Camp Junk Food

Okay, so I know the title here is rather harsh. Let’s be honest—I totally expected my 8-year-old daughter to eat junk food while away at her very first overnight camp last week. Both of my children (and my husband for that matter) have what I call a “stomach of steel.” They can eat just about anything with no ill effects whatsoever, so I knew there would be no immediate consequences (like a food sensitivity) for her to contend with while away from home.

My daughter at her first overnight camp!

But just because one may feel fine after immediately eating highly processed junk food doesn’t mean it isn’t doing any damage. After all, according to Michael Pollan’s research, four of the top ten chronic diseases that kill most of us – coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer – “can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food.”

Our Little Pre-Camp Chat

So even though my daughter has no specific food-induced medical conditions to worry about, we still had a friendly little chat before she embarked upon her very first week away from home without a parent or grandparent by her side. As I’ve shared before, I absolutely do NOT want my two young girls to ever “worry” about food (or anything for that matter). But that doesn’t mean I won’t educate them along the way when it’s appropriate (just as I will with many other important topics in life).

So I told her that there would be junk food at camp and eating it was totally fine, BUT my advice to her was to eat a lot of what she knew was good (i.e. for sure a whole food—straight from the earth) and just a little bit of what wasn’t.

And what did she do in my absence? She ate Froot Loops for breakfast daily, “with pineapple on the side!”. As I mentioned she is a completely typical 8-year-old so this is what happened when she was left to her own devices :) I guess I should be thankful for the serving of fruit? And truth be told, I was thankful for that and told her so. I was sure to reinforce the positive and not at all harp on any of the “negatives” of the week.

Some Good Decisions

And she actually did make some other really good choices on her own that made me very proud. She tried out the salad bar (like I had suggested before she left home), but how can I blame her for her boredom with it halfway through the week when it was basically the same drab salad bar night after night? This is my girl who honestly loves salads and vegetables even more than I do so I know she tried. She also followed some other advice I’d given her long ago about asking for a glass of water. I always tell both of my girls that when they are at friends’ houses or birthday parties they should always be gracious guests and accept what is served, but it is NEVER too much trouble to ask for a cup of water. I tell them if they are already eating birthday cake and candy and who knows what else – there is no reason to then wash it down with a sugary juice or soda – so just ask for water.

And to my surprise she actually remembered this advice at camp, and when dinner was followed with handouts of candy (Skittles to be exact) and a choice of soda or Powerade…what did she do (in addition to accepting the Skittles of course)? She politely asked for water! That’s my girl. Except she told me (in her own words) “they looked at me like I was crazy and didn’t have any water to offer.” So as a result she tried the Sprite (since she said it looked most like water). She apparently hated it and poured it out on the grass and finally settled on the bright blue Powerade (“which is actually good, mom!”). Is it just me or are sugary drinks really necessary to wash down the packs of candy? Just for the record, they apparently did give the campers water to drink earlier in the night at dinner because they weren’t allowed to have juice until they drank their water first (one of the more impressive food guidelines I heard about!), but unfortunately things seemed to go downhill in that department once the dinner hour was over.

Amazing Experience (with or without the junk food)

So, yes – her first camp experience (from a non-food perspective) was a once in a lifetime adventure. Her counselors were absolutely wonderful, she made some amazing new friends, and she LEARNED some pretty impressive new skills (water skiing, archery, sailing, horseback riding – and independence of course – just to name a few). BUT we did pay a pretty penny to be able to send her there for this experience (that she absolutely loved) so I feel I have the right to complain about the food. I absolutely knew it wasn’t going to be great, but as I am piecing things together through her various stories I admit the food situation sounds worse than I was expecting. Nachos with runny orange cheese anyone? Not to mention the kids who are more sensitive than she is and came home from camp not feeling well as a result of all that junk – including one of her cabin-mates in particular.

Junk Food at Camp #realfood - 100 Days of Real Food
Leaving the art building at camp

Time for Change

But, I am not one to just sit here and complain without trying to do something about it (hence this blog of mine). I was the same way about their elementary school, but felt similarly in the fact that it was only respectful to spend the first year observing before I try to butt my way in and start suggesting changes :) I am sure there are all sorts of constraints that force the camp to do things the way they do (i.e. limited time, limited budget, limited space, picky eaters, etc.) – but I admit I am hard-pressed to find a reason why each night would HAVE to end with skittles and soda. Can you think of one?

