Sugars

Vote 0 Votes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunshine Smoothies

Yield: 4-6 tastings


1 cup                       orange juice, fresh squeezed

¾ cup                      fresh or frozen cantaloupe

1                              fresh or frozen banana

½ cup                      plain yogurt

½ tablespoon           honey

                                frozen grapes for garnish


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


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

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

Vote 0 Votes
School Nutrition Employee Week, May 7-11, seems to carry even more significance than usual this year, with lunchrooms at the center of national news regarding issues such as the pink slime debate Huffington Post Pink Slime for Lunch and also, in a more positive light, the current school lunch regulations USDA school lunch regulations. With the cafeteria in the spotlight - whether it's for positive or negative coverage - it's easy to get caught up in the national conversation and broad-spectrum issues, but for at least this one week (and all the rest of the school year, for that matter) we should take a step back and salute our school nutrition employees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously Salty

Vote 0 Votes
"Civilization was built on salt. Salt is transformative, its commonness, deceiving. Unlike most ingredients, it doesn't just add it's own flavor, making something saltier; it changes the very flavor profile of the thing itself..." -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redefining the Happy Meal

Vote 0 Votes
In response to a 2010 proposed class-action lawsuit (that was recently dismissed), McDonald's spokeswoman Danya Proud stated "We stand on our 30-year track record of providing a fun experience for kids and families at McDonald's." The word "fun," in this case, refers to the familiar toy that comes in every Happy Meal, a big draw for children when they are choosing where and what they want to eat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

USDA Hires National Director Deborah Kane for Farm to School Program

Vote 0 Votes
The USDA took another step in the right direction with the hire of Deborah Kane as national director for the Farm to School Program. Recognized by the White House as a "Champion of Change" for her work in regional food system development, Kane will join a team that is already working towards expanding the programming and increasing access to fresh foods.

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

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

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

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

Vote 0 Votes
While I normally post blog entries about gardening with children, I felt it was important to bring some attention to a serious problem here in Houston: food deserts.  A food desert is a neighborhood or community that lacks access to fairly priced, quality, and healthy food items, particularly produce.  These communities tend to be in low-income areas, where unhealthy food choices abound, such as fast food (cheap, but high in fat, sugars, and calories), and convenience, corner, and liquor stores (where food is prepackaged, such as chips and soda, and produce is overpriced, frequently not available, and/or of poor quality).   The nearest grocery store may be miles away, and for people who don't own a car, it may mean taking the bus with a transfer to reach that store--clearly limiting many families from accessing fresh foods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


An Obesity Update from the Center for Disease Control

Vote 0 Votes
The take away from the CDC briefing, as far as NEXT STEPS.  Notice in bold--to increase fruit and vegetable intake-- is precisely the focus of RFS.

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

Read or listen to the entire briefing:

Rednecks and Wilting Lilies, by Chef Monica Pope

Vote 0 Votes
When people ask me what it was like to be invited to the White House by Michelle Obama, I tell them, "It was HOT!"  I do mean that figuratively, but mostly literally. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote 0 Votes
According to a recent report by UCLA School of Public Health . . .

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


PepsiCo to Fund Nutritional Science Fellowship at Yale | Sustainable Food |

Vote 0 Votes
How do you feel about the wolf building the hen house?  This partnership is just that latest in a long tradition of interesting research marriages.

Survey Reveals Parents Want Schools to Limit Access to Junk Food, Improve Physical Activity - News digest - Childhood Obesity newsroom - Childhood Obesity - RWJF

Vote 0 Votes
Results of this Robert Wood Johnson survey tells policy makers what we parents have been saying all along.

Time to Act on the Food Safety Bill Contact Your Senator Today--See How . . .

Vote 0 Votes
Follow this link for directions for how to best communicate with your elected officials about this bill and make sure that small organic family farms are protected.

A White House Chef Who Wears Two Hats -

Vote 0 Votes

Sam Kass is our advocate within the White House. Go Sam!

Report Shows Least Nutritious Cereals Are Heavily Marketed to Children - News digest from RWJF

Vote 0 Votes
I have always said that powerful marketing forces are driving our current eating patterns and all good marketers know that it is less expensive to entice a custumer for life at 6 years old than at 60.  That's why the results of this RWJF study are not surprising.  Knowing how powerful marketing is, Recipe for Success constantly endeavors to secure good market position for healthy lifestyles by consistent reinforcement of our message: "Healthy food is fun."

Study Shows a Little Money Buys a Lot of Calories at City Corner Stores - RWJF

Vote 0 Votes
Recipe for Success is teaching children about making healthier food choices, but often they find no choice in their home environment. It is critically important to offer alternatives in the places that children shop.  To compound this issue, often a corner convenience store is the only food source for an entire neighborhood, creating what is now being called a "food desert."  Encouraging participation in community gardens so people can grow their own fresh produce, along with providing a more diverse product lines in these bodegas will help provide healthier food options to more families.

USDA Pushes Farmers Markets As Fresh Alternative : NPR

Vote 0 Votes

New York Times recently delved into the problems with lunch.

Vote 0 Votes

The White House Victory Garden Works for All the Right Reasons

Vote 0 Votes

I love the slogan on the side of Central Market's reusable shopping bag . . .

Vote 0 Votes

"Chew With Your Mind Open" I couldn't have said it better myself. We are most thankful to Central Market for underwriting all of the wonderful gourmet ingredients that have powered our chef's creative menus for Small Bites this year. Make sure to thank them yourself next time you stop in at their 3815 Westheimer location to shop!

NY Times Magazine Feature Captures the Whole Enchilada

Vote 0 Votes
When people ask for my opinion regarding the cause of our current obesity epidemic among American children, my answer? It is a perfect storm of colliding cultural and agribusiness factors.  Nowhere have I seen the whole scenario laid out better than in the New York Times Magazine cover story by Michael Pollan that appeared on January 28, 2007:  The Age of Nutritionism.

The causes may be complex, but according to Pollan, the solution is simple:  Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

I couldn't agree more.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Food for Thought category.

Family Bites is the previous category.

Seed-To-Plate is the next category.

Look in the archives to find all content.