HOUSTON INSPIRING PEOPLE

Gracie Cavnar

Founder Recipe for Success Foundation

Changing the Way Our Children Eat

Jonathan Perlman, founder of Tradition Senior Living in Houston & Dallas, TX.

“Kids first entered with their arms crossed.  But we made it fun, delicious, and ‘try this,’ never ‘don’t eat’ something.” 

Gracie Cavnar

Gracie Cavnar has been described as a “force of nature.” If you can effectively change the way that children understand, like, and eat their food, then you are a force of nature—“Motherly” nature.  

“In the mid-nineties, I discovered that junk food was available in elementary school vending machines,” said Gracie. A mother herself, she knew that 75 cents given to children for lunch would be more likely to go for candy bars. She set about the task of having the vending machines removed.

“I had been a journalist and in the practice of finding the research, getting the story,” said Gracie, who believes in whole food, real food, and who knows the adverse power of sugar. “This explained the epidemic of childhood obesity, and nobody was talking about it.” In the process of “finding the research,” she discovered that children who gardened made better eating decisions. And that children who knew how to cook ate healthier. She thought, “Let’s put them together!”

In 2005, Gracie and her husband, Bob, developed the Recipe for Success Foundation, a non-profit, to change the way kids eat and make it easier for parents and caregivers to put healthy food on the table. Her first program, Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ for Pre-K through Fifth Graders, teaches the next generation to make mindful eating decisions. 

But, how to get the curriculum into the schools? She brought together a constituency in Houston. “I’m a Chef groupie, and I had 25 Chef buddies.  They helped!” Her time in philanthropy and in chairing numerous fund-raisers also served her well.  She is an architect by training, so she is a planner. “I had all my ‘selves’ sitting around a table!” she laughed. 

Gracie got a pilot program into the schools, thanks to Mayor Bill White, who met with the Superintendent. Also, thanks to her and her husband, Bob, who paid for the pilot program’s first two years! Whole Foods donated the food, and 25 Chefs volunteered.  “We launched in six geographically and ethnically diverse schools in the Houston ISD. It got a lot of attention—including a story on PBS,” said Gracie.

HOUSTON INSPIRING PEOPLE

Gracie Cavnar

Founder Recipe for Success Foundation

Changing the Way Our Children Eat

Jonathan Perlman, founder of Tradition Senior Living in Houston & Dallas, TX.

“Kids first entered with their arms crossed.  But we made it fun, delicious, and ‘try this,’ never ‘don’t eat’ something.” 

Gracie Cavnar

Gracie Cavnar has been described as a “force of nature.” If you can effectively change the way that children understand, like, and eat their food, then you are a force of nature—“Motherly” nature.  

“In the mid-nineties, I discovered that junk food was available in elementary school vending machines,” said Gracie. A mother herself, she knew that 75 cents given to children for lunch would be more likely to go for candy bars. She set about the task of having the vending machines removed.

“I had been a journalist and in the practice of finding the research, getting the story,” said Gracie, who believes in whole food, real food, and who knows the adverse power of sugar. “This explained the epidemic of childhood obesity, and nobody was talking about it.” In the process of “finding the research,” she discovered that children who gardened made better eating decisions. And that children who knew how to cook ate healthier. She thought, “Let’s put them together!”

In 2005, Gracie and her husband, Bob, developed the Recipe for Success Foundation, a non-profit, to change the way kids eat and make it easier for parents and caregivers to put healthy food on the table. Her first program, Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ for Pre-K through Fifth Graders, teaches the next generation to make mindful eating decisions. 

But, how to get the curriculum into the schools? She brought together a constituency in Houston. “I’m a Chef groupie, and I had 25 Chef buddies.  They helped!” Her time in philanthropy and in chairing numerous fund-raisers also served her well.  She is an architect by training, so she is a planner. “I had all my ‘selves’ sitting around a table!” she laughed. 

Gracie got a pilot program into the schools, thanks to Mayor Bill White, who met with the Superintendent. Also, thanks to her and her husband, Bob, who paid for the pilot program’s first two years! Whole Foods donated the food, and 25 Chefs volunteered.  “We launched in six geographically and ethnically diverse schools in the Houston ISD. It got a lot of attention—including a story on PBS,” said Gracie.

Gracie Cavnar has been described as a “force of nature.” If you can effectively change the way that children understand, like, and eat their food, then you are a force of nature—“Motherly” nature.  

“In the mid-nineties, I discovered that junk food was available in elementary school vending machines,” said Gracie. A mother herself, she knew that 75 cents given to children for lunch would be more likely to go for candy bars. She set about the task of having the vending machines removed.

“I had been a journalist and in the practice of finding the research, getting the story,” said Gracie, who believes in whole food, real food, and who knows the adverse power of sugar. “This explained the epidemic of childhood obesity, and nobody was talking about it.” In the process of “finding the research,” she discovered that children who gardened made better eating decisions. And that children who knew how to cook ate healthier. She thought, “Let’s put them together!”

In 2005, Gracie and her husband, Bob, developed the Recipe for Success Foundation, a non-profit, to change the way kids eat and make it easier for parents and caregivers to put healthy food on the table. Her first program, Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ for Pre-K through Fifth Graders, teaches the next generation to make mindful eating decisions. 

But, how to get the curriculum into the schools? She brought together a constituency in Houston. “I’m a Chef groupie, and I had 25 Chef buddies.  They helped!” Her time in philanthropy and in chairing numerous fund-raisers also served her well.  She is an architect by training, so she is a planner. “I had all my ‘selves’ sitting around a table!” she laughed. 