During this first overnight camp experience of ours I came into contact with two other camp moms (who are acquaintances) that both happen to feel the same way I do – so I can only imagine there must be more who feel the same? Maybe they haven’t spoken up yet or just don’t know where to start (or think they are alone)? So I don’t know what the first step toward change will be yet, but one thing I do know is that it will be something. I was recently inspired by the changes Carrie Vitt with Deliciously Organic made at her own daughters’ overnight camp. She knew they could provide better choices as well and offered to give them some guidance – which they gladly accepted! And the changes she made – super fresh and wholesome food at a minimal increase in cost – were very well received by both the campers and the staff. The outcome was super impressive if I do say so myself and drives home the fact that it can be done. And even though I am sure it won’t be an easy road I can’t just sit back and not try.

Have any of you been through something similar with overnight camp and have advice to share? I am all ears!

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189 thoughts on “Camp Junk Food”

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  1. I struggle with that whole “Camp” food thing, too. My kids have the same issue at school. I think as moms,and dads, all we can do is keep at it. My kids prefer to bring their lunches most of the time, as they have both dislike canned fruits and veggies. I am not putting down school lunches, I know that the staff does the best they can, with what they have! That is where the parents come in. We have to fight for more funding for better food!
    They still eat “junk” sometimes, but I figure as long as they know the difference, and eat good, wholesome food 90% of the time, I am doing something right. :)

  2. I love this post! I too have a heart for my kids to eat whole foods, and it the the school and outside activity it can be tricky! I love your take on this and I too will teach and train my children in the way they “should” go, and when they are old they will not depart! At least that is my proverb prayer! Blessings! Thanks so much!

  3. Camp Augusta (in California) has a commitment to whole, natural foods and a technology free camp experience! My son LOVED it.

  4. I think it’s awesome that you are caring about other people’s children as well as your own precious girls. In a world where not alot of people want to make waves in order to make a positive change I am very thankful for your courage!!

  5. Ick. Sounds worse than what I would have expected too. I figured the food wouldn’t be great quality but didn’t think they would offer much sugar. When I did camp growing up we didn’t get candy or cokes! I remember s’mores being a highlight!

  6. The camp where I used to work recently started working with a CSA and have a garden out back where they get a lot of fresh fruits and veggies. I have to say the kids never had candy and pop like your daughter did. I feel good about the healthy eating that went on but recently they hired a new cook who in unbelievable and the meals are very healthy.

  7. Our camp is a 4H camp that is 99% volunteer-run (the camp director and head cook get nominal salaries and can bring one child free and another slightly discounted; the lifeguards are paid standard hourly wages). Parents can (and do!) volunteer to be on the camp committee, and they spend their vacation time working all week in the kitchen, running classes, and overnight chaperoning (there are 16-18yo volunteer counselors who run the kids from place to place during the day and sleep with the kids and the cabin chaperons each night).

    The first thing I did to change camp food was enlist allies – several of the moms felt the same way I did. We joined the camp committee and made suggestions: some were universally accepted while others were vetoed by the camp director (a real junk food junkie, unfortunately, who does all the buying) for spurious and personal (we suspect she takes the leftover products home…) reasons.

    We were able to institute a few changes.

    There was a carboy of water and cups available outside at all times, supplementing the indoor water fountain. There were meals such as taco bar and baked potato bar with mostly healthy add-ons, soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread, chili and cornbread, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, grilled chicken and corn and roasted potatoes.

    For breakfast, there were no cereal boxes – breakfasts were yogurt parfait with pancakes, sausage with scrambled egg, oatmeal and fruit, french toast, bacon and egg sandwich on English muffin, and muffins with fruit.

    No eggbeaters, no pre-made mixes, and other than the breakfast sausages (whatever cash-n-carry had), everything was made in the kitchen with a recipe, not a mix. There were only desserts on the last two nights – first, a fruit crumble (made with all the fruit we hadn’t yet used!), then the last night we had cupcakes.

    The evening snacks I remember were – crackers and cheese with baby carrots, cake pops (one per child) made by the baking class, goldfish crackers with fruit, and animal crackers with yogurt.

