Children are faced with unhealthy eating choices every day, whether through commercials that feature meals with enticing toys or billboard displays on the way to school. Eating healthy is rarely the “fun” thing to do.
In an effort to change this, the Florida Dairy Farmers and the Dairy Council of Florida created the annual Gridiron Cooking Challenge, a healthy-food competition for elementary- and middle-school students in Florida. Students use dairy products and their imagination to create new and healthy recipes.
“I love to see students rise to the occasion and experience something that will impact them for a lifetime,” said Pam Butler, 38-year Florida dairy farmer and Gridiron Cooking Challenge judge. “Their excitement and confidence for the challenge is contagious and impressive.”
Students compete in teams of four and must create an original recipe that includes dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. Once the recipe is finalized, the teams submit their entry form through the mail or email.
The top four teams from each NFL market in Florida — which includes the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars — compete by creating their recipe in under 60 minutes before a panel of judges, which include celebrity chefs, NFL players, farmers and Fuel Up to Play 60 student ambassadors. Judges then taste the recipes and give a score.
“As a judge, I look for creativity, the best use of dairy products, the amount of products used, team presentation and a knowledge of the recipe,” Butler said. “I pay attention to how a team created their recipe, and, of course, taste.”
Last year’s winners were Brody Gullo, Tyler Roth, Michael Aronson and Dillon Patel from Equestrian Trails Elementary School in Wellington, and they created a recipe called Breakfast on the Go.
The recipe included an egg muffin made with milk, celery, spinach, peppers and shredded cheese. The team also blended a smoothie that included frozen fruit, milk, Greek yogurt, kale and spinach.
“The recipe took about an hour to prepare,” said Liza Asch, physical education instructor at Equestrian Trails Elementary.
“The eggs tasted just like an omelet and the smoothie was a sweet, healthy treat that you can eat on the run.”
The team had prepared the recipe for school staff several times to practice their technique. Through this, students became confident and were ready to compete for the win.
“I felt good about the competition,” said Michael, 11. “Winning felt amazing and I learned a lot about healthy eating with my team.”
Students and instructors that want to participate in this year’s Gridiron Cooking Challenge can submit a recipe entry form through Feb. 29.
“Programs like this help us teach students about being active and eating healthy,” Asch said. “It is a great idea for children to understand the importance of that now so they can lead healthier lives in the future.”
This year’s competition will be held at the Miami Dolphins Training Facility in Davie. Winners can earn up to $2,500 in prizes for their school as well as receive an iPad Mini 2.
For information and recipe entry forms, visit www.floridamilk.com.