Get Involved Spotlight: Brighter Bites

Jan 1, 2017

From this Brighter Bites, month's Get Involved spotlight non-profit:

Brighter Bites is a non-profit that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables directly into families’ hands, while teaching them how to use and choose a different kind of fast food. We make it fun. We make it free. And we make it happen via a simple, three-part formula. Since summer 2015, Brighter Bites has distributed over 1 million pounds of produce to more than 3,500 Austin families.

Mission

Brighter Bites creates communities of health through fresh food.

Vision

Brighter Bites is rooted in the belief that if we give our kids something better to munch on, they will. And the lives they lead will be as vibrant as the foods they crave.

How did Brighter Bites begin? (or How a Spurned Slice of Cake Sparked a New Kind of Co-Op)

For several years, Lisa Helfman and her family took part in a weekly fruit and vegetable co-op, and she watched her children’s eating habits dramatically transform. So much so that her little boy turned down a piece of cake at a birthday party, craving instead the blueberries he’d grown fond of eating at home. Like most moms, Lisa realized this was a fairly significant decision for a five-year-old, and she wondered what kind of influence regular access to fresh produce might have on all children. Especially if that produce was free to families. She was inspired to replicate this type of positive change in underserved communities identified as “food deserts,” or areas where access to grocery stores stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables is sorely limited. Because nutrition education in these communities is often equally lacking, Lisa’s vision was to bring a produce co-op to schools in these neighborhoods that included an educational component. She created a collaborative partnership between the Houston Food Bank and Dr. Shreela Sharma, an expert in nutrition and a professor of epidemiology at UTHealth School of Public Health, and they launched the program now known as Brighter Bites. Since its inception in 2012, Brighter Bites has delivered more than 10 million pounds of fresh produce and more than 60,000 pieces of nutrition education to more than 20,000 children and families at over 100 sites in Houston, Dallas, and Austin. Nibble by nibble, we’ll go nationwide

THE BRIGHTER BITES FORMULA

Produce Distribution + Nutrition Education + Fun Food Experience

Produce Distribution

A majority of children in the United States do not consume sufficient fruits and vegetables. These consumption rates are significantly lower among low-income, minority populations, where many families live in areas known as food deserts: places without access to fresh produce. So we bring good food to where kids already are: preschools, elementary and middle schools, summer camps, and after-school programs. Every week, Brighter Bites heads to these sites and distributes fresh, seasonal produce for participants to pick up and take home. Two bags contain 50–60 servings (approximately 30 pounds).

Nutrition Education

At school and during distributions, we teach families how to make the most of their produce by supporting the enactment of in-class lessons for kids, providing nutrition education handbooks for their parents, and sharing weekly tip sheets and recipes for everyone to try at home together (in English y en Español). We train and support schools in their implementation of CATCH and other evidence-based programs that promote healthy food choices and physical activity. We are one of the few nonprofits that simultaneously targets increasing food access and food literacy.

Fun Food Experience

During weekly produce pickups, Brighter Bites staff and volunteers create a fun food experience for the whole family, demonstrating colorful recipes and passing out samples that incorporate that week’s fresh produce. As a co-op, we engage the community around us. The vibrant volunteers helping bag and distribute the produce are parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends. Our mission is to show that what’s inherently good can taste incredibly great when combined with a little creativity, a happy environment, and a few stick-on tattoos. Hulk Smoothie, anyone?

(Repeat)

The science behind Brighter Bites tells us that it takes the continuity of our access/literacy/engagement formula to really make an impact. So we divide our program into three seasons: sixteen weeks during the school year and eight weeks during the summer. The simple sustainability of Brighter Bites lets us replicate our co-op anywhere kids can be found. We’re expanding into new schools and sites each year, with more cities on the horizon.

Brighter Bites works:

While food co-ops are becoming popular, there is little published literature to show their benefit and impact. This is where Brighter Bites takes the fruitcake. Researchers at the UTHealth School of Public Health conducted a two-year study evaluating the impact of Brighter Bites on 760 students and their families at nine schools in Houston during the 2013-15 school years. Results from this study have been published in a scientific peer-reviewed journal called Preventive Medicine. Suffice it to say, science finally proves what we’ve suspected all along: Brighter Bites works—and works well.

·      The study found that the feasibility of implementing Brighter Bites was high, with families reporting attending on average 7 of 8 available distributions in each of the fall and spring semesters.

·      87 percent of parents reported their family ate all or most of the vegetables and 94 percent said their family ate all or most of the fruits provided.

As compared to those in the study’s control group (not receiving Brighter Bites), children and parents who DID receive Brighter Bites demonstrated:

·      a significant increase in the amount fruits and vegetables consumed.

·      a significant decrease in amount of added sugars consumed among children.

·      twofold increase in cooking meals from scratch.

·      a significant increase in serving more fruits and vegetables as snacks.

·      a significant increase in eating meals together at home, and serving more produce as part of those meals.

·      twofold increase in using nutrition labels to guide grocery purchases.

Brighter Bites recipients love us. Here are some tastymonials:

·      “Brighter Bites made me cook things I wouldn’t have bought for fear of wasting money if my children didn’t like it.” – Happy parent

·      “I am more impressed each and every week. Not only with the goal of the program, but also with the participation rate, how smoothly the distribution runs, and the dedication shown by our parent volunteers. Brighter Bites is really making a difference.” – Happy teacher

·      “We loved this program! It was great to volunteer to load bags, and such a treat to enjoy delicious, healthy food at home. It helps us discuss good choices with our kids and makes us proud of our school!” – Happy parent

Volunteer

Hungry to help? We’d love it! Email: volunteeraustin@brighterbites.org

Donate

Thank you for supporting Brighter Bites! Every penny puts produce into more hands, healthy tools into more kitchens, and fresh thinking into more of our communities. Go to our website’s donation page for more info. Thanks!