Brighter Bites Curbs Childhood Obesity Through Education and Healthy Food Distribution

by Justin Taylor
Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

Name: Brighter Bites

What they do: Brighter Bites is a comprehensive, multi-component school, preschool, and summer camp program that increases access to fresh fruits and vegetables as well as nutrition education for obesity prevention among low-income children and their families. The goal is to help curb the childhood obesity epidemic by increasing the demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, leading to improved family eating habits and ultimately improved health outcomes.

How they do it: Brighter Bites uses a simple formula: produce distribution, nutrition education, and a fun food experience that includes sampling a recipe of the week to see just how great produce can taste. The program meets families where they already are – at school and summer camp.

Parents and community volunteers pack bags of fresh produce for families to take home each week during three eight-week sessions. Each free two-bag set contains approximately 50 servings of eight to 12 different produce items. Since its inception, Brighter Bites has delivered more than 16 million pounds of fresh produce to more than 40,000 families.

Research demonstrates that Brighter Bites has a demonstrable impact on the school and home environments:  

  • 98 percent of Brighter Bites parents report that their children are eating more fruits and vegetables while participating in the program.
  • Of those, 74 percent said they maintained that increased level of consumption after the program ended.

Children and parents participating in Brighter Bites reported a:  

  • significant increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed;  
  • significant increase in serving more fruits and vegetables as snacks;  
  • two-fold increase in cooking meals from scratch, and a significant increase in eating meals together and serving more produce as part of those meals;  
  • two-fold increase in using nutrition labels to guide grocery purchases;  
  • a significant decrease in added sugars consumed among children.

Brighter Bites has expanded from one to six locations in just five years. The program now operates in Houston, Austin, Dallas, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Southwest Florida.

Mission: The mission of Brighter Bites is to create communities of health through fresh food.

Latest project/campaign: In 2017 Brighter Bites established its first program outside of Texas in New York City. This spring, Brighter Bites is officially launching programs in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and in Southwest Florida.

Major Funding: Grants and donations

Profit/nonprofit: 501(c)(3) nonprofit

Annual Budget: $7.5 million

Interesting fact about how they are working to positively affect the food system: Brighter Bites is a unique program that has created systemic changes among a collaboration of partners that are involved in the food system–from farms to food banks and healthcare organizations to schools. In its effort to build a movement that broadly and nationally brings positive change to children and their families, it is working with leaders across multiple sectors, including retailers, food distributors and policy-makers that touch the food system. For example, food banks are sending out more fresh food through Brighter Bites to create long-term behavior change. Farms are donating fruits and vegetables that might otherwise be thrown away, thereby directly helping the program to build demand for more produce. Parents are volunteering at weekly distributions, bagging produce and using the fresh food they receive at home. Schools are now engaging with parents on a regular basis at Brighter Bites produce distributions and  Parent-Teacher Organizations are forming at schools that never had them previously. Healthcare organizations are partnering on programming and testing children’s gut microbiomes to show that produce indeed does affect health in the gut. The collaborations Brighter Bites has established across sectors is having a positive impact on multiple facets of the food system.

FACT SHEET:

Location: Headquarters in Houston, TX, with program offices in Dallas, Austin, NYC, DC, and Southwest Florida

Core Programs: Produce Distribution + Nutrition Education + Fun Food Experiences delivered to schools for eight weeks in the fall and eight weeks in the spring, and to camps for eight weeks in the summer.

Number of staff: 50+ across the nation

Number of volunteers: ~1000 volunteers each semester, spread across six locations

Areas served: Houston, TX; Dallas, TX; Austin, TX; New York, NY (Queens); Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area; Southwest Florida

Year Started: 2012

Director: Samuel Newman

Contact Information: [email protected]

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