Meet the Grantee: Culinary Health Education for Families (CHEF)
Through the generosity of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas’ Healthy Kids, Healthy Families grant, It’s Time Texas awarded the community-based, San Antonio organization CHEF® (Culinary Health Education for Families) sub-grant funding through the It’s Time Texas Collaborative Innovations for Community Health (CICH) program.
The Collaborative Innovations for Community Health (CICH) program began in 2021 and provides funding for community-based organizations who mobilize and quickly distribute resources where they are most needed within targeted communities. This year, It’s Time Texas targeted two regions of Texas: San Antonio Metro and Galveston County. A total of five community-based organizations were chosen from these two areas in Texas. Funding supports the delivery of effective programs and services that improve critical health outcomes, address root causes of health disparities, remove barriers to access, and advance community conditions for health and wellness. It’s Time Texas partners with these grantees throughout the year to support their projects and initiatives, as well as their marketing and communication efforts in order to enhance their mission and visibility within their community.
Throughout 2022, It’s Time Texas is funding and partnering with CHEF® (Culinary Health Education for Families) to help drive healthy eating in San Antonio, improve children’s nutrition education, and encourage all Texans to lead healthier lives and build healthier communities.
Rooted in the belief that Food is Medicine, CHEF® teaches basic nutrition and practical cooking skills to children and families in school and after-school settings. Suzanne Feldmann, Founding CEO of CHEF®, shared with It’s Time Texas how proud she is to see the program come into fruition.
“The idea for CHEF® was conceived in 2014, when the San Antonio based Goldsbury Foundation made a contribution to the The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. At the time, a portion of the grant was designated for the creation of an innovative, catalytic childhood nutrition program that would drive healthy eating and ultimately impact the increasing rate of childhood diabetes and obesity in San Antonio,” explained Ms. Feldmann.
Originally, the thought was that the culinary medicine program, now known as CHEF®, would be based solely out of The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Grant funds ensured that a state-of-the-art Teaching Kitchen was constructed, a team was hired, and a curriculum was developed to not only educate the children, but the physicians who were teaching the patients and families about the importance of nutrition and preventing chronic diseases.
“The program grew so quickly,” said Ms. Feldmann. “CHEF® soon partnered with local nonprofits including the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, the San Antonio Boys and Girls Club, the San Antonio Botanical Garden, and other child-service organizations. Then we realized, to truly make an impact, we needed to get into the schools.”
Ms. Feldmann’s first job after college was working for The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Foundation. From there, she was hired by the Goldsbury Foundation to help steer their private family foundation. Once the fledgling nutrition program got off the ground and running, CHEF® was launched as a separate nonprofit organization in 2017.
“Our philosophy at CHEF is to surround children with consistent, positive messages about good nutrition and empower them with the skills they need to prepare those recipes at home. In addition to educating children, we believe in training and inspiring the “voices of authority” in children’s lives including caregivers, physicians, schoolteachers, and after-school providers so that they can reinforce the message of healthy eating as early and as often as possible.”
Driven by the statistic that one in three children in Bexar County is classified as overweight or obese, Ms. Feldmann knows that the children of San Antonio deserve better. CHEF® has partnered with San Antonio ISD (SAISD), as well as the San Antonio Food Bank and other key partners to drive programming and impact children to make healthier decisions at a young age.
“Many of our students live in Food Deserts or Food Swamps. While CHEF® teaches them to get excited about healthy foods and flavors, many children go home and have a much harder time eating a consistently healthy diet. We are proud to collaborate with the San Antonio Food Bank and other key partners to mitigate this issue. Right now, we have programming for Pre-K through high school, and currently are working on a Pre-Natal to Pre-K program. We want to make sure that before the baby is even born, mom has the training to implement healthy food choices,” explained Ms. Feldmann.
The Collaborative Innovations for Community Health funding is being used to train and support SAISD Physical Education teachers (PE) to conduct the CHEF program for six weeks in 60 elementary schools during the fall semester, and 11 middle schools in the spring semester. CICH funding will ensure that every K-8th grade student will participate in the award-winning nutrition and culinary education program.
“Since 2017, we have reached over 64,000 students in 195 schools with a small team of five staff members. We wouldn’t be able to do this without our incredible partnerships with the SAISD, the San Antonio Food Bank, and, of course, It’s Time Texas. We truly believe in providing a well-rounded experience for our students. During class, they learn all about good nutrition as well as how to prepare and cook recipes at home. And thanks to the amazing SAISD Child Nutrition Services team, we have been able to integrate our CHEF® recipes on the cafeteria lines so that students can choose and fully enjoy the healthy foods and flavors we are promoting,” said Ms. Feldmann.
“The goal is to continue to build curricula for everyone to follow—from the busy mom, to the athlete, to even seniors. Eventually, we want to create a broader health and wellness program that would be attractive to communities beyond Bexar County — one that would meet state-mandated school health requirements and would include timely topics that are of vital interest to children today.”
CHEF’s hands-on approach and flexible programming allow any authoritative voice in a child’s life to learn how to reinforce nutritional messaging, all while giving children a fun and exciting activity, making them happy to learn.
“We once had a student who went home and threw out all of Grandpa’s sodas and said, ‘you know grandpa has diabetes and shouldn’t be drinking these sodas’,” laughed Ms. Feldmann. “You know, that’s not exactly our goal, but getting these children excited and pointing out how to be healthier at home is
a big ‘win’ as far as we are concerned!”
And what child doesn’t want to go home and tell their parents about their day and the meal they got to cook during class? CHEF® is having a positive impact on the health status of the population in San Antonio.