    The camp store was also stocked with more relatively healthy items, though my idea of having fruit and/or veg was vetoed (“health department” she said, even though I pointed out that I could portion the stuff in the kitchen we used to portion every plate and item of food served…).

    That said, we did have new items such as yogurt, trail mix, string cheese, homemade (by me, every night in the camp kitchen at 10pm because my idea to bring the cookies I’d made and frozen was vetoed, “health department” again…, so I was forced to bring the ingredients instead), and Sun Chips (which are, perhaps, healthier than other chips). Also at our suggestion, there were tons of LED, glow-in-the-dark, and glow-stick products, notepads and pens, paddleballs, gliders, and a surprise purchase of recycled plastic backpacks with cord straps.

    Camp Director Junk-Food-Junkie could not be restrained from buying “regular” (her word) chips and candies, like Lays, Doritos, fun-size candy bars, and half a dozen types of individually wrapped candies like Starburst and Lemonheads and unwrapped (what would the health department say???) licorice and pepperoni sticks.

    I’m glad to report that all of our suggestions sold out and there were leftovers of all her choices except for the individual candies and candy bars, though she let the counselors take a bunch of those to hand out in bags for the 18 foreign exchange students (Japanese – they always wanted Lays potato chips, never candy – not sure what she was thinking) so I can’t say if we would have sold out of them. Not so surprisingly, Junk-Food-Junkie Camp Director’s foster kids were the ones who bought the most junk food – they kept having to ask for more money in their camp account.

    Anyway, all that was to give you a few ideas about what worked at our camp and how we started to implement it. I’d prefer to do away with the camp store altogether and just offer afternoon snack to everyone. If we *must* have camp store, I want it to have many healthy options including fresh fruit and veg and the snacks mentioned above, plus quite a few non-food items. At a volunteer camp like ours it’s easy to get involved – your situation is perhaps different. But I agree that feedback is important.

    Incidentally, 4H has been an amazing family experience for us :-) – I’m not sure if all the 4H camps are run this way, but if you have a volunteer-run camp, 4H or not, in your area, your feedback can have a more direct effect.

  8. Wow! What an outrage!!! I understand letting kids have fun, and what is a little sugar going to hurt? But, I was dumbfounded when I read that water was not an available option, so your daughter had to choose Sprite??!! Are you kidding me??!! I’m sorry, but I would think water should be the first option, and Sprite should be a last option! Again, I understand letting kids indulge in “fun” food every now and then, but I will fully support and be an advocate for changing what is available to kids at camp! My oldest son has not gone to a summer camp yet, but I expect he will next summer….Please keep us posted on anything we can do to maybe get a dialogue going about a food overhaul for kids camps! Thank you!


  9. I have worked on staff at a camp for years, and have directed camp. We do not serve soda at all.. We do serve orange juice for breakfast, and maybe lemonade at supper/lunch…but we suggest water, and only have water throughout the day. We serve no candy at all.. We serve vegetables…and there is usually some type of cookie/brownie with the meals. We serve nothing fried, and most of the bread is homemade. While I know it is not completely “clean”.. for the most part it is not junk…oh, and the only cereal we serve in cheerios. (While not the best, it is better than fruit loops). From someone that has directed camp and knows the budgets that come with it, the food is the biggest expense by far.. it is hard to go “fully clean/healthy” and stay within a reasonable budget…without of course charging the parents a lot more money. One year, we had fresh veggies from a staff members garden, but to do that every year would be tough. I think there is definitely a balance when expense is involved.

  10. We have not experienced camp yet, but as my son is starting kindergarten I am upset to find out that they do not allow a lunchbox. His snack has to be in a plastic bag that can be thrown away. He is a terrible breakfast eater and they have a nut-free policy (which I completely understand), but I can’t think of a protein that I can send for his snack that doesn’t need a cooler. This policy seems to exist because they do not want the kids to go back to their backpack for some reason. As a preschooler, they all get out their lunch boxes and put them back so I don’t get it. Apparently this used to apply to every grade and parents were trying things like frozen chicken nuggets that thawed as the backpacks hung outside. The parents got together and were finally allowed lunchboxes. It baffles me how the school expected them to eat a nutritious lunch! The school has also had fund raisers at McDonald’s and gives red vines as a reward for being on time. I would expect school’s to be teaching nutrition with obesity being what it is, but it seems they are behind the times!


