Food for Thought

Welcome to Sesame Street’s press room for our outreach initiative Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget. This bilingual, multimedia initiative is designed to help support families who have children between the ages of two and eight, cope with uncertain or limited access to affordable and nutritious food.

project overview

The Project

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, in partnership with UnitedHealthcare and The Merck Company Foundation, has created Food For Thought: Eating Well on a Budget. This bilingual, multimedia outreach program is designed to help support families with young children who are coping with uncertain or limited access to affordable and nutritious food. Food for Thought provides families the materials and resources they need in order to positively address the social, emotional, and nutritional concerns that are part of food insecurity.

The Need

Food insecurity is an invisible crisis in the United States. Sixteen million American children are food insecure.* For young children, food insecurity has lifelong consequences that affect their health, school readiness and performance, as well as their growth and development.

Project Goals

  • Help Children and families achieve a healthy diet by educating them about nutritionally sound foods.
  • Support Caregivers facing economic challenges as they encourage children to eat healthy foods and be physically active, and model these behaviors.
  • Provide Resources that allow children and adults to make healthy food choices based on simple and familiar messages, including choosing between “sometime” and “anytime” foods and eating a rainbow of colors.
  • Empower Families with a “can-do” attitude, along with practical strategies to help them make healthier food choices.

Project Components

Bilingual Outreach Kit including:

  • DVD: an original Sesame Street story featuring Elmo, the Super Foods, and friends, along with real families as they try new foods, learn about the importance of healthy snacks, and discover that sharing a meal together is the perfect opportunity to connect as a family.
  • Caregiver Guide: containing tips, strategies and resources to help food-insecure families make healthy choices within a limited budget.
  • Children’s Story: in which Big Bird’s family visits a local food pantry and discovers that shopping for food and cooking a meal together are important ways to remain connected as a family.
  • Recipe Cards: providing healthy ideas for meals and snacks.

Digital Media Experience ( including:

  • Provider Guide: with strategies on how to use the outreach kit in volunteer and/or service organizations that work with food-insecure children and families.
  • online games and resources: promoting healthy habits.

Distribution Plan

A total of 1 million outreach kits have been produced for this initiative and distributed through Sesame Workshop’s partnership with UnitedHealthcare, The Merck Company Foundation, other key organizations, and membersof the initiative’s advisory board. Materials are available free online at Video content, titled “Learn Along with Sesame,” is available for free on VOD and iTunes (

*Nord, Mark, Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson. Household Food Security in the United States, 2009.. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, November 2010.

Download Project Overview

press release

Washington, D.C. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE— Seventeen million American children—nearly one in four—are food insecure, meaning they do not receive food that meets basic nutritional needs due to financial instability.  Of these children, more than half (9.6 million) are under the age of six.[1] In response to this, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, with funding and partnership support of UnitedHealthcare and The Merck Company Foundation, today rolled out Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget, a bilingual (English-Spanish) multimedia outreach initiative designed to help support families who have children between the ages of two and eight, cope with uncertain or limited access to affordable and nutritious food.

In conjunction with the official rollout, the program’s contents were unveiled todayby Gary E. Knell, President and CEO, Sesame Workshop, Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, Russell C. Petrella, Ph. D, President, UnitedHealthcare Community & State, Richard T. Clark, Chairman and CEO, Merck, and Sesame Street’s Elmo at a community event at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C.

The Food for Thought program will provide families with an educational outreach kit, which includes an original video featuring the debut of four new Sesame Street Muppets, the “Super Foods.” The video also features Elmo and friends, along with real families as they try new foods, learn about the importance of healthy snacks, and discover that sharing a meal together is a perfect opportunity to connect as a family. There is also a special section for parents and caregivers that addresses the social and emotional issues related to food insecurity; and a segment with award-winning chef Art Smith, who shows families how to stretch a meal and shop locally while saving money. Additionally, for the first time ever, the Muppet story featured in the outreach kit will air on Sesame Street on PBS on December 8th (check local listings).

Sesame Workshop laid the foundation for this project beginning in 2004 with Healthy Habits for Life, a multi-year initiative aimed to teach parents and children that health and well-being is just as crucial to child development as learning how to read and write.

As the country’s economic status continues to take its toll, the number of young children confronting food insecurity continues to increase, as do the subsequent effects on children’s health, school performance, growth, and development.

Through Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget Sesame Workshop will extend the Healthy Habits for Life Initiative by educating families on how to nurture their children’s overall development through good nutrition—even in the face of tough economic or social decisions to create positive effects that last a lifetime.

