Mission Thrive

Mission Thrive is a wonderful example of a successful demonstration project that was based on research and had real-life impact. It is a set of innovative program models created by the Nova Institute (formerly Institute for Integrative Health) and its partners to empower youth, families, and communities to make lifestyle changes that will support their health and well-being.  

Each Mission Thrive model was designed to address the unique needs and challenges of a particular ​population. Grounded in health science, our models engaged participants in hands-on experiences involving cooking, nutrition, physical fitness, and mindfulness. With practice and mastery of skills, participants were able to incorporate health-promoting strategies into their daily lives. Our p​rograms ​also ​inspired participants with the confidence to become health leaders, sharing their knowledge and stories of success with others.

Mission Thrive Community-Based Programs Empower People for Lifelong Health

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Building a Healthy Community 

Five Times a Feast broke down barriers to healthy home-cooking: food costs, time for preparation, comfort in the kitchen, and an understanding of nutrition. 

Five Times a Feast was a free six-to-eight-week cooking program we designed to address the common challenges associated with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. These interactive cooking lessons taught Baltimore City residents to overcome the barriers to healthy home cooking and eating in a budget-friendly way.

Participating in Five Times a Feast

Participants of Five Times a Feast attended regular sessions at one of our host sites, and we partnered with local community organizations to recruit participants. We provided each host site with all of the cooking equipment and ingredients necessary for the program as well as a highly trained cooking professional.

The Workshop

This workshop covered information and hands-on practice in overcoming the four largest barriers to healthy home-cooking: budget, time, nutrition knowledge, and comfort in the kitchen. Participants learned cooking skills while they prepared six servings of a healthy recipe. One serving was eaten at the family meal that participants share at the end of the workshop, while the remaining five portions were packaged to take home to share with families or to eat in the week ahead.

For more information about the Five Times a Feast program or to inquire about using the curricula, please contact us at info@novainstituteforhealth.org.

Improving the Quality of Students’ Diets by Involving Them in Creating Healthful Dishes 

Improving your eating habits is a lot easier when healthful food tastes great. That’s the thinking behind Spice MyPlate, a program we created to engage high school students in using spices and herbs to prepare and enjoy nutritious snacks and meals.

The program, piloted at Baltimore’s Patterson High School, emphasizes enjoying good food rather than just improving health. Instead of merely telling students to avoid high levels of sugar, fat, and salt, Spice MyPlate shows them how to make wholesome versions of their favorite dishes every bit as flavorful using spices and herbs.

Participants in the pilot learned the profiles of 12 core spices and herbs, including their origins, health-promoting properties, scientific and historical facts, and common applications in cooking. Then they applied that knowledge—while honing their teamwork and kitchen skills—in making dishes like cozy spiced beef, fruit fondue, and zesty jerk three-bean chili.

The Spice MyPlate curriculum, which uses the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines as a foundation, also teaches students how to read a recipe, plan balanced meals, and estimate appropriate portion sizes.

The program was collaboratively developed, implemented, and evaluated by Nova Institute (formerly the Institute for Integrative Health), the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, and private partners. The McCormick Science Institute provided financial support for research.

Spice MyPlate research study found that the program improved diet quality and healthy eating attitudes among students who participated compared with a control group of students who did not. Program participants reported increased consumption of whole grain and protein foods and a positive change in attitudes towards consuming vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.

For more information about Spice MyPlate or to inquire about curricula, please contact us at info@novainstituteforhealth.org.

Engaging Baltimore City High School Students in Urban Farming, Cooking, Fitness, Mindfulness, and Leadership Training

I never would have thought I’d start planting and getting in the dirt!

three teenagers stand with baskets of fresh produce

This teen is one of many Baltimore City high school students who surprised themselves while taking part in Mission Thrive Summer, a five-week, hands-on experience of farming, cooking, leadership, physical activity, mindfulness, and life skills development. 

