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Blackbox cooking challenge: A creative & inspiring Nutrition Month event

Every year in Canada, we celebrate Nutrition Month in March as a way of promoting healthy eating to the public and to identify registered dietitians (RDs) as a key source of trusted nutrition information. 

In Thunder Bay, one of the public health dietitians chairs a community wide Nutrition Month committee. In past years, she has taken the lead on planning exciting nutrition month events, such as grocery store scavenger hunts, cooking challenges for families, and workplace healthy eating passport programs. However, she is on maternity leave this year! We had no choice but to embark on our Nutrition Month journey without her.  

Luckily, Dietitians of Canada’s Nutrition Month manager, Francy Pillo-Blocka, was a huge help in preparing the regional representatives. Plus, a total of 16 dietitians and interns signed up to be a part of Thunder Bay’s committee.

The first challenge we encountered was coming up with an exciting, yet feasible, idea for the main city-wide Nutrition Month event. We started brainstorming, which led to a discussion about popular cooking shows. A common favorite was noted: the black box challenges (seen on shows such as Chopped). This type of challenge forced participants to think on their feet, get creative, and rely on their culinary instincts. 

That’s when it clicked. We would do our own take on a black box challenge, and host it over lunch hour in the mall food court in front of a huge audience!

We wanted to make sure our event had plenty of media exposure and that our contestants had charisma galore. So, we paired three local chefs with a local celebrity, including a city counsellor and two radio personalities. Initially, we had some difficulty finding available individuals. Finding chefs who could work over the lunch hour and did not mind having their photo taken or being on television proved to be a challenge of its own.  
Once we found our participants, we told them that they would be provided with a surprise ingredient pantry and there were certain criteria to follow in order to score points. To ensure the meals were nutritious and delicious, points were awarded if the dish included:

• All four food groups
• One local ingredient
• A dark green or orange vegetable
• One whole grain
• A secret ingredient chosen by the participant

The teams would have one hour to prepare a meal from scratch that fit the criteria, while interacting with the audience and emcee. 

The event was a huge success! All six participants came ready to compete and laughed it up with their partner while preparing a tantalizingly delicious meal.

The audience sampled the dishes and judged the teams based on:
  • Appearance of the meal
  • Taste of the dish
  • The chef’s attire (We were hoping for vibrant attire to capture the audience’s attention.)
  • Overall favourite team

Based on the scores received from the audience, we handed out trophies, “The Golden Carrot” award, to each team.

Despite the event being a success, we encountered numerous challenges along the way. Some notable ones include:
  • The microphone didn’t work until half way through the event! Our backup plan for the future: Always ensure your emcee has a loud voice and lots of water.
  • We only had access to one power outlet. We played it off as an additional challenge for the teams, as they had to take turns using the plugin to heat their meals, boil water, use the blender, etc.
  • The power outlet was also in the middle of the chef’s area, making the power cord a significant tripping hazard. Thank goodness for duct tape!
  • The table being used for our dishwashing station fell over right before the event (miraculously, not a drop of water was spilled).
  • The audience needed coaxing to come closer to watch. Luckily, we had yoga mats to give away and nutrition fact challenges to entice them.

Overall, our Nutrition Month event was a fabulous accomplishment!  Now that we have this experience under our belt, we plan to use the blackbox challenge for future nutrition events.

For dietitians looking to host events themselves, keep in mind that although you may have to overcome barriers and challenges, there is always support and advice from Francy (Dietitians of Canada’s Nutrition Month manager) and other dietitians around the country. 

Although Nutrition Month is a time to spread the word about the importance of healthy eating, it also became obvious that it is a time for dietitians to appreciate their peers and enjoy working together in a new and innovative way.  We are looking forward to Nutrition Month 2017 and longingly look back to our fun (and tasty) experience this year.

Editor’s note: Congrats on a fabulous event, Julie! This post highlights one of two Nutrition Month events being shared on the blog this month. Stay tuned for the next post featuring an exciting event at Sick Kids Hospital. You may be even more inspired to host a Nutrition Month event next year!

Were you involved with a Nutrition Month event? We would love to learn more about it! Please share your experience and/or comments for Julie below. 
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