A Good Eating Habits Essay Contest

A few weeks ago we sent out one of our bi-monthly E-Newsletters with a request for stories written by our readers on the theme of The Family Dinner. The contest was inspired by The Family Dinner cookbook by Laurie David, a book full of not just delicious recipes but also (and we think even more importantly) full of great reasons to sit down and enjoy a home cooked meal with loved ones. The winning story would receive a signed copy of the cookbook for their kitchen library!

We we're thrilled to receive a number of entries full of great stories–from fiction to memoir, some made us laugh, others made us teary and some inspired us to call our moms. So thanks to all you readers who entered for your inspired tales of how much dinner traditions can really mean. Here is the winning story!

Sunday Family Dinners by Courtney Gilbert

With more than a decade between the eldest and the youngest children in my family, growing up there were few things we held in common. On a regular day, there was only so much my older brothers could take hearing about my most recent boy band crush or school girl drama. Nor did I have much interest in their discussions of computers or the political matters that were beyond the understanding of a tween girl.

On Sundays though, an hour or two before sunset, a transformation occurred in our home. The long table in our kitchen, whose job day to day was to hold mail and unfinished homework, as well as be a quick pit stop for filling empty bellies, shifted into something much more. Dressed nicely with linen placemats and napkins, the long table became the setting for a family ritual that somehow, in an almost magical way, quieted the differences between us just enough so we could share a meal and get to know each other. 

My father at the head of the table was generally a serious man, but became the jovial story-teller for the evening on Sundays. With every juicy steak he served up there was a cheesy joke as its side. He would recount stories from his younger years, or sometimes those of our grandparents’. No matter what the story, there was always a punch line, which would generally draw an exasperated sigh from our mother, signaling that perhaps this story was somewhat exaggerated for comedic effect.

In perfect balance to his meaty steaks and cheery chatter, my mother served up her potatoes and salad along with a verbal newsletter of the comings and goings of family and friends. Birthdays, upcoming celebrations for new babies or marriages and recent accomplishments at jobs were all shared across the table, as well as the tastier tidbits of information that she was hearing through the grapevine. She had her children’s full attention this one night a week, so it was important she share the information with us now as to not risk hearing later, “Mom – you never told me cousin Johnny was getting married?!”

Sitting between our parents at either end of the table, my three older brothers and I would split time between our parents’ conversations and that of our own. I cannot even remember our specific conversations, whether it was music or sports or politics, but I know that we actually talked to each other, about something! And little by little, Sunday by Sunday, we became more than just siblings, we became friends–with each other and with our parents.

The phrase “creature of habit” could very well have been invented in our family. Sunday Family Dinner’s menu every week was (is) steak, potatoes and salad. On occasion and by request only, my father would grill up some fish or burgers along with the steak. But the steak, potatoes and salad always remained the principal of the meal. It was the consistency, something comforting you could count on each week, that brought us back home no matter what and made Sunday Family Dinners a success.

The four siblings are now split between two cities in two states, so Sunday Family Dinner goes to the town that Mom and Dad claim as home for the time. Over the years we’ve added spouses and nieces and nephews to the long table. My father repeats some of his stories from years ago and my mother finds herself forgetting which set of children she has already shared certain family updates with – do the Austin kids know this or was it the Fayetteville kids she told? But little by little, Sunday by Sunday, we continue to share our lives around a long table filled with simple good foods and friends.

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2017 Essay Contest:

Fourth Grade Contest Winners from Twenty Six Area Schools Awarded Laptops and Wireless Printers for Essays Focused on Health and Wellness

MCALLEN, Texas – Watermill Express, the nation’s largest drive-up pure drinking water and ice company, announced today the 20 winners of its annual writing contest during ceremonies held at Sam Houston Elementary and Julian S Adame Elementary in the Rio Grande Valley. Fourth grade winners from Donna ISD and Weslaco ISD each received a laptop accompanied by a printer as prizes for their essay submissions. Both teachers and parents of the fourth grade students also received $100 H-E-B gift cards.

This year’s “Superhero” theme challenged children to create a superhero to protect their minds, bodies, and the environment from unhealthy activity by encouraging education, exercising, eating a healthy diet and taking care of the environment. Over 1,000 essays were submitted and read by a panel of judges including Lani Dolifka, Co-Founder, President/CEO of Watermill Express.

