Camp Laurel Blog

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Camp is a Summer Home for Nutrition Too!

Much has been made recently about the meals that our children consume in places such as school cafeterias and summer camps.  A general sentiment that these types of establishments place cost and convenience over nutrition and well being seems to be developing.  In the world of summer camp, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, so dedicated are some summer camps to providing meals and snacks that combat bad eating habits that we’ve decided to dedicate an entire series of blogs to summer camp menus.  In this first blog, we’ll introduce you to the basic concept of camp nutrition and menu compilation.  In future blogs, we’ll discuss special diet, snacks, and the strategy behind the compilation of camp menus.

Most reputable camps offer a deliberate, carefully planned menu to campers and staff alike.  Many camps employ the assistance of nutritionists when planning menus and select food based on the heightened physical activity of campers during the summer.  All of America’s Finest Summer Camps, for instance, offer extensive yogurt and fruit bars at breakfast as well as salad bars at lunch and dinner.  At breakfast, several different kinds of yogurt are available as well as fruit such as oranges and bananas.  Hard boiled eggs, bagels, and cheese are also typically available.  For those with lactose intolerance, lactose free as well as soy milk are often on hand.  At lunch and dinner, salad bars offer everything from basic staples like tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, olives, cucumbers, and carrots to more progressive offerings like garbanzo beans, tuna, and marinated vegetable combinations, along with several dressings from which to complete the dish.  Almost all camps offer vegetarian selections at mealtimes.

Increasingly, special diets are being taken into consideration as well.  With many camp leaders and directors themselves learning to live with gluten allergies and diabetes, camp leaders have looked inward when planning menus and are becoming increasingly sensitive to special diet needs.  More and more, menu options are being added with these considerations in mind.

Planning camp menus is a special challenge for camp directors.  With so many campers and staff dining at each meal, it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.  However, there are other considerations when planning menus.  Children are very active at camp—often considerably more active than they are at home.   Physical activity begins in the morning and often continues into the evening.  Many camp menus have been criticized for being heavy in carbohydrates.  However, there is a nutritional basis in this.  Diets heavy in carbohydrates are recommended for children who engage in heavy physical activity, as carbohydrates convert to sugar very quickly and help replenish energy.  While it’s true that many camp foods are high in carbohydrates, it’s also important to consider that such a diet at camp is also responsibly balanced by ample servings of fruits, vegetables, and proteins.

Food allergies are also a prevalent consideration when planning camp menus.  Nut allergies are the most common, although there are many others.  Since food allergies tend to reveal themselves through various levels of sensitivity, it’s not only important to consider what campers and staff might consume when planning menus, but with whom and what they might come into contact during the course of a summer camp meal.

The preparation of food, particularly food that is fried, is another key target of critics.  The fact is that even though many camps offer such traditionally “fried” fare as hamburgers, french fries, and cheese sticks, many of these foods, when prepared at camp, are not fried.  Hamburgers are often grilled while fries and cheese sticks are typically baked to minimize the use of fatty oils.

In case you have ever suspected that your child’s nutrition takes a back seat to fun at summer camp, we hope this brief introduction has helped put your mind at ease.  And if you’re still not convinced, we invite you to continue visiting this blog as we continue our series about camp menus.

“Sunwise” at Camp

One of the biggest challenges of summer camp is also one of its greatest aspects, spending lots of time in the sunny outdoors.  Indeed, time in the sun is an important aspect of maintaining good health.  The sun is a source of vitamin D, which has been linked to happiness.  However, over-exposure to the sun’s rays can be harmful, as nearly everyone knows.  So taking appropriate measures to reduce risks is essential.

Summer camp professionals are extremely aware that proper sun care goes beyond the frequent application of sunscreen.  Many of them are parents themselves whose first priority is the safety of their campers, and they work very hard to incorporate sun-care tips, such as those offered by Sunwise, an organization established by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2000 to help those who work with children, into their daily routines.

Staff and campers are instructed to apply sunscreen frequently.  Almost all camps either supply sunscreen or require campers to bring it with them and encourage re-application between activities throughout the day.  Camp Laurel places large containers of sunscreen throughout campus, so that it can be easily accessed and reapplied throughout the day.  The staff is required to insure that both themselves and their campers regularly use sunscreen.

Camps take measure to insure that children wear proper clothing.  Campers receive proper dress instructions daily.  Counselors supervise to make sure each child dresses appropriately for the day’s weather and activities.  Daily weather-appropriate instructions such as reminders about sunscreen application and instructions to drink plenty of water are also typically given during a camp’s morning announcements.

Camp programs naturally incorporate a mix of outdoor and indoor activities in order to balance the amount of time one spends in the sun with time in the shade.  While summer camp is about reconnecting with nature and a natural environment, campers also spend ample amount of time indoors so as not to be overexposed or at risk.

Extra precautionary measures are also taken when necessary.  With an increasing emphasis on helping campers develop lifelong healthy habits, camps are increasingly choosing to train their staffs in proper suncare.

Vitamin D intake is optimized through diet.  Camp menus are carefully planned to optimize nutritional value for campers.  Health and fitness have risen to the forefront of the camping industry in recent years.  Naturally rich in vitamin D foods such as milk, eggs, yogurt, and oatmeal daily are typically available daily at breakfast.  Other foods high in Vitamin D, such as tuna and mushrooms, are also offered on lunch and dinner salad bars.

Teaching children and the people who take care of them proper measures for protecting oneself against overexposure to the sun is a critical element in the promotion of good health that many camps now embrace.  It not only helps protect children at camp but could help them for life.  A study by the American Camp Association established that habits formed at summer camp are continued by more than 60% of campers once they return home.

For more information about proper suncare, you can visit the Sunwise website at www.epa.gov/sunwise/index.html.

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