The Walk On!

The five finalists from this year’s competition: (from left) Josslyn Michael, Cayce Parks, Kayla Littler, Phoebe Loop, Jacob Ohara. 

Concerned about the escalating obesity rate in children, a group of employees from different departments at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona came together and developed the Walk On! Challenge in 2005.

“Each person contributed different perspectives, such as health and wellness, childhood education and communication,” said Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona Manager of Community Relations Angie Ramage. “The original program was a challenge that encouraged students to get 10,000 steps per day, hence, ‘Walk On! Challenge.’ It evolved over the years to include the importance of good nutrition and to teach students how physical activity and healthy eating go hand in hand.”

The Walk On! Kids Cooking Challenge is a product of this evolution. The competition is geared toward kids age 9 to 12. Children are asked to submit their favorite recipes for a chance to be honored at a Phoenix Suns game.

Briony Campisi won the competition in 2016, and her sister Ashlyn competed in the top five in 2017. The sisters said they come from a family where eating healthy was already a part of their life; however, both sisters credited the competition for influencing them to eat even healthier.

“It helped me see what foods are good and not good. And it also showed me and most likely others too, how easy it is to make it and eat healthy,” Ashlyn said.

“The contest was a way for me to not only practice my cooking skills but also introduce me to a world of healthy foods,” Briony said.

Recipes for the 2020 challenge are chosen based on the criteria that they include at least one fruit and/or vegetable, are an original recipe for a hot or cold side dish and, excluding prep time, are ready to eat within 20 minutes. The top five recipes were chosen based on nutrition, taste and originality. The finalists presented their side dish at a Phoenix Suns game on February 7.

Ten-year-old Phoebe Loop, one of the top five finalists in this year’s competition, is no stranger to creating masterpieces in the kitchen. She and her mom Selena are always trying to make innovative dishes using vegetables, fish and chicken.

“We like to use spices to make plain stuff taste better. It is fun to try new mixtures or have old recipes that we make different with spices and healthier options,” Phoebe said.

Like those who competed before her, Phoebe learned a positive lesson from the competition. “I think the competition helps me to see that this is a good idea and to continue what we started.”

Phoebe earned her spot with carrot fries with garlic lemon aioli. “It is my favorite and I thought that other people would really like it too,” she said.

Briony’s recipe was a Rainbow Mango Taco Salad Taco, which contained lettuce with mango, strawberry, cabbage, avocado and chicken and spices.

“I still remember the night I grabbed a paper and pen to write down all the ingredients and the name just came to mind,” she said.

Ashlyn’s recipe was the Swirly Whirly Zucchini Pasta. “I wanted spiraled zucchini because it was a great substitution for pasta and it looks exactly like pasta but it’s green, and kids love colorful food,” she said.

“The contest meant a lot to me. It was challenging and exciting. I was very proud of myself and still am. To compete in the contest, you kind of have to go out of your comfort zone and grow in some areas that you are not strong in yet, for example public speaking and speaking to people that you don’t know,” said Ashlyn.

Governor Doug Ducey designated January 31 as Walk On! Day for the state to help promote healthier choice for Arizona families.

Kiva Elementary even hosted a Walk On! event to encourage students and teachers to participate in the month-long challenge.

There are four goals to achieve within the challenge: eat five fruits and vegetables a day, limit screen time to two hours, get at least one hour of physical activity each day and consume zero sweetened drinks.

As Ashlyn, Briony and Phoebe can attest, this experience has continued to influence their lives and helped them realize they are capable of accomplishing anything if they set their minds and tables to it.