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Houston 'Recipe for Success' Initiative Teaches Children New Way to Eat Healthy

November 26, 2013

Recipe for Success (RFS) was born of founder Gracie Cavnar’s concern about marketing “junk food” to children in school settings. Through her involvement in the effort to prohibit student access to vending machines in elementary schools (in 2003 Texas passed legislation to do so) Cavnar learned more about childhood obesity, and started to look for ways that she could help. After talking to a variety of stakeholders and investigating a variety of different initiatives, Cavnar decided to launch her own program – one that didn’t replicate existing programs and was adaptable by different communities. She focused on elementary schoolchildren, because research suggests that weight patterns and food attitudes are set by age 11. After that you’re working not to establish but to change behaviors.

Recipe for Success (RFS) began in 2005, with the goal of actively changing the way children eat. Since 2005, RFS’ Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program (S2P) has taught more than 20,000 Houston children in school and after-school settings how to grow, harvest, and cook their own healthy food, aided by professional chefs, gardeners, teachers, and nutritionists volunteering their time and talents to the initiative.

Parents of S2P alums report that their children are cooking at home and making healthy food selections. Teachers report improved behavior and attention spans in class. And on average, children’s fruit and vegetable intake increases 30 percent after a year in the program.

But it’s not enough for children to ask for healthier foods; parents must provide them. To that end, RFS’s Hope Farms Rolling Green Market will deliver reduced-price fresh fruits and vegetables directly to families in Houston’s ‘food deserts.’ But the Rolling Green Market differs from similar programs in its execution. For RFS this is less public assistance, more upscale farmer’s market – for example, the Rolling Green Market will feature professional chefs giving cooking demonstrations and lessons. While its primary goal is to serve food deserts, RFS sees the Rolling Green Market as a citywide amenity. Their strategic approach is to position healthy eating as an on-trend lifestyle choice for everyone, and provide a ‘product’ – the Rolling Green Market – catering to that lifestyle.

USCM/ABA Childhood Obesity Prevention Grant:

RFS partnered with Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker to apply for The United States Conference of Mayors and the American Beverage Association (ABA) Childhood Obesity Prevention Awards, and in January 2012 received a $25,000 grant to fund the Rolling Green Market. For RFS, the grant is like the Good Housekeeping Seal – it’s provided ‘startup’ funds to develop promotional materials and to leverage additional funding.

For Houston, this initiative is but one vital component of a broader anti-obesity initiative. In 2012 Parker launched Healthy Houston, designed to reduce obesity and increase healthy eating and exercise in the city. To lead the initiative, Parker convened the Healthy Houston Task Force (Cavnar is one of the inaugural members), whose charge is to recommend and implement specific actions to reduce the incidence of obesity and its health and economic impacts in Houston. Task Force initiatives include installing new vegetable container gardens throughout the city; working with grocers to provide economic incentives to help spur grocery/supermarket development in critical areas; and the launch of Bike Share in Houston, along with the significant expansion of bike lanes and trails.

Lessons Learned:

Rather than conventional behavior change models to address childhood obesity, Recipe for Success employs corporate marketing principles and strategies to promote healthy eating. The goal is to make healthy eating a lifestyle choice for the children they serve, and their families. It’s a subtle but important revision.

The other important aspect to the RFS approach is to develop programming that is both scalable and adaptable. They’ve developed the Recipe for Success Affiliate Partners initiative, to support the nationwide scaling of the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™. Through the initiative RFS trains and certifies S2P instructors and provides partners with extensive curriculum support – including access to the RFS curricula library, with its more than 320 lesson plans for pre-K to 5th graders. The affiliate program is open to any organization upon application and agreement to the terms of program implementation (applications are available on the RFS website).

For more information, contact Houston Office of Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian at 832-393-0849 or send e-mail to