“Sesame Workshop’s sole mission is to help children reach their highest potential. As part of our overall Healthy Habits for Life initiative, Food for Thought is essential in helping children learn the importance of developing a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritional food despite a low or reduced income and helping them succeed in school…and in life,” said Gary E. Knell, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sesame Workshop. “We are so happy to have the support of two incredible organizations such as UnitedHealthcare and The Merck Foundation to make this initiative possible.”

“We share Sesame Street’s commitment to help families and communities make nutritious food choices and we are proud to sponsor Food for Thought as a crucial addition to our comprehensive programs promoting healthy lifestyles,” said Russell C. Petrella, Ph. D, President, UnitedHealthcare Community & State. “This initiative supports UnitedHealthcare’s mission to help people live healthier lives by promoting sound nutritional and exercise programs.”

“Hunger and malnutrition are preventable, yet American children continue to suffer from these conditions at an alarming rate,” said Richard T. Clark, Chairman and CEO of Merck, a global healthcare leader. “Through education and partnerships like Food for Thought, Merck is helping families start on the right path to wellness through lifelong healthy eating habits. 

The Food For Thought resource kit is designed to:

  • Assist children and families in achieving a balanced and healthy diet by educating them about nutritionally sound foods that are easier to access and that are good for child development,
  • Support families facing economic challenges to model and encourage children to eat healthy foods and be physically active,
  • Provide resources that allow both children and adults to make healthy food choices based on simple and familiar messages, including sometime and anytime foods and eating a rainbow of colors; and
  • Inform families about locally available resources and programs for them and their children to access nutritionally sound foods.


The 400,000 kits will be distributed through UnitedHealthcare, The Merck Foundation and other key organizations including National WIC association, Feeding America, Head Start, Meals on Wheels and other key organizations. The initiative will also include two public service messages promoting trying new foods.  All bilingual materials will be available at 

About UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealthcare® supports a wide range of programs and services that help people live healthier lives, promoting nutritional and exercise programs for more than 20 years. UnitedHealthcare will help distribute the materials through physician and caregiver mailings, a special web site, newsletters and community events. UnitedHealthcare is part of UnitedHealth Group® (, a diversified health and well-being company, which provides services to one out of every eight children in the United States and serves more than 75 million people worldwide.

About The Merck Company Foundation

The Merck Company Foundation is a U.S.-based, private charitable foundation.  Established in 1957 by Merck, a global healthcare leader, the Foundation is funded entirely by the company and is Merck’s chief source of funding support to qualified non-profit, charitable organizations.  Since its inception, The Merck Company Foundation has contributed more than $600 million to support important initiatives that address societal needs and are consistent with Merck’s overall mission to help the world be well.  For more information, visit

About Sesame Workshop:

Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organization that revolutionized children’s television programming with the landmark Sesame Street.  The Workshop produces local Sesame Street programs, seen in over 140 countries, and other acclaimed shows to help bridge the literacy gap including The Electric Company and Pinky Dinky Doo.  Beyond television, the Workshop produces content for multiple media platforms on a wide range of issues including literacy, health and military deployment. Initiatives meet specific needs to help young children and families develop critical skills, acquire healthy habits and build emotional strength to prepare them for lifelong learning.  Learn more at

Press Contacts:

Pam Hacker
Sesame Workshop
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Ron Rogers
Emily Vlasak

Alice Ferreira

1. Nord, Mark, Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson. Household Food Security in the United States, 2009. ERR – 108, U.S. Dept of Agriculture, Econ. Res. Serv. November 2010.

Download Press Release

  • Food for Thought Sizzle Reel

    A highlight video from Sesame Street’s outreach initiative, Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget. This bilingual, multimedia initiative is designed to help support families who have children between the ages of two and eight, cope with uncertain or limited access to affordable and nutritious food.

    Watch on YouTube
  • Eat a Rainbow PSA

    Abby Cadabby and Dr. Tuckson talk about eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to help you stay healthy and strong.

    Watch on YouTube
  • Try It! New Foods

    A PSA featuring Elmo about the importance of trying new foods from Sesame Street’s outreach initiative, Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget. This bilingual, multimedia initiative is designed to help support families who have children between the ages of two and eight, cope with uncertain or limited access to affordable and nutritious food.

    Watch on YouTube
  • Super Snackers

    A PSA featuring Grover about the importance of eating healthy snacks from Sesame Street’s outreach initiative, Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget. This bilingual, multimedia initiative is designed to help support families who have children between the ages of two and eight, cope with uncertain or limited access to affordable and nutritious food.

