Brighter Bites - Healthy Choices for Homes, Minds, and Mealtimes

What if we could create communities of health through fresh food?

Photo of Lisa Helfman
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

My family participated in a weekly fresh produce co-op, and over time my children’s eating habits changed as a result of consistent access to fresh produce. I wondered if I could replicate the same behavior change I saw in my home in underserved neighborhoods. With the help of Dr. Shreela Sharma at UTHealth School of Public Health, we built Brighter Bites with the purpose of providing fresh produce combined with hands-on nutrition education in schools and for families in underserved neighborhoods and food deserts. Our formula is simple. Produce Distribution (50-60 servings per family per week) + Nutrition Education in school and for parents + Fun Food Experience consisting of a healthy recipe tasting, all done on a consistent basis. We use a co-op model to engage families where they participate in the bagging and distribution at the schools. Brighter Bites is leveraging H-E-B Grocery Company and Sysco Foods who are collecting produce that would otherwise be discarded from farmers, then sending it to local food banks, who are aggregating and distributing it. Brighter Bites is giving parents living on a limited income a “risk free trial” to practice cooking and eating healthy foods with their children. Our research shows that these trials arse creating lasting behavior change. Today, we have expanded to Houston, Dallas, and Austin and distributed more than 8 million pounds of produce to over 20,000 low-income children and their families at more than 90 sites.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Texas

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Texas

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Houston, Dallas, Austin

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Over the past 30 years, obesity in children has doubled in the United States with 34% of 6-to-11 year olds overweight or obese, and quadrupled among adolescents. Most children in the United States do not meet the recommended intake of healthy foods including fruits and vegetables, putting them at risk for chronic diseases including obesity. About 60% of children consume fewer fruits than recommended, and 93% of children consume fewer vegetables than recommended. These consumption rates are significantly lower among low-income, minority populations, where many families live in food deserts, places without access to fresh produce. Brighter Bites brings good food to where kids already are: schools, and sends it home. 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.

Brighter Bites has a simple formula:

Food Access - We bring fresh, seasonal produce (50-60 servings) to where kids already are, schools and summer programs, for families to take home weekly.

Food Literacy - We provide nutrition handbooks, tip sheets, and recipes for parents that incorporate the week’s fresh produce. These are linked to children’s in-class nutrition lessons from evidence-based coordinated school health programs we help implement via our trained staff.

Food Engagement - Our team prepares healthy and tasty “brighter bites” (samples) for families to try, using the week's produce.

The science behind Brighter Bites is proving that it takes the continuity of this access/literacy/engagement formula to really make an impact. The simple sustainability, coupled with the partnerships it has formed with food banks, Feeding Texas, and corporations (e.g., Sysco, H-E-B), enables it to replicate the co-op anywhere kids can be found.

Brighter Bites is seeing the positive impact with behavior change for children, and their families, through ongoing data collection and analysis utilizing a robust evaluation platform created in collaboration with UTHealth School of Public Health.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Brighter Bites aims to increase demand for fresh produce among low-income families in food deserts. During eight-week sessions in the spring, summer, and fall, we distribute 50-60 servings a week of a variety of 8-12 produce items to families. We teach families how to use their produce by supporting in-class lessons for kids, providing nutrition education materials for parents, and recipes to try at home together. We support schools in the implementation of evidence-based programs that promote healthy food choices and physical activity. Brighter Bites creates a fun food experience by passing out samples that incorporate that week’s produce and including parents in the distributions so they engage more in their children's education.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We have consistently collected data on program effectiveness, dosage, reach, and fidelity on all of our families. Data is collected on what was distributed and how much, nutrition education materials, volunteers, and attendance rosters. Parents complete surveys on acceptability, usage, and effectiveness of Brighter Bites program components, and also participate in focus groups. These data points have not only informed our program, but also helped further the scientific dialogue to understand how our children and families eat. Our results are compelling: 98% of the families participating in Brighter Bites are eating more produce during the program, and 74% are maintaining the same levels by buying it even after the Brighter Bites season ends; 93% of the families reported that they ate all or more of the vegetables, and 96% said they ate all or most of the fruit that was provided.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $1mil - $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Brighter Bites leverages in-kind partnerships, including food banks and Sysco who acquire, store, transport, and deliver the produce; the CATCH Global Foundation's curriculum serves as the educational component; UTHealth School of Public Health provides the research, data, and evaluation. Additionally, Brighter Bites is funded by government grants from USDA and TDA, foundations and individuals. This mix of resources is a sustainable formula.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Brighter Bites is one of the nation's only non-profits that simultaneously targets increasing food access and increasing food literacy. The sustainable formula lets us replicate our co-op anywhere kids can be found. We create a linkage between school and home to promote a healthy food environment for children from low-come populations. Brighter Bites directly addresses the health crises of lack of intake of healthy foods, specifically fruits and vegetables, childhood obesity and food insecurity – especially in low-income, minority communities, in an economically efficient manner.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