“This is one of my favorite activities of the year because I won a similar contest when I was in 4th grade and it made a difference in my life,” said Dolifka. “Our writing contest has evolved into a community event and it’s great to see so many kids use this opportunity to learn, have fun, and be recognized for their hard work.”

Award winners were selected from a total of 26 participating elementary schools from Donna and Weslaco Independent School Districts. School Superintendents, administrators, State representatives, H-E-B’s Border Region staff, students and families were in attendance at school ceremonies held in Donna and Weslaco, TX.

The 2017 “Healthy Habits” writing contest winners are listed below:

  • Camila Garza – A.M. Ochoa Elementary School
  • Celina Dominguez – Rudy Silva Elementary
  • Clyde de los Santos – C. Stainke Elementary School
  • Isabella Pedraza – C. Stainke Elementary School
  • JoAnna Juanita Martinez – C. Stainke Elementary School
  • Juan Alvarez – A.M. Ochoa Elementary School
  • Juan G. Dominguez – A.N. Rico Elementary
  • Kaeden Rivas – Dr. R.E. Margo Elementary
  • Larissa N. Rodriguez – Rudy Silva Elementary
  • Lauren de la Garza – J.S. Adame Elementary
  • Leah G. Diaz – C. Stainke Elementary School
  • Ludwika V. Gonzalez – F.D. Roosevelt Elementary
  • Maribel Quezada – Sam Houston Elementary
  • Mario Torres – Airport Drive Elementary
  • Marleen Montemayor – Airport Drive Elementary
  • Mia Avila – C. Stainke Elementary School
  • Nahomy Ibarra – Mario Ybarra Elementary
  • Naissa Ramirez – B.G. Guzman Elementary
  • Norma J. Espericueta – A.M. Ochoa Elementary School
  • Sophia Fuentes – Cleckler-Heald Elementary

“We are beyond proud to be in partnership with Watermill Express”, said Linda Tovar,
H-E-B Senior Manager of Public Affairs Border Region. “Together H-E-B and Watermill Express have worked alongside with local communities to advocate for education, health and a safe environment. The Watermill Express/H-E-B Writing Contest is a prime example which brings a positive message to our children, engaging them in the importance of literacy and healthy habits!”

The first Watermill Express writing contest was held in 2005 and has since awarded more than $77,000 in prizes and has logged more than 11,000 participating students. Its popularity among schools and families in the community has made it an annual event that many fourth graders hope to participate in.

“We are ecstatic that Watermill Express/H-E-B provided our students yet another opportunity to engage in authentic writing for real audiences”, said Dr. Priscilla
Canales, Superintendent of schools for Weslaco ISD. “The support and commitment of both to education and Weslaco ISD’s literacy initiative is greatly appreciated.”


Watermill Express Names Winners of 11th Annual Writing Contest in Rio Grande Valley:

Fourth Grade Contest Winners from Fourteen Area Schools to be Awarded Laptops and Wireless Printers for Essays Focused on Health and Wellness

MCALLEN, Texas – Watermill Express, the nation’s largest drive-up pure drinking water and ice company, announced today the 20 winners of its annual writing contest. With the financial support of H-E-B, the fourth grade winners will each receive one laptop accompanied by a wireless printer as prizes for their essay submissions. Both teachers and parents of the fourth grade students will also receive H-E-B gift cards.

Themed, “Healthy Habits,” this year’s writing contest prompted students to reflect on the importance of making healthy choices and how to carry those habits with them for years to come. More than 1,000 essays poured in from fourth grade students in the McAllen, Hidalgo and Valley View Independent School Districts (ISD), the districts selected for this year’s contest. Judges, including Watermill Express’ co-founder and CEO Lani Dolifka, read and reviewed hundreds of essays in order to choose the most original and thought-provoking of the bunch.

“Our entire team looks forward to this time of year,” said Dolifka. “The writing contest has evolved into a community event. It’s a great feeling to know that we’re opening up discussion about well-being in dozens of classrooms and hopefully around dinner tables too.”

Award winners were selected from a total of 14 elementary schools in the Rio Grande Valley. Families and school staff are invited to attend ceremonies held in their district where the students will be recognized for their achievements.