    Watch on YouTube

Enid Borden
President and CEO, Meals On Wheels Association of America

Enid Borden is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Meals On Wheels Association of America (MOWAA), the oldest and largest organization in the United States representing those who provide meal services to people in need. MOWAA’s mission is to provide visionary leadership and professional training, and to develop partnerships that will ensure the provision of quality nutrition services to seniors in need. During her 19-year tenure at MOWAA, Ms. Borden has directed the day-to-day operations of the Association and provided leadership to the organization during a period of significant growth and innovative partnership development. She has held numerous public affairs and policy positions in the public sector and has served on the faculty in the School of Graduate and Continuing Studies at Goucher College in Baltimore. Ms. Borden earned her Bachelor’s degree from Alfred University, and her Master’s degree from Adelphi University. Enid’s work has earned her recognition in Who’s Who in the Media and Communications.

Mariana Chilton, Ph.D., MPH
Founder, Witnesses to Hunger
Principal Investigator, Philadelphia GROW Project
Professor, Drexel University School of Public Health 

Dr. Mariana Chilton is a leading expert on hunger and poverty in America.  She is also a professor of Public Health at Drexel University School of Public Health.  She is the Principal Investigator for The Philadelphia GROW Project and Co-Principal Investigator of Children’s HealthWatch. She most recently founded Witnesses to Hunger to increase women’s participation in the national dialogue on hunger and poverty.   She has numerous scientific publications, and has secured several large grants for her research, clinical care for children with failure to thrive, and empowerment work with women.  Dr. Chilton received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from the University of Oklahoma, and Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University. Her awards include the Young Professional Award in Maternal and Child Health from the American Public Health Association, the Philadelphia Business Journal “40 under 40” Young Professional Award, and the National Lindback Award for Teaching Excellence.  Her work has been featured in the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, public radio and CBS national news.

Vicki Escarra
President & CEO, Feeding America

Ms. Escarra is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Feeding America (formerly named America’s Second Harvest), the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity.  Since joining Feeding America in 2006, she has led the organization through the most ambitious period of growth in its history, charting a course to feeding more Americans in need than ever before.

Ms. Escarra has established a new strategic plan for the organization, which will guide all of Feeding America’s efforts through 2012 and sets a vision for distributing more than 1 billion additional pounds of food each year (for a total of 2.95 billion pounds per year) and reaching an additional 5 million Americans who struggle with hunger (for a total of 30 million Americans). In support of those goals, Ms. Escarra has: led the organization through a re-branding process that will mobilize the public in support of Feeding America and domestic hunger-relief; coordinated network-wide support for progress in federal government programs, resulting in the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill; improved network relations and cooperation, leading to more effective local food distribution; launched a nationwide-coordinated fundraising strategy; and developed corporate partnerships, including new retail store pick-up programs with nationwide retailers that have resulted in unprecedented fresh foods available for local distribution.

Prior to arriving at Feeding America, Ms. Escarra was Executive Vice President, Chief Customer Service Officer of Delta Airlines.  Ms. Escarra currently serves on the boards of Health Net, Inc., the Congressional Hunger Center, the National Association of Professional Women and the Committee of 200.  In September 2009, the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute presented Feeding America and Ms. Escarra with the prestigious “Freedom from Want” medal, which honored Ms. Escarra for leading Feeding America as it expanded its reach, developed new partnerships, and brought greater public awareness to the often-overlooked problem of hunger in America.

A native of Decatur, Georgia, Ms. Escarra holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Georgia State University, and she has completed the Columbia University Executive Management Program and the Harvard University Executive Leadership Program.                                                      

Edward Frongillo, Jr., Ph.D.
Professor and Department Chair, Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior, University of South Carolina

Dr. Frongillo is a Professor and Department Chair at the University of South Carolina. He formerly directed the Program in International Nutrition at Cornell University. Dr. Frongillo has worked with the World Health Organization on a number of projects related to hunger and malnutrition, most importantly as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee for the development of the new international growth reference for infants and children.  From 1994 to 1997, Dr. Frongillo worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the team responsible for the preparation, analysis, and reporting of the Current Population Survey module, which provided the first national measure of hunger and food insecurity.

Dr. Frongillo’s areas of expertise include: the growth, development, and feeding of infants and young children; family stress and parenting; measurement and consequences of household food insecurity; and policy and programs for improving nutrition and development.  He is the author or co-author of numerous peer-reviewed publications, including a study in the Journal of Nutrition: “Food Insecurity Affects School Children’s Academic Performance, Weight Gain, and Social Skills” (2005).  His other published articles focus on topics ranging from food insecurity among marginalized communities to the effects of snack availability in elementary schools.

