KANNAPOLIS— Law enforcement officers went head-to-head Food Network style to see which department could cook-up the best tasting and healthiest meals.

On Wednesday, June 27 the Kannapolis and Concord Police Departments took part in a joint training mission to improve an often overlooked aspect of public safety – the health of police officers.

As part of Cooking for a Healthy Life, the newest program under the City of Kannapolis’ Discover a Healthy Life initiative, nutrition experts and scientists at the NC Research Campus collaborated with the police to host an event that tested each department’s nutritional acumen.

A total of 20 officers, 10 from each department, met at Restaurant Forty Six in downtown Kannapolis to learn about nutrition and have some fun with food. The event started with a nutrition briefing led by Cabarrus Health Alliance’s Nutrition Program Coordinator Meghan Charpentier, MS, MPH, and Dole Food Company’s Nutrition and Health Communications Manager Melanie Dwornik, RD.

“We got to do kind of a Nutrition 101 presentation. So we went through kind of the four primary areas that we talk about when it comes to nutrition like sodium, added fat, that convenience issue what we have and just those balanced meals,” Charpentier said. “The whole point is to make this realistic and applicable so they can actually feel confident and comfortable in doing some preparations for their lunches and snacks throughout the day.”

After the briefing, the officers will go into a head-to-head challenge to make up to three dishes from a provided pantry of food items and spices. The goal was to prove to a panel of judges that they successfully applied the nutrition lessons to the healthy meals they create as a team.

Judges for the event were Concord Mayor Bill Dusch; Kannapolis City Council Member Roger Haas; Executive Chef of Restaurant Forty Six John Blumreich; Martin Kohlmeier, MD, PhD, Professor of Nutrition, UNC Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute ; Colin Kay, PhD, Associate Professor of Translational Nutrition and Food Sciences, NC State Plants for Human Health Institute and Chef Mark Allison, Director of Culinary Nutrition, Cabarrus Health Alliance.

“I congratulate both teams for taking part in this important effort,” said Concord Mayor Bill Dusch. “Our police officers are an extreme example of what many in our community face every day with busy, demanding jobs that do not always allow for the healthiest choices at meal times. Both Concord and Kannapolis are committed to fostering healthy work forces and communities, and the competition will provide some great ideas.”

In 50 minutes, each team created a fruit smoothie, grain and vegetable bowl and a wrap using a pantry of food provided for them as part of the challenge. Each team also showed their creativity by adding snacks like pretzels and guacamole and vegetables and hummus to their entries. They packed their items in containers and a cooler as well as plated them for the panel of evaluators. They were scored on nutritional content, taste, teamwork and the portability of their dishes.

This competition was modeled after the Cabarrus Chef Challenge that pits teams from different high schools against each other. Concord Police Chief Gary Gacek serves as a judge for that competition and gives the winning team a traveling police coin.

At those events concerns were expressed about the challenges police officers have maintaining their health because of the high levels of stress and the physiological demands of shift work. A research study entitled “Health Disparities in Police Officers: Comparisons to the U.S. General Population” found that overall police officers have higher risks for cardiovascular disease and experience depression, obesity and metabolic syndrome at rates up to four times higher than the general US population .

“Chief Gacek has always been our judge for our kids’ events. The whole point to bringing the police department in at the time— they were coaches and they were judges— is just to build that camaraderie with the students. So when we had talked to Chief Gacek about his day in the life he laughed and said “No this is never the same. I couldn’t do this,’” Charpentier said. “We asked if his staff would like something like this and he said “Oh year, they are so competitive and we need to do it against somebody else.’”

Enter the Kannapolis Police Department, the obvious selection for the competition.

“We are pleased that we can participate in this important first event of its kind to teach us about healthy meals and snacks,” Kannapolis Police Chief Woody Chavis said. “Police officers work long hours on the go, and this can make finding time for a healthy meal challenging. We look forward to learning and challenging each other to be healthier.”

The competition was fierce, with both teams dividing up jobs to get the meals complete in the short amount of time. Nicole Johnson, officer with the Concord Police Department, said the best part was coming up with meals ideas on the fly.

The Concord team made guacamole, a chicken wrap with hummus, smoothies and noodle bowls with zucchini and cucumber noodles.

“I think we do need to learn better ways of being healthy because we do eat on the fly a lot,” she said. “Learning how to prepare foods and bring them to work with us with definitely make us better for the community and for ourselves.”

The Kannapolis team cooked up a rice bowl with sausage, beans, onion, mushrooms and jalapeno along with some smoothies and sandwiches.

“Healthy living in our profession, it’s very important,” Kannapolis Officer Keith Benfield said. “It’s easy to stop by a fast food restaurant because it’s convenient. It’s a lot harder to prepare your own meals but the benefit is very well worth it.”

At the end of the event, Concord edged out Kannapolis by seven points to win the competition.

Participating on the Kannapolis team were Lt. Jennifer Hyatt, Sgt. Chris Hill, Officer Jason West, Officer Jennifer Mackey, Officer Chris Hamilton, Officer Keith Benfield, Capt. Terry Spry, Capt. Pat Patty, Deputy Chief Terry Clanton and Chief Woody Chavis.

Participating on the Concord team were Officer Jzenese Weekes, Officer Ronald Dorsey, Officer Todd Arthur, Officer Chris Smith, Officer Miranda Brady, Sgt. Brian Kelly, Sgt. Larry Hubbard, Officer Matthew Nichols, Officer Nicole Johnson and Officer David Holmes.

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