    1. You could send a single serving box of shelf stable milk or soy milk. No cooler necessary and the empty container can be thrown out. Also hummus is fine with no cooler for a few hours. We don’t don’t use disposable items like plastic bags in our lunches so I would also have a problem with the “must be in a plastic bag” part of the rule as well. Maybe a talk with the administration would help.

    2. Yuck, the environmental waste of all those little bags being thrown in the garbage every day makes my stomach turn. You could used unbleached wax paper bags instead. I sent my kindergartners snack (also nut free)in a plastic storage container last year often with an ice pack. I agree, it’s hard to think of nut free protein rich foods that don’t require refrigeration. My suggestion would be whole grains such as homemade granola bars, whole grain muffins, etc. Good luck!

  11. One thing i would mention to the camp leadership is the health of their staff. My son and daughters just finished a summer of working at camp. Staff work hard all summer and go on less then optimum sleep. My son, in particular, would eat more to fuel his body. I also sent vitamins with them to support their immune system. They were still all sick over part of the summer. Our camp does cook from scratch and serves relatively healthy food. Candy and pop is a rarity. Good healthy food is what the staff need to keep going. Processed stuff is just not going to do it.

  12. What a wonderful way to raise your child – with awareness about food and choices and the confidence to speak up. Great job mom! As far as food suggestions for the camp – there are so many wonderful, delicious, easy, inexpensive whole fruit desserts they can serve rather than Skittles washed down with sugary soda – and maybe they could even get the campers involved in making them (kids love getting involved in the kitchen). For example baked apples – very easy, delicious and very inexpensive. They could make fruit kabobs – so many delicious summer melons! How about a bowl of mixed berries – not sure where the camp is located and the facilities on site or nearby – but maybe even a day trip to a “pick your own” place and then the kids could eat the berries for dessert. And as far as drinks – why not serve something like watermelon strawberry smoothies – basically watermelon blended with frozen strawberries – very simple, easy and inexpensive. I applaude you for taking the time to go back to the camp and help make them better. Perhaps offering to do a health cooking demonstration (with yummy samples) for staff before camp season starts next year might be a good way to start. I would give them my feedback this year – with the offer of help for the future…while camps probably get a ton of complaints, your solutions for improvement will likely be a breath of fresh air! Best of luck!

  13. Not sure what type of camp she went to but it could be that they just don’t have good food service. The camp my girls went to was wasting money on different foods and didn’t have a good group to run it, about two years ago one of the Mom’s stepped up and volunteered to run the entire thing and not only did the food improve but she saved the camp a lot of money.
    Unfortunately with camp you have to expect what most people consider “kid food” and when cooking for maybe a 100 or so kids you have to buy in bulk and usually get items that only require reheat or quick cook. But if the camp is open to it there may be ways to incorporate better food choices into the lineup that they have. Really this isn’t a new idea it’s happening all across the country in our schools, why shouldn’t the camps follow.

  14. Very Cool approach to this. I couldn’t agree more.
    The first time my son went off to camp I picked him up and all he could talk about was the food. Ha ha. It’s not that he hadn’t been exposed to any of it. He just couldn’t believe that’s all they ate. He as 7 at the time and he is truly a foodie – he would have chosen healthier things only because he honestly can’t stand junk food.
    Change happens slowly – I realize that. Finally junk food is banned from vending machines. FINALLY.
    I think in this case it’s because the food choices are cheap and they don’t give the kids the benefit of the doubt. When I do Sugar and Real Food workshops in schools the kids are so excited to learn about this stuff. It is usually more of an issue with adults than kids. The teachers had their backs up more than the children. it was so weird.
    If camp directors can be educated and enough parents rally together than they HAVE to listen. Because sugar-laden, low quality foods CAN mould a camp experience – and not for the better. I’m not saying there isn’t room for treats – but there has got to be a balance. And for heaven’s sake -if a kid asks for water they SHOULD GET WATER!!!!!!!
    Thanks for this post.

  15. I worked at overnight camp as a counsellor and as program director for 6 years. I must say I am impressed the camp can afford candy and soft drinks. It takes a lot of money to feed over 100 kids & staff 3 meals a day for 8 weeks why cut from the meal budget to give out extra sugar? I also find it odd that they would give kids a whole bunch of sugar right before bed- it makes it way too hard on the counsellors who ultimately want the kids to go to sleep on time with no fuss so they can have some time to themselves. At our camp we had a tuck shop and mid-afternoon the kids were invited to choose one junk food item, either a soda OR a snack, and water was offered.