Dr. Frongillo holds a Bachelors of Science in Biology from Brown University, Masters degrees from Cornell University in Human Nutrition and Biometry, and a Ph.D. from Cornell in Biometry.

Rev. Douglas Greenaway
President and CEO, National WIC Association

Since 1985, Fr. Greenaway has served as an advocate and government affairs specialist in Washington, DC.  As the 20-year President and CEO of the National WIC Association (NWA), which is the nonprofit voice of the over 9.2 million mothers and young children and the over 12,200 service provider agencies and clinics of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Fr. Douglas is responsible for directing the Association, as well as representing the WIC community’s interests to the White House, Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies and departments.  He was Ordained to the Holy Order of Priests in the Anglican/Episcopal Diocese of Washington and serves as Priest Associate at St. Paul’s Rock Creek Parish.

Fr. Greenaway holds a Master of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary, and a Master of Architecture from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.  He is a graduate of Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

Ronald Kleinman, M.D.
Physician in Chief, MassGeneral Hospital for Children
Chair, Department of Pediatrics; Chief, Pediatric Gastrointestinal and Nutrition Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital
Charles Wilder Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School 

Dr. Kleinman is Physician in Chief of the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Chief of the Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Charles Wilder Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.  Dr. Kleinman’s professional affiliations include the American Gastroenterological Association, the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD), the North American Association for the Gastroenterology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN), the Society for Pediatric Research, and the American Pediatric Society.  He has been a member of the Medical Advisory Group on Diet and Nutrition Guidelines in Cancer for the American Cancer Society, a member of the National Cholesterol Advisory Committee (NICHD), and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Global Child Nutrition Foundation and Project Bread.  Dr. Kleinman served as Chair of the Committee on Nutrition for the American Academy of Pediatrics and is the editor of the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions of the Academy’s Pediatric Nutrition Handbook.  He consults for the Grain Food Foundation, Sesame Workshop, Beech Nut, the Burger King External Advisory Board, and General Mills.

Dr. Kleinman’s major areas of research interest include gastrointestinal immunology, nutrition support of infants and children, and nutrition and public health policy.  He is the author of more than 150 peer-reviewed publications, chapters, monographs and textbooks.

A graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, Dr. Kleinman earned his M.D. from New York Medical College.  He completed his residency and chief residency in Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and his fellowship in Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.

Hugo Melgar-Quinonez, M.D., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, OSU Extension Specialist, Department of Human Nutrition, The Ohio State University

Dr. Melgar-Quinonez is an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Human Nutrition at the Ohio State University (OSU).  Along with serving as a Primary Adviser for Masters and Ph.D. candidates, he is also the Director of the Nutrition and Community Health program.  Dr. Melgar-Quinonez is a member of the American Society of the Nutritional Sciences, the Sociedad Latinoamericana de Nutrición, and the Center for International Agricultural Development.

One of Dr. Melgar-Quinonez’s primary research focuses is food security and community nutrition in immigrant Latino groups, both in Ohio and throughout the United States.  His research has been published in multiple journals, including the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition and the Brazilian Nutrition Journal, and it encompasses the impact educational media related to health messaging has on the Latino community.  In addition, Dr. Melgar-Quinonez has worked to evaluate the impact of the Healthy Latinos Initiative among families and children in after-school and other settings.

Dr. Melgar-Quinonez earned his M.D. and Ph.D. from Friedrich Schiller Universität in Germany.  He is fluent in English, Spanish and German and holds a dual citizenship from the United States and Guatemala.

Art Smith
Celebrity Chef

The executive chef and co-owner of Table fifty-two and Art and Soul restaurants, Mr. Smith has received the culinary profession’s highest awards and has cooked for some of the world’s most famous celebrities. In 1997, Smith became the personal, day-to-day chef to Oprah Winfrey, a position that lasted ten years. Smith now coordinates and cooks for the headline-grabbing special events that Ms. Winfrey hosts all around the world.

Most recently Smith has made several television appearances including Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, where he quickly became an audience favorite. Smith was also featured in an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition where he lend a hand to a deserving family that has devoted their lives to providing meals for the less fortunate members of their community.

Smith has made regular television appearances on programs such as Iron Chef America, The Today Show, Nightline, Fox News, Extra and Oprah in addition to having served as a Williams-Sonoma culinary instructor and the special events chef for Martha Stewart Living magazine.

