How prescription vegetables are changing kids' lives

HOUSTON – A program offered through Memorial Hermann is helping low-income families get access to fresh produce that they cannot afford.

The organization, Wholesome Wave is working with Target and local farmers’ markets to help 300 families in Houston get fruits and vegetables they desperately need in their diet. 

“They get a fruit and vegetable prescription,” said Lisa Kimmey-Walker, pediatric nurse practitioner at Memorial Hermann Health Centers for Schools in Lamar Consolidated Independent School District. 

 Kimmey-Walker said many of the young kids she cares for have high cholesterol, blood pressure and are pre-diabetic but they’re counting on coupons to break the cycle. The coupons equal about $1 per day per family member for fresh produce.
“Our families have been very, very receptive of the program and the children are eating the fruits and vegetables. When they come in for their follow-up, I ask them ‘about how many fruits and vegetables do you eat now?’ Many of them were at zero when we started and now they're eating five, which is the national target. Which very few children are able to achieve,” Kimmey-Walker said.
11-year-old Joseph Cabada said he’s hitting that mark. He just discovered he loves broccoli and tangerines. The bonus, he is quickly losing weight.

“Praise God he lost five pounds. He lost five pounds in a week,” his mother, Evelyn Esparza said. “I'm proud and I’m very happy. I'm just full of joy because they help me through this program.”

The only requirement to stay in the program is that the families have to attend three classes to learn how to read nutrition labels and how to better incorporate vegetables into their daily meals.

In one class by the Houston Food Bank, Evelyn learned about cooking with squash and peppers, which is something she could not afford to try before.

“I didn't have enough money to buy fruits and vegetables and every time I would buy it, it would take most of my food stamps because it's so expensive,” Esparza explained.

Coupons through Wholesome Wave can be used at Target or farmers’ markets and can be used in addition to SNAP.

Medical experts insist the free option is not the best part of the program.

“They are healthy on their lab work. They're healthier with their measurements. They have more energy, the children are reporting back that they're doing better in P.E. in school. We have several that are now going out for sports which they had not considered in the past,” Kimmey-Walker said.

Wholesome Wave only agreed to do this program in Houston through January. However, they said they’re confident the program will continue and possibly expand nationwide.

The program has shown success in other cities (Los Angeles and Miami) because the families health improved and businesses saw more new customers buying things in stores, according to Wholesome Wave.

If the program expands in Houston, enrollment could begin as early as spring 2018.