VegOut! Challenge Takes Over Houston

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If you've noticed a lot of folks around Houston "vegging out" on Twitter and Facebook lately, it's not an epidemic of complete laziness--it's a pro-vegetable movement. The Recipe for Success Foundation is in the middle of its second annual VegOut! Challenge, to encourage Houstonians to embrace a healthier lifestyle by eating more fresh vegetables. You may have seen the hashtag -- #vegoutrfs - and noticed that some of the city's highest-profile chefs and restaurants are participating in the fun. (Not to mention our mayor.)

Founded in 2005 by Bob and Gracie Cavnar, the Recipe for Success Foundation has brought school gardens, nutrition education, and chefs-to-schools cooking instruction to Houston classrooms. The VegOut! Challenge looks to expand and reinforce the same ideas it brings to students--that healthy eating is easy, fun, and delicious--while adding an element of competition with contests and prizes through the month of March. And with the help of some of your favorite local chefs and restaurants, it's easy enough to VegOut! and dine out at the same time.

Houston's food scene has stepped up to support Recipe for Success Foundation and the VegOut! Challenge, and there are more than two dozen participating restaurants. Chef-driven recipes and instruction are integral to Recipe for Success Foundation's curriculum, and now diners can enjoy weekly or daily vegetable specials at restaurants such as Arcodoro, Quattro at the Four Seasons, and Sparrow Bar + Cookshop.

Chef Joseph Stayshich of Benjy's is excited to be participating in this year's VegOut! challenge for three reasons. "First, it promotes the consumption of vegetables, which not only are delicious, but are highly sustainable as well," he says. "Second, it gives us a chance to highlight some of the delicious veggies found at the market, and locally; third, it's fun for me and the other chefs to create vegetable-centered dishes." If you dine at Benjy's in March, look for Broccoli Hummus with Pita Chips, their famous "10 Vegetable Salad," and gluten-free gnocchi with spring vegetables, plus a nightly VegOut! special.

James Ashley, founder of Bare Bowls Kitchen, is working VegOut! magic on some of Houston's campuses, including Baylor, Rice, and UH. In addition to marketing the challenge with a VegOut! poster on a Bare Bowls food truck, Ashley will be working to persuade students and staff on the UH campus to form VegOut! Street teams. "We wholeheartedly believe in RFS, and their Mission with VegOut! Each week we offer a VegOut!-themed dish; on March 26, I'm preparing a special, localized menu for Dress for Dinner at Neiman Marcus with Nanette Lepore."

Chef William Gilchriest is having fun making vegetables the star of the show at Brooklyn Athletic Club, stating (with a wink), "Everybody deserves to have an amazing meal--even vegetarians and vegans!" His eggplant parm has been flying out the door, while crispy lentil cakes and baba ganoush have also proved popular. Vegetables, says Gilchriest, showcase the change in seasons in a way that protein simply cannot. "That change, that's the fun part!" You can check BAC's Facebook and Twitter feed for updates on their VegOut!-centric menu items.

It comes as no surprise that vegan chef Stephanie Hoban, of RIPE Cuisine, is an enthusiastic participant and champion of Recipe for Success's VegOut! Challenge. "All of my food is focused on locally, seasonally-inspired vegan meals, so VegOut!'s mission to get people to increase their vegetable intake is right in line with my own philosophy. I personally follow a vegan diet, and that's the food I serve, but not everyone is ready to take it to that level. VegOut! is a great opportunity for Houstonians to try a new vegetable, or a new way to cook a vegetable, and move toward a healthier diet."

To learn more about the VegOut! Challenge, and find out how you can still participate, visit the VegOut! website, where you'll find info on all your favorite (or future favorite) vegetables, and worksheets for teachers and parents. And don't forget to drop in to your favorite participating restaurant.

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