Meal kits: New idea to help Houston families in food deserts

More than 500,000 Houston households are in food deserts, which means there is no grocery store for at least a mile, and often in these low-income neighborhoods, there's also a lack of education on how to cook and eat a healthy diet.

But one store in the 2nd Ward is offering both.

Sam Newman opened the Little Red Box Grocery store in the low-income 2nd Ward nine months ago.

"There aren’t a lot of places to access fresh foods and vegetables in this neighborhood," said Newman.

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His store is an oasis of healthy foods in a food desert where one in five children faces hunger.

"A place like this, to have fresh fruits and vegetables and produce, that’s the foundation for a healthy life," said Emily Paul with the American Heart Association.

But one challenge in solving food deserts is a lack of education among residents on cooking healthy meals.

"It’s not enough to say here are these fresh fruits and vegetables. You have to educate people about how to prepare them. We can’t use all the seasoning and oils we want because that defeats the purpose," said Chara Bowie, the Director of Health and Social Services with Harris County Commission Adrian Garcia's office.

So the Little Red Box and the non-profits Share our Strength and Cooking Matters took inspiration from the popularity of meal kits and created meal kits that customers can buy in the store.  

Customers can scan a QR code with their phones, which downloads a recipe from the app Cooking Matters. Each meal kit feeds a family of four for $15 to $25.

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"We have all of our ingredients here, so you grab a basket, you grab a recipe, you walk into the store, and you fill up your basket. And if you buy everything on the list, we’ll give you a little discount," said Newman.

The Cooking Matters link also provides many more low-cost, nutritious recipes and tips, including ways to get the kids cooking.  

Newman says they're already seeing it make a difference.

"We see our customers who used to come in for soda and Frito-Lay, are now coming in for some more healthy items," he said.

Anyone can access recipes from Cooking Matters through this link.