    I would say it’s worth commenting on. Camps love feedback and are works in progress with staff actively trying to improve the camp experience. Just draft a friendly letter to the camp director saying you noticed a few less-than-stellar food choices. Perhaps send a link to your blog and explain food is kind of your thing and tell them you had some ideas for the menu and wondered if you could work with them on it. I would even try to call in and meet with the camp director and talk to them in person so it’s less threatening and more “Hey, I had some ideas I thought you might enjoy!” Worth a try. Good luck!

  16. Ha ha, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I was a counselor at one of those pricey camps (in Vermont) a number of years ago, and would always put notes in the camp’s suggestion box asking for healthier meals with more fruit and veggie options.

    I wanted to stay anonymous so that I wouldn’t seem like the pain-in-the-butt person, but they quickly figured out it was me.

    Good on you for trying to affect change, Lisa.

  17. You should definitely suggest changes. Why not? Especially if its the only camp available. I grew up in an area where there were not a lot of choices, so that would have been the alternative for me/my mother. Also, get involved! My mother was very interested in nutrition, which 30 odd years ago was not the topic it is today but still as important, and she was one if the scout leaders that would help plan meals. Educating kids about eating is another skill that can be subtly added to the list of things that are experienced at camp. Try a soft suggestive approach, perhaps teamed up with other parents, with maybe even an outline of a plan of heathy alternatives with a budget to show how it could be doable with minimal increase. If you show the solution and don’t just complain about the problem, you are more likely to initiate change. Good luck!

  18. This is one of my fears of going to our church camp – is the food! I know, my child will be exposed to junk food in life along with lots of other stuff that I don’t feel she will be ready for. But I guess as a parent it’s my job to do what you’ve done, educate to the best of my ability and then trust them to make the best decisions they can. But ugh…I feel that I know too much and even a week of that nastiness drives me nuts thinking about it! Anyways, love that you are going to do something. Not enough people understand the importance of good food choices and simply see food as a reward rather than a need. Education is so important, not just for the child, but all! This can be a great opportunity and hopefully the start of something new. :) Praying for you!

  19. Also you could maybe contact the camp directors and volunteer or whatever to be the camp chef; that way you insure your kid and all the other kids get the nutrition they need. And PLENTY of water, i don’t have kids myself (only 20) but i am kind of a health freak… my mom cant buy anything when im shopping with her. I make sure everything in the cart is GMO free, and Processed free.

    Also look into Non homogenized milk; iv just found some at our local store but its goats milk. When they homogenize milk they take the fat molecules out and smash them down and put them back in. The fat molecules in milk are needed for your body to properly absorb nutrients from foods and drinks.

  20. Who doesnt offer water at a CAMP? Do people not understand that soda’s and sugary drinks take half the water out of your body?

  21. I’m really impressed with the balanced approach you are taking and how you are educating your daughter about food choices (both healthy and not-so-healthy). If your daughter was able to ask for water even when others looked at her as if she were crazy (in other words she went against the social norm), then you are raising a child not only with a lot of awareness but a lot of confidence–even when you’re not around. That is going to stand her in good stead her whole life and not just with her food choices. Kudos to you–and her!

    I have no suggestions about how to help the camp provide better food options, but I suspect the more parents that speak up about that, the better (to create a new social norm). And given your balanced and positive approach with your daughter, I’m confident you’ll find a balanced and positive approach with the camp, too. :-)

  22. Wow Shawn, hostile much? I don’t believe she was taking about a hostile takeover of their kitchen or a fanatical protest on their door step! Maybe that is one of the problems with the “majority” of us….. We go with the flow too much instead of respectfully and genuinely try to help people out and produce change that is good for everyone! just sayin…….

  23. Lisa,

    If you are able to positively influence the camp food, it will be a good experience for both campers and counselors, plus parents. Maybe the staff think the kids deserve treats since it’s a cool vacation for them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have fresh veggies over nachos for dinner. Good job for trying! I’m sure you will find a way to approach them in a loving manner, so they’ll