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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.

Summer Camp: Curbing Childhood Obesity

With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that nearly 1 in 5 children between the ages of 6 and 19 is obese, it has become imperative that we, as parents, make as much effort to set our children up for success in establishing proper food habits, just as we would in other areas of their lives.  Three primary causes consistently cited for childhood obesity are lack of physical activity, an unbalanced diet and overeating.  An often overlooked benefit to summer camp is the significant impact it has in curbing childhood obesity by promoting an active lifestyle and healthy eating practices.  In this multi-part series, we will examine the efforts being made by summer camps to battle poor diet and exercise.

Part I.  Physical Activity
Beyond traditional summer camp sports such as soccer, basketball, baseball, roller hockey and gymnastics, many camps are increasingly focusing on the development of extensive programs for such popular fitness activities as spin, running, weights, zumba, yoga and the martial arts.  The instant popularity of these programs suggests that children have a natural interest in exercise and will engage in it of their own accord in the absence of many of the daily distractions that promote a more lethargic lifestyle but are not readily available at summer camp, such as computers, video game systems and television.  The ability to participate in fitness programs as a form of fun also encourages campers to approach such activities with an open mind rather than as something forced on them and that is only done out of necessity.  

Some camps are also experimenting with nutrition programs that marry cooking activities with fitness. Such programs teach campers how to plan healthy meals and snacks and then prepare them.  Cooking programs are among the most popular at summer camp.  To merge them with nutrition is a clever way to demonstrate the importance of using discretion in choosing what we eat and consuming it in moderation.  In the past, the idea of “diet,” as in depriving oneself of necessary nutrients, has been cited as a contributing factor in the growth of eating disorders and yo-yo dieting.

For those who question the lasting effects of fitness and nutritional habits adapted at summer camp, statistics indicate that they won’t be going away anytime soon.  According to the American Camp Association, more than half of children who pursue a new interest at camp will continue pursuing that interest once they return home.

Up next, part II.  An Unbalanced Diet

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