A partnership between the  Nova Institute for Health (formerly the Institute for Integrative Health) and Civic Works’ Real Food Farm, the successful Mission Thrive Summer program taught youth how to plant and harvest food and then prepare it for lunch. Students learned the science of growing plants and vegetables and how to apply principles of good nutrition to everyday healthy eating.

Regular exercise, sports, and field trips kept summer from being sedentary, while leadership training developed students’ teamwork, self-awareness and confidence to deliver health education to the community. Mindfulness training—a combination of yoga, breathing and silent reflection—equipped them with tools for managing stress and regulating their emotions.

The program culminates in a competitive cook-off and a community health fair produced and presented by the students for Baltimoreans of all ages.

Through our partnership with YouthWorks, the Baltimore City youth employment program, many Mission Thrive Summer participants received a paycheck for their good work at Real Food Farm.

Learning From Mission Thrive Summer

The University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine conducted a study of Mission Thrive Summer, measuring potential increases in students’ knowledge, changes in activity and dietary quality, and shifts in emotional well-being, perceived stress, and mindfulness. Based on program evaluation, the Institute for Integrative Health refined this effective model for youth summer enrichment and shared it widely.

Mission Thrive Summer and its outcomes have also been presented in forums such as the National Summer Learning Annual Conference and the International Congress on Integrative Medicine & Health.

Read the study: A Summer Health Program for African-American High School Students in Baltimore, Maryland: Community Partnership for Integrative Health.

Mission Thrive Summer Partners

Nova Institute for Health (formerly the Institute for Integrative Health) teamed up with the Holistic Life Foundation (HLF) University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, and Patterson High School to conduct one of the most extensive mindfulness initiatives ever undertaken in a U.S. public high school. This public-private collaboration, called the Mindfulness at Patterson Partnership (MAPP), established a school-wide mindfulness program and evaluated its impact. Each school day, from October 2013 through May 2014, students at Patterson High participated in the Mindful Moment, a 15-minute curriculum developed by HLF that blends seated yoga, breathing exercises, and silent reflection. Complementing the sessions was a dedicated mindfulness room, staffed by HLF, where students who were disruptive at any point in the school day could be referred for a mindful time-out. The room also served as resource for students who wanted to take a quiet break during their lunch period. MAPP builds on the Institute’s expertise in mindfulness training for adults, its research alliance with the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, and its relationship with Patterson High,

Learn more about Mindfulness

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Leveraging the Power of Peer Influence

Above left:  Students from Baltimore’s Patterson High School compete in the annual Teen Battle Chef cooking competition. Right:  Members of Patterson’s football team demonstrate yoga at an open house at Real Food Farm.
Peers play a major role in shaping adolescents’ decisions, and not just when it comes to buying sneakers. That influence extends to health-related habits, too. With that in mind, the Institute began partnering with Dr. Mehmet Oz’s national  organization in 2011, to bring young health mentors and activists into several Baltimore City high schools. Dedicated to a school full-time for two years, these recent college graduates—called HealthCorps Coordinators—deliver a creative curriculum on nutrition and cooking, physical activity, and mental resilience through classroom teaching and enrichment programs after school. The Institute serves as an anchor and resource for coordinators in the Baltimore-Washington region, bringing them together for trainings in mind-body skills, meditation, and a wide range of topics in integrative health. Local coordinators have opportunities to participate in Institute programs and consult with our Scholars and staff on ways to enhance their impact with students. A highlight of the partnership each spring is Teen Battle Chef, when cooking teams from mid-Atlantic HealthCorps schools converge on Baltimore to prepare and present their best recipes before an expert panel as well as family and friends.

Research and Evaluation 

​​To​ refine our models and​ promote replication, we tested and evaluated these ​programs​ — here are some of our published findings.

A Summer Health Program for African-American High School Students in Baltimore, Maryland: Community Partnership for Integrative Health, Explore (NY), May-Jun 2017: 186-197.

Spice MyPlate: Nutrition Education Focusing Upon Spices and Herbs Improved Diet Quality and Attitudes Among Urban High School Students. American Journal of Health Promotion, May 2016: 346-56.