Gracie got a pilot program into the schools, thanks to Mayor Bill White, who met with the Superintendent. Also, thanks to her and her husband, Bob, who paid for the pilot program’s first two years! Whole Foods donated the food, and 25 Chefs volunteered.  “We launched in six geographically and ethnically diverse schools in the Houston ISD. It got a lot of attention—including a story on PBS,” said Gracie.

“Kids first entered with their arms crossed.  But we made it fun, delicious, and ‘try this,’ never ‘don’t eat’ something.” 

Gracie Cavnar

The following is an example of how the curriculum worked: “There had been lots of cooking classes teaching how to bake cookies and pancakes,” she said.  “We taught them how to make ratatouille, and we would convince them it was delicious!”  They empowered these kids with a Chef’s perspective about food: see, smell, feel the textures. The food comes out of the ground. “They would plant, harvest and make carrot soup, then sit around the table and eat together. People aren’t doing that today!” said Gracie. There was a manners component as well. The comprehensive curriculum was immersive, with one cooking and one gardening class every month.  

“Kids first entered with their arms crossed.  But we made it fun, delicious, and ‘try this’, never ‘don’t eat’ something. They tasted this awesome carrot soup, and we won them over. We taught unfamiliar food in a familiar environment.”  

Library

After one academic year, these eight-year-olds were eating 30% more vegetables.

The following is an example of how the curriculum worked: “There had been lots of cooking classes teaching how to bake cookies and pancakes,” she said.  “We taught them how to make ratatouille, and we would convince them it was delicious!”  They empowered these kids with a Chef’s perspective about food: see, smell, feel the textures. The food comes out of the ground. “They would plant, harvest and make carrot soup, then sit around the table and eat together. People aren’t doing that today!” said Gracie. There was a manners component as well. The comprehensive curriculum was immersive, with one cooking and one gardening class every month.  

“Kids first entered with their arms crossed.  But we made it fun, delicious, and ‘try this’, never ‘don’t eat’ something. They tasted this awesome carrot soup, and we won them over. We taught unfamiliar food in a familiar environment.”  

What came next was pure drama. After one academic year, these eight-year-olds were eating 30% more vegetables. “We had a science advisory committee, who took data measurements from the start,” said Gracie. “They knew how to get a real answer from a child—information on what they ate yesterday—and they captured that multiple times.” The data also measured awareness of food. What do you recognize? Like? What have you tried? Are willing to try? “That last one was the most important,” said Gracie. 

After a multimillion-dollar investment in a six-year pilot, the program is a tremendous success in Houston and nation-wide, having served more than 50,000 elementary-aged children. 

Recipe for Success has borne fruit, so to speak, in many other ways. Hope Farms in Houston is a seven-acre urban farm in a “food desert,” providing produce at low cost to neighbors. After data revealed that Veterans coming home with PTSD responded positively to being in an agricultural environment, Gracie initiated a Warriors to Farmers training program in 2018. “A USDA grant awards scholarships and actually pays Vets to take the training.” It is, she said, tremendously popular.  There are books, including Gracie’s Eat It! Food Adventures with Marco Polo, which won 11 publishing awards. An online program, “The Veg-Out! Challenge,” has gone international!

When COVID-19 entered, leave it to Gracie to turn lemons into lemonade. “We had to let go most of our staff—now we are a SWAT team,” she said. “Despite that, we are still farming, still training farmers and are almost finished designing a website for kids that is an online example of our school-based program featuring high-quality videos of cooking and gardening classes.”   

There is not the space to devote to the awards and accolades that not only Recipe for Success has garnered, but also Gracie personally. The White House, no less, has made use of her talents as regards children.

With three grown children and seven grandchildren of her own, this woman does not stop. “I work for free and harder than when people were paying me,” she said.

That is what a force of nature does.

Linda Faulkner Johnston—Tradition Senior Living

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What came next was pure drama. After one academic year, these eight-year-olds were eating 30% more vegetables. “We had a science advisory committee, who took data measurements from the start,” said Gracie. “They knew how to get a real answer from a child—information on what they ate yesterday—and they captured that multiple times.” The data also measured awareness of food. What do you recognize? Like? What have you tried? Are willing to try? “That last one was the most important,” said Gracie. 

After a multimillion-dollar investment in a six-year pilot, the program is a tremendous success in Houston and nation-wide, having served more than 50,000 elementary-aged children. 

Recipe for Success has borne fruit, so to speak, in many other ways. Hope Farms in Houston is a seven-acre urban farm in a “food desert,” providing produce at low cost to neighbors. After data revealed that Veterans coming home with PTSD responded positively to being in an agricultural environment, Gracie initiated a Warriors to Farmers training program in 2018. “A USDA grant awards scholarships and actually pays Vets to take the training.” It is, she said, tremendously popular.  There are books, including Gracie’s Eat It! Food Adventures with Marco Polo, which won 11 publishing awards. An online program, “The Veg-Out! Challenge,” has gone international!

After one academic year, these eight-year-olds were eating 30% more vegetables.

When COVID-19 entered, leave it to Gracie to turn lemons into lemonade. “We had to let go most of our staff—now we are a SWAT team,” she said. “Despite that, we are still farming, still training farmers and are almost finished designing a website for kids that is an online example of our school-based program featuring high-quality videos of cooking and gardening classes.”   

There is not the space to devote to the awards and accolades that not only Recipe for Success has garnered, but also Gracie personally. The White House, no less, has made use of her talents as regards children.

With three grown children and seven grandchildren of her own, this woman does not stop. “I work for free and harder than when people were paying me,” she said.

That is what a force of nature does.

Linda Faulkner Johnston—Tradition Senior Living

“Our programs help people in crisis achieve stability, and then gain critical skills and confidence to become independent—and provide for their families.”

– Sonja Gee 

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