When the young “Super Chefs” arrived at the Grand Prairie, Texas, Parks, Arts and Recreation Department’s (GP-PARD) administration building for their big day, they tied their aprons, situated their chef hats and crossed their fingers that their meal would turn out great. The Super Chefs lunch program wrapped up a month-long celebration of summer campers recognizing and thanking their superheroes during July’s Park and Recreation Month. Super Chefs included summer campers from each of Grand Prairie’s recreation centers who had participated in classroom instruction about healthy eating and making healthy food choices; taken part in Grand Prairie’s Summer Intergenerational Gardening Program to learn how to grow their own fruits and vegetables; and learned how to prepare their own healthy meals.
This brand-new Super Chefs program allowed campers to demonstrate what they learned throughout the summer to some of their park heroes, while taking the main stage as chefs for the day. As superhero-themed music played in the background, the Super Chefs entered the conference room one-by-one and introduced themselves. One of the campers announced that when he grows up, he wants to be a chef and own a restaurant! Super Chefs was a grand day of fun, education, health, wellness and inspiration for the young campers.
The Main Ingredients for Overall Wellness
GP-PARD strives to ensure its summer campers have opportunities to participate in a variety of activities that promote health and wellness. The main ingredients of the Super Chefs program included working with recreation center staff to schedule classroom education, coordinating visits with the gardening club at The Summit to experience the active senior adult center’s gardens and greenhouse, and participating in the GP-PARD’s Summer Fitness Initiative. GP-PARD Summer Programs Intern and graduate student, Victoria Guerra, led recreation staff in coordinating and implementing a program that would teach young campers how making healthier eating choices affects their overall wellness. In the weeks preceding the Super Chefs lunch, participants learned about complex and simple carbs, processed and natural sugars, and good and bad fats. Additionally, youths learned about what particular vitamins can be found in different foods, including vitamins C and D, calcium and antioxidants. The careful combination of all these program ingredients resulted in each Super Chef camper creating their own food plate, as well as learning how to properly serve a meal, dining etiquette and cooking and kitchen etiquette.
The total time for meal preparation was approximately 35 minutes, but the Super Chef lunch was an hour-long celebration of healthy eating. In addition to their park heroes, Super Chefs also invited staff from the city manager’s office, city council and park board to join the special lunch and celebrate healthy eating. Guerra stated that one Super Chefs program goal was “to serve a well-balanced meal that would provide as many vitamins, minerals and whole foods as possible.”
The invited guests enjoyed a menu of veggie kabob appetizers, Latin lettuce tacos with Southwestern black bean salad as the main course, and strawberry graham delight as dessert. The veggie kabobs, both low in carbs and calories, incorporated lots of vegetables and provided an excellent source of minerals and vitamins. The Latin lettuce tacos served as a lower-carb alternative using lettuce as a wrap instead of a flour- or corn-based tortilla. Complex carbs were provided by the Southwest black bean salad — the beans, along with chicken, added lean protein to the meal. Avocados were added for texture and healthy fats, while low-fat graham crackers kept the dessert course light. Super Chefs also learned that strawberries are packed with antioxidants — they not only taste sweet and delicious, but they also help the body fight disease.
At the conclusion of the program, for their participation and accomplishment, each Super Chef received a golden spoon and certificate signed by Grand Prairie’s Director of Parks, Arts and Recreation, Rick Herold.
A Healthier Future
The Super Chefs learned that their overall wellness depends on their commitment to stay physically active and eat healthy foods. Summer camp staff taught the youth that the fitness activities in which they participated, in addition to the healthy eating lessons, were all part of learning how to live a healthier lifestyle. GP-PARD’s Summer Fitness Initiative included all campers taking part in physical activity for 30 minutes twice a week and a benchmark assessment every four weeks.
This assessment included activities such as recording the number of frog jumps or shuttle runs campers could complete in 30 seconds. The goal of the initiative was to quantify the effects of organized fitness on the campers’ overall fitness levels. To celebrate their fitness accomplishments, a Superhero Run/Walk was held just for summer campers, during which they celebrated with some of their favorite superheroes.
Campers learned the basics of the well-known 80/20 rule of fitness: 80 percent nutrition and 20 percent exercise. Teaching the campers the basics of nutrition and exercise is part of GP-PARD’s essential ingredients for a healthier future for all Grand Prairie residents. GP-PARD works to teach all summer campers and their families the value of a healthy diet that will have countless long-term benefits. In Grand Prairie, recreation center staff members teach youth and families that making healthier food choices and staying physically active directly affects overall well-being. In Grand Prairie, Super Chefs are our superheroes!
Mariana Espinoza is the Senior Recreation Supervisor for the Grand Prairie Parks, Arts and Recreation Department.