Congratulations to the following winners of the 2016 “Healthy Habits” Watermill Express/H-E-B essay contest:

  • Mariana Daniela Vallez – Castaneda Elementary
  • Nick Hernandez – Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr. Elementary
  • Michael Ryan Esquivel – Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr. Elementary
  • Ezra M. Cavazos – Garza Elementary
  • Darian Solis – Hendricks Elementary
  • Itzel Ramos – Hendricks Elementary
  • Joaquin Rocha – Hendricks Elementary
  • Britney Zamorano – Hidalgo Park Elementary
  • Belicia Vega – Jackson Elementary
  • Lilyan Rose Castaneda – Milam Elementary
  • Naomi Herrera – Navarro Elementary
  • Kenzi Ramirez – Perez Elementary
  • Alysandra Garcia – Rayburn Elementary
  • Caroline Rangel – Seguin Elementary
  • Victoria Perez – Valley View South Elementary
  • Karolina Gonzalez – Valley View South Elementary
  • Austin Ramirez – Valley View North Elementary
  • Genesis Limon – Valley View North Elementary
  • Madeline Castro – Wilbur Lucas Elementary
  • Luna Cuevas – Wilson Elementary

Exclusive to the Rio Grande Valley, the first Watermill Express writing contest was held in 2005 and has since awarded more than $77,000 in prizes and has logged more than 11,000 participating students. Its popularity among schools and families in the community has made it an annual event that many fourth graders hope to participate in.

“Each year, our fourth graders wait anxiously to hear the school districts selected for the annual writing contest,” said Mario Reyna, health and physical education coordinator at McAllen ISD. “This year’s theme inspired our students to talk about healthy habits and overall well-being with teachers, family and friends. We’re so thankful to be surrounded by community-oriented organizations like Watermill Express and H-E-B.”

Watermill Express has a growing presence in the Rio Grande Valley with more than 200 locations and strong involvement in community events such as the recent “Pico de Gallo Century Bike Ride” and the “Break a Sweat Zumba-thon”. A community staple, the brand also partners with local organizations such as Make-A-Wish Foundation, Rio Grande Valley Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society and more.

Plus, beyond its writing contest and community involvement, but equally as important, Watermill Express holds a strong commitment to giving back. Each year, Watermill Express pledges funds and thousands of gallons of water back to communities in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond.

Across the country, Watermill Express serves thousands of customers a day safe, clean, pure drinking water and ice. Customers supply their own clean containers and drive up to the Watermill Express station to purchase great-tasting water and ice at a fraction of the price they would pay at the store.


Watermill Express Announces Winners of the 2015 Watermill Express/H-E-B Essay Contest:

McALLEN, Texas – December 8th, 2015 – Watermill Express, the nation’s largest drive-up pure drinking water and ice company, along with H-E-B, presented new laptop computers along with wireless printers to each of the 15 winners of this year’s annual essay contest.

This year’s entrants were 4th Grade students from the McAllen Independent School District. Over 1,200 essays were written and evaluated with 15 winners being selected. Winners were chosen based on original work submitted by the students on how creating healthy lifestyles one habit at a time can result in a healthy future. In addition to the students, the teachers of the winning students each received a $100 gift card and the winning schools received a Watermill Express health and fitness package.

“On behalf of McAllen ISD, I would like to express our appreciation to Watermill Express for their recent sponsorship of the 4th grade writing contest,” said McAllen Independent School District Coordinator for Health and Physical Education Mario Reyna. “In speaking to our principals and parents, they loved the integration of health and writing skills. More importantly, this project affords our students an opportunity to improve on the writing skills while at the same time value their place in our environment and the importance of practicing healthy habits.”

Congratulations to the following winners of the 2015 Watermill Express/H-E-B essay contest:

  • Li-Ana Ayala – Milam Elementary
  • Karen P. Corona – Jackson Elementary
  • Carolina Cuellar – Sam Houston Elementary
  • Arianna Facundo – Castaneda Elementary
  • Candyce Garcia- Milam Elementary
  • Itzel Garcia – Jackson Elementary
  • Giovanny Mancinas – Sam Houston Elementary
  • Elma N. Martinez – Alvarez Elementary
  • Melanie E. Martinez – Jackson Elementary
  • Kevin M. Perez- Jackson Elementary
  • Avah G. Pompa – Milam Elementary
  • Marisol Pruneda – Escandon Elementary
  • Jackson Ramirez- Perez Elementary
  • Trinity Rosas – Ben Milam Elementary
  • Andrew Trevino – Milam Elementary

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