For the past 10 years, I have held our annual Thanksgiving Cook-off. It is the MOST looked forward to Youth Group night of the year for my high school teens.
The idea originated ten years ago as I was trying to figure out what to do for our meeting the week before Thanksgiving. I kept thinking it would be awesome to have a Thanksgiving meal with them, but something that would be fun as well and very teen oriented. I decided that I’d plan a cook-off type of event and the main rule was it had to be REAL food! My teens get enough junk food during the year with the typical snack spread of candy, chips, pizza, etc. at meetings so I thought if I was going to do it, it needed to be the one time of the year that we enjoyed REAL food!! My teens jumped all over the idea and our amazing annual event was born. We name each dish as they come in with funny names and after everyone has eaten, we take a vote for winners and runners up in each category. We make it a fun competition and I go out of my way to find fun and hilarious prizes for the winners in each category. I thought I’d share it with all of you in case you are interested in doing something similar.
1) You must make REAL food (not store bought)
2) You can enter as many dishes as you like in any of the 5 categories
3) You are welcome to bring any type of food/dish (does not need to be Thanksgiving Staples)
The 5 Categories-
Main Dish Category- Turkey, Chicken, Pork, Pastas, etc.We’ve had everything in this category from traditional turkey and chicken type dishes to pork and beans, arroz con pollo, peruvian triple sandwiches, lasagna, lettuce wraps, etc. etc. Anything that you would consider a ‘main dish’ goes!
Side Dish Category– Sweet Potatoes, Mac-n-Cheese, Green Bean Casserole, Cheesy Bacon Potatoes (better known as crack potatoes on pinterest), cornbread, baked apples, vegetables, cranberry sauce, etc.Anything that is considered a side dish works here.
Stuffing Category- As it should be, it’s own category! It is Thanksgiving!I try to encourage my teens to find a creative stuffing recipe so we don’t have 5 entries of stove top!
Pie Category– As it should be, it’s own category! Again, it is Thanksgiving!This category is reserved for pie only! It doesn’t have to be traditional Thanksgiving flavor pies, any sort of pie will do. We’ve had everything from pumpkin, to oreo pudding pie, you name it. If it’s technically a ‘pie’ and in a pie pan, it works!
Dessert Category– Any NON-PIE Dessert!Cupcakes, cookies, cakes, pudding, brownies, turkeys made out of oreos. If it’s dessert, and it’s not a pie, it works!
I ask the teens to let me know ahead of time what they are planning to bring. I keep a running list for each category as they email or text me their entries. This way, as we get closer, I can email to remind them and let them know what we need more of. I provide the drinks and paper goods. Drinks are usually a few bottles of water, soda, and I usually put some apple juice with cinnamon flavor coffee syrup in a crock pot and serve with a dollop of whipped cream which passes off as hot apple cider.
My 2014 cook-off is this coming Sunday. So far, in the main dish category I have two lasagnas, one chicken parm, and one pork dish. In the pie category, I have cherry dream pie, apple pie, and chocolate mousse pie. I don’t have any stuffing entries yet. Etc.
So…as I’m sending email reminder each day, I send a list of what we have already entered in each category. As we get closer, I can directly suggest to teens what we need. (ie. Hey Michael, we could use a stuffing and a side dish entry, could you bring one of each of those?)
What You Need-
I put several tables together and I purchased a fall color $1. per yard piece of fabric at Wal-Mart years ago which serves as a table cloth. I take it home and wash it every year which works out well.
Obviously, you will need paper goods and forks, knives, spoons, cups.
I make category signs and post them above sections of the table so that when teens arrive, they know where to put their platters. I also have a bunch of smaller pieces of paper ready so that we can name each dish when the teens enter. I try to come up with fun names each year.
Here’s an example-
Jean’s Stuff ‘Yo Self Stuffing, Jacob’s ‘sealed with a kiss’ Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies, Erin’s Su-Wheeeet Sweet Potato Casserole, Omar’s OMG Oreo Pie, Juan’s Perfectly Peruvian Triple Sandwiches, Anthony’s ‘Forget About It’ Lasagna, etc.
How To Judge-
Once everyone has eaten, I take all the name cards from each dish and keep them separated in their categories. We vote by show of hands for each dish. (only one vote per person per category). I declare a winner in each group. I also have a ‘Best Over All Dish’ Category which I choose a winner and two runners up winners. (I make sure that if a teen wins ‘Main Dish’ for example, he/she cannot also win best dish. The teens must decide what they think is their ‘favorite/best dish’ of the night and vote for it in the best overall category and not it’s original category. This way, we make sure that the same dish doesn’t win more than once.)
I started out years ago giving simple prizes. Ornaments for our tree, giant candy canes, etc. But, as a few years went by and the event grew, I started to try to find really fun and special prizes. Last year I had a blast with shopping for them. Main Dish got a Santa T-Shirt (looked like Santa’s jacket) that said “Does this suit make me look fat?!” Dessert got a gingerbread house kit. Best Overall got a hat that had reindeer antlers and rings (it was a ring toss game) a DVD of ‘A Christmas Story’ etc. I think I bought most of them in Wal-Mart for anywhere from $5-$12 each.
GET IN THE SPIRIT- Optional
I actually also use this night to get our youth room decorated for Christmas and I have another fabulous youth group tradition which has been going on for the past 15 years or so. We are fortunate here to have our own dedicated youth room. We also have a 10 foot Christmas Tree as well. Over the years, I try to buy some Christmas Decorations at after Christmas clearance sales to add to our collection as well.
The first year, I rescued an old metal 50,000 piece christmas tree from the church trash pile. It was rusted and heavy, but it was free! They had purchased new ones for the parish that year and so I was able to rescue this one for our youth room. Realizing that a 10 foot tree was going to take a lot of $ to purchase decorations for, I decided to have my teens all bring an ornament that represented them. I started the tradition of having each teen bring an ornament and write their name/year on it somewhere and then each year, we would continue to put their ornament on the tree….even when they had gone off to college, we would still have their ornament hanging in our youth room. Here we are 15 years later and I can’t even fit them all on the tree! But, it’s a lovely tradition! While we are waiting for teens to straggle into our Thanksgiving Cook-Off, before we pray and eat, I have my teens put up our Christmas Tree, decorate it, and decorate the entire youth room with Christmas Lights. We play Christmas Music as well! It’s just a fun night between the Thanksgiving Food and the Christmas Decorating.
Here are some photos from a few of our previous cook-offs
Some of our food entries & names
Cook-Off Prize Winners
It’s a fun and filling night, and as I’m sitting here writing this just 4 days away for our 2014 Cook-Off, I hope that should you decide to hold this or a similar event with your ministry, that it is as wonderful and successful as ours is every year!!!