Smith is currently in production of his new TLC television series COMFORT FOOD (wt), which explores the obsessions, triumphs, and secrets behind some of America’s favorite comfort foods. The series is produced by True Entertainment.

A contributing editor to O, the Oprah Magazine, Smith is also the author of three award-winning cookbooks: Back to the Table; Kitchen Life: Real Food for Real Families; and Back to the Family. Most recently he contributed recipes and cooking advice to The Spectrum, the newest book by ground-breaking cardiologist and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Dean Ornish.

In 2003 he founded Common Threads, a non-profit organization that teaches children about diversity and tolerance through the world’s great cultures.  For his tireless Common Threads leadership, Smith was honored by Chicago magazine as a Chicagoan of the Year in 2007. That same year, the prestigious James Beard Foundation named him Humanitarian of the Year.

Wassy Tesfa, M.A.
Head Start Director, Center for Community & Family Services, Inc.
Board Member, National Head Start Association

Ms. Tesfa is the Head Start/Early Head Start Director for the Center for Community & Family Services in Pasadena, California.  Her program is recognized as one of the quality Head Start programs in the nation and serves 1,300 preschools in Pasadena and Glendale for children from birth to five-years-old.  Ms. Tesfa is also a member of the National Head Start Association (NHSA) where she serves as Board Secretary.

Head Start is an early intervention, federally funded preschool program providing holistic services to low-income children and families.  Children are offered early education services, as well as health, nutrition, mental health, and services to children with disabilities. Parents are empowered to develop their skills as their child’s primary educator, and they are also encouraged to develop goals for themselves through Head Start family services and to participate in the governance of the program.

The Head Start nutrition program offers children daily fresh, healthy and delicious meals that are low in sodium, sugar and fat.  The menus are planned by a registered dietician (with parental input) who takes the dietary and cultural needs of the children into account.  Parents are offered nutrition classes around topics such as budgeting, shopping and making healthy foods.  Collaborations with Share Our Strength and UCLA “Eat Well, Be Well” have further enhanced the program.

Originally from Ethiopia, Ms. Tesfa is a co-founder of Tesfa (hope) in Los Angeles, a non-profit organization that works with destitute women and families in Ethiopia and helps them to combat poverty.  Through this organization, Ms. Tesfa and her fellow women have helped over 3,000 families.  Ms. Tesfa holds a Masters of Arts degree and has completed the UCLA Anderson School of Business and Johnson & Johnson Head Start Management Fellows program.

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UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group company, is proud to sponsor Food for Thought, a bilingual outreach program aimed at helping low-income families make food choices that are affordable, nutritional, and set the foundation for healthy habits.

Merck Company Foundation

The Merck Company Foundation is proud to support Sesame Street Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget, as well as Sesame Street programming in China and Brazil

sesame workshop

Who we are

Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street and so much more.

Our Mission

Sesame Workshop’s mission is to use the educational power of media to help children everywhere reach their highest potential.

How we do it

Our recipe for success is combining a curriculum that addresses children’s critical developmental needs with the sophisticated use of media and a large dose of fun.

A proven impact

Our work promotes learning with real, measurable results, a fact borne out by numerous studies and sustained through our research-intensive process.

Teaching the whole child

Beyond ABCs and 123s, our programs deliver crucial lessons about health, emotional well-being, and respect and understanding to help kids grow up healthy, happy, and at home in their world.

On a global scale

It began as a simple yet revolutionary idea in the United States: to teach kids through television. 40 years later, it’s grown into a worldwide educational phenomenon, reaching millions of children in more than 150 countries.

A local approach

Our international programs are tailored to the unique needs of children, their country, and culture, created with local educators, advisors, and puppeteers. This often results in a fully local Sesame Street with its own name, language, curriculum, and Muppets.

Beyond television

Since our start on TV, we’ve become a multimedia pioneer, using everything from radio, books, and videos to the latest in interactive media and technology, efforts that are enhanced through collaborations with our colleagues at the ground-breaking research and innovation lab, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

Targeted outreach

Through on-the-ground outreach efforts, we bring our lessons directly into the homes and classrooms of particularly vulnerable communities, where they have a dramatic impact in kids’ lives.

Collaborative successes

Generous support from like-minded partners — foundations, corporations, individuals, governments, and others — has been critical to our mission for more than four decades and continues to make new projects possible.

Download Sesame Workshop Overview

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Pam Hacker
Sesame Workshop

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