What I've Learned from Entering Recipe Contests

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Trail Mix Cookies (Sun-Maid Chocolate-Covered Raisin contest)

I should have known I’d get hooked on entering recipe contests.

After all, I inherently skew toward both the competitive and the compulsive. (Like so many traits, both can really come in handy or can act as the bane of my existence, depending on a given scenario.) I’ve learned, for example, that I’ll push myself harder when exercising if I take a class rather than work out on my own, because the competitor in me comes out when other people are working out with me. And I’m one of those weirdos who rather obsessively complete surveys found on receipts because, well, someone has to win, right?

It’s this same attitude that drove me to enter my first recipe contest—with the mindset that someone has to win, and why shouldn’t that someone be me? It’s a hobby I’ve just recently adopted, but it’s safe to say I’m hooked. So far I’ve entered an Eggo Waffle contest (with three separate entries), a Chiquita Banana contest (with two entries), a Minute Rice contest, a Sun-Maid Chocolate-Covered Raisin contest, and a Butterball Turkey contest. This all started in late October.

I know.

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Veggie Hummus Waffle Pizzas (Eggo contest)

Let’s back up a bit. I’ve always enjoyed cooking (baking in particular), and have a blog where I share recipes I’ve found and loved. Recently, though, I started itching to add more creativity to the recipes I was sharing. Coming up with them rather than just curating existing ones. I was ready to take my cooking skills to the next level and challenge myself a bit more in the kitchen. What better way than with a recipe contest? (The prize money isn’t a bad incentive, I must say.)

Some contests do a great job with promotion, and I learned about the Chiquita contest thanks to an advertisement on that iconic blue oval sticker they place on their bananas. The Truvia contest (one I ended up not actually entering) was one I learned about on Facebook, as the brand was doing a great job promoting it on social media. Before I knew it I was actively Googling for open contests that sounded up my alley—certainly with a bias toward baking contests, but also leaning toward ingredients that I find interesting or that spark immediate inspiration for me. There are a surprising number of recipe contests going on at any given time (anywhere from about 20 to 40 per month, as best I can tell), and so I have an assortment to choose from.

For a newbie recipe creator like me, these contests have been just the training wheels I need to get some confidence and momentum under my belt. I’ve drawn some lines in the sand and decided when to participate and when to bow out (like when I opted not to enter a Truvia recipe contest because I just could not find a way to make Truvia truly work like real sugar as promised. I was initially drawn to this contest because I do bake so much yet also like the idea of making some of my tried and true recipes lighter, but I baked no fewer than five batches of my favorite blondies using Truvia’s brown and white sugars as a substitute, and none of them tasted anywhere near right. I gave a couple other recipes a try with the same disappointing result, and couldn’t bring myself to enter a recipe I didn’t feel proud of. Though I want to win these contests (some of them have seriously great prize money attached, like the $4,000 assigned to the Chiquita Banana contest I entered!), it’s important to me to also use these as an opportunity to express myself and keep some standards in mind.

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Brown Rice, Cranberry, Goat Cheese Casserole (for a Minute Rice contest)

Cooking and baking are part of my identity, and I take pride in creating meals and treats that people delight in. I want my entries into recipe contests to still feel very much like me. Though there are certain firm restrictions that vary from contest to contest (usually restricted to what type of dish to make or specific ingredients each entrant must incorporate) that take me out of my standard routine —I typically wouldn’t make a recipe using an Eggo waffle, for example—I’m determined to infuse a bit of my favorite flavors into each submission. Even though my husband, Kevin, reminds me that this might lessen my chances of winning a contest, (“Goat cheese isn’t very middle America, Anna, and I’m thinking that’s what the brand is looking for…”) I stick to my guns and go with the goat cheese, if that’s what I think is best.

This realization that I can put aside some of my competitive leanings for “the sake of the food” is a new one for me, and I have to say I like it. I’m stereotypical Type A, “in it to win it” kind of person, but entering these contests has landed me in a place where—gasp!—winning isn’t the most important thing. And I like this version of myself. It truly is about the journey, for once. I do feel slightly deflated when contests release their winners and my recipe isn’t among them, but enjoy looking through the winning recipes, often finding ones I admire for their creativity.

It’s that insight that will keep me entering these contests. After all, they’ve helped me discover new things about myself, improved my intuition when it comes to flavors and their combinations, and become more confident in my skills as a non-recipe-following cook. (My best contest recipe submission to date? An open-faced toasted banana walnut bread with pear and gruyere cheese sandwich I created for a Chiquita Banana contest. It was seriously good.) These contests may not be for everyone, but for me (for now), they’re tasting pretty great.

Anna Keller likes the occasional fancy, over-the-top meal served on a white tablecloth, but will be just a happy with dinner from Taco Bell (she and her husband were there the day they launched their new breakfast menu.) For her, food is about the experience, the story, the tradition, and the community it provides, and it takes a starring role in her blog, where she shares recipe creations and recreations—usually of the baking variety.

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