Brighter Bites program to be honored as a 2016 Texas Health Champion

Published: September 7, 2016

Brighter Bites is a program with a model that seems so obvious and simple, there has to be a catch. Well there is a CATCH, but we’ll get to that later. While their model for increasing families’ fruit and vegetable consumption may sound simple—free weekly fresh produce distribution + nutrition education + fun food experiences —the secret to Brighter Bites’ success is their understanding of the complexity of our food system and eating habits. The brilliance is that they make it look easy.

Deanna Belleny, RDN, Child Nutrition Manger for Neighborhood Centers, Inc. talks about the bigger picture mission for the program, “To sustain lifelong healthy eating behaviors, we need to increase access to healthy food and increase food literacy among populations at highest risk for obesity, and Brighter Bites is doing exactly that.”

For 16 weeks during the school year and 8 weeks of the summer, Brighter Bites secures and delivers fresh produce to families at 90 low-income schools across three Texas cities. Families participating in the program receive roughly 30 pounds of produce (50-60 servings of 8-12 different produce items) each week, at no cost. When parents pick up their children at school they are given two grocery bags of beautiful, fresh produce, as well as taste tests of recipes that can be made with that week’s assortment of fruits and veggies. Parents also receive two nutrition handbooks consisting of information on food preparation, food storage, the use of nutrition facts labels to make food purchases, MyPlate, easy menu planning and recipe ideas, and other tips and tools for enhancing the home nutrition environment. The kids receive nutrition education at school through the evidence-based CATCH program—we told you there was a catch coming. Brighter Bites helps parents transform the home environment to support the healthy messages and meals CATCH kids receive during the school day.

Results from the program have been very promising. While participating in the program, 98% of families report eating more fruits and veggies—74% maintain that level of consumption by purchasing produce after completion of the program. Families who participate in Brighter Bites have also cut back on added sugars, a key target for obesity and diabetes prevention. Additionally, parents have described a change in their food environments at home represented by a twofold increase in cooking, availability of fruits and veggies, and the use of nutrition labels to guide their purchasing decisions.

Araceli Avionn from the Houston Food Bank, calls the program a leader in reducing the burden of obesity and says Brighter Bites is, “giving parents living on a limited income, who have traditionally been afraid of buying fruits and vegetables because they either don’t know how to prepare them or can’t manage the financial risk that their children won’t eat them, a ‘risk free trial’ to practice cooking and eating healthy foods with their children.”

Brighter Bites is the brainchild of founder Lisa Helfman and co-founder Shreela Sharma, PhD, RD (pictured right). The program has been possible thanks to numerous partnerships with public and private organizations, all of whom you can read about on the Brighter Bites website.

Please join us in celebrating Brighter Bites and all the awardees efforts on September 15 at the 2016 Texas Health Champion ceremony.  

About the Texas Health Champion Award

As part of the Annual Texas Obesity Awareness Week, the Texas Health Champion Award is presented to public health leaders who have demonstrated exemplary achievement in reducing the burden and/or raising awareness of the obesity epidemic in Texas. Nominees considered for the award may be individuals, organizations, or project teams from community organizations, educational agencies, non-profit organizations, or government offices. The 2016 awardees were recognized at the 9th Annual Texas Health Champion Award Ceremony on September 15 in Austin.

Click here to read about the other 2016 Texas Health Champion, Michelle Smith!