14:42 PM

Kid Chef from Goodyear Wins Annual Healthy Cooking Contest

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) announced the grand-prize winner of its 2018 Walk On! Kids Cooking Challenge. Gabe Bandera, an 11-year-old from Mabel Padgett Elementary School in Goodyear, was crowned the big winner for his “Purple Explosion” dish, a roasted slaw with mandarin dressing.

“I entered the Walk On! Kids Cooking Challenge because my dream is to be on a Food Network show like Chopped,” Gabe said. “I think being in this contest is a great step toward that goal! The dish I created came to me when I thought of the freshest and healthiest veggies that I could roast. I thought of slaw and then voila, Purple Explosion.”

As part of its effort to inspire kids to make healthier choices, in January, BCBSAZ invited kids ages 9-12 across the state to submit ideas for healthy side dish recipes. Recipes had to be original, include at least one fruit or vegetable, and be able to be prepared in 20 minutes or less.

Recipe submissions underwent a three-part scoring process. First, a nutrition specialist reviewed all the recipe submissions and chose the top five finalists based on each recipe’s level of nutrition. Then, the top five finalists participated in a public event at a Phoenix Suns home game, where game attendees had a chance to taste the dishes and vote for their favorite recipe. Gabe’s recipe was chosen by Suns fans as the tastiest recipe. For the third part of the scoring process, videos of contestants discussing what makes their recipe so good were posted online for a public vote. The recipe that received the most points from all three scoring categories combined was declared the winner.

“Gabe’s recipe was an excellent use of an array of vegetables, and most of them are lower on the glycemic index,” said Myrna Collins, health promotion executive at BCBSAZ. “I love that he used root vegetables, made his dressing from real ingredients—nothing processed—and incorporated seasonal items like mandarins. Plus, roasting the vegetables caramelizes them, giving them a wonderful flavor, which is a great way to get children to eat more vegetables.”

As the winner of the 2018 contest, Gabe received a new bike; however, he decided to donate his prize to New Life Center, an emergency shelter for domestic violence survivors in Goodyear. He is planning to allot the bike funds to purchase sporting equipment for the children to use while staying at the center.

This year’s other finalists included:

• Amelia Guerin – an 11-year-old from Las Sendas in Mesa for her "Watermelon and Feta Salad”

• Orlando Perry – an 11-year-old from Shaw Montessori in Phoenix for his “Nicaraguan Guacamole”

• Jackson Tirrito – an 11-year-old from St. Michael’s Elementary in Tucson for his “Protein Muffins”

• Alessia Vezzosi – an 11-year-old from Entz Elementary in Mesa for her “Delightful Spring Rolls”

The Walk On! Kids Cooking Challenge is part of the 13th annual Walk On! Challenge, a free month-long health and fitness challenge held each year in February.

With childhood obesity rates reaching epidemic proportions, BCBSAZ designed this program to motivate fourth- and fifth-grade students across Arizona to incorporate healthy habits into their daily routines for now and in the future. The Kids Cooking Challenge is a way to extend the Walk On! message outside the classroom.

For more information about Walk On!, visit


About Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) is committed to helping Arizonans get healthier faster and stay healthier longer. With a focus on connecting people with the care they need, BCBSAZ offers health insurance and related services to nearly 1.5 million customers.

BCBSAZ, a not-for-profit company, is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. The company employs nearly 1,500 people in its Phoenix, Chandler, Flagstaff, and Tucson offices.

Through advanced clinical programs and community outreach, BCBSAZ is moving health forward. To learn more, visit