This generation of children will have an average five years' lower life expectancy as their parents due to the high rates of obesity. A focus on improving our children's health is critical - we cannot delay and we need to be focused on systems change too. I am inspired by the many organizations that work to make a positive impact on kids. We all need to keep working to create a healthier path for our children: more fresh food, more opportunities for physical activity, and more nutrition education. It is our responsibility, as adults, to create healthy communities where they can thrive.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)


Program Design Clarity

Brighter Bites partners with schools in food deserts where at least 80% of families qualify for free/reduced lunch. Brighter Bites staff work alongside volunteers to bag produce and engage with families as they pick up their produce, nutrition education materials/recipes, and fun food sample. We provide 30 pounds/50-60 servings of fresh produce per family each week. The 8 week season 3 times a year is long enough to create demand for produce, and for families to develop a knowledge base of healthy eating benefits. Brighter Bites provides seamless parent-child education to feed with impact.

Community Leadership

Brighter Bites relies on parents and community members for the heavy lifting the program requires at their school. These volunteers develop a sense of ownership, becoming champions of the program by virtue of their intense involvement and the positive impact the program has on the families. Week after week, parents create connections to their children’s school, become more involved parents, and support their community on a road to better health.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 0-1.5
  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12

Spread Strategies

We hope to expand our replicable formula to communities with existing networks that will support the program: communities with food banks that aggregate and distribute produce, local farmers who donate unsellable produce, sites with a coordinated school health program and value the health and wellbeing of their children. The strategy will enable us to expand Brighter Bites in a targeted and deliberate way and create systems change as well.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Brighter Bites is successfully linking home and school environments - where children spend a majority of their time. Our data shows that we are improving the home nutrition environment with an increase in intake of fruits and vegetables, families cooking at home more, and using nutrition facts labels to inform their shopping, and we are increasing school engagement with healthy eating and physical activity opportunities so children can thrive.

Leadership Story

I have built a career around understanding all communities, regardless of income level, and assisting them, as an attorney first focusing on charter school bonds and urban redevelopment, and then learning the healthcare system through building clinics in underserved neighborhoods and now at H-E-B where I scout land to build stores in food deserts. I am now a tireless advocate for creating healthier communities and also have a greater focus on systems change rather than just individual impact: schools, families, food banks, healthcare providers, retailers, distributors, and farmers/suppliers.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

2016 Texas Health Champion Award; 2016 CATCH Champion Award Jacqueline Noyola, Brighter Bites Coordinator; June 2016 Dr. Shreela Sharma, co-founder Brighter Bites, associate professor epidemiology UT School of Public Health, testified at House Agriculture Committee on Brighter Bites effectiveness.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Hanna Spence

"Freezing has been shown to decrease the nutrient value of a meal." Why are you repeating that myth?

As mentioned by writers from scientific study after study have shown canned, fresh, and frozen fruits and vegetables all have pretty much the same level of nutrients. In a University of California study, cooked frozen green peas contained higher levels of beta-carotene than cooked fresh. A University of Illinois Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition study found fiber content is as high in canned vegetables as in fresh as well as folate (B Vitamin), vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, thiamin, and carotenoids. Vitamin A levels are actually higher in canned pumpkin than in fresh.

Your salt content condemnation only applies to many frozen meals, not frozen fruits and vegetables, which do not have high levels of sodium. And simply reading the label on which frozen meals you buy wil let you avoid the high lsalt one. The numbers are right on the label.

Sure if I can buy fresh fruits and vegetables ripe in season for a resonable price, but I do so. But I do it for flavor and texture, not nutrient level.

This writer really needs to check old wive's tales before she publishes them in a reputable news paper as facts. Next I bet she is going to telling readers that organic food has more nutrients, something that has been tested and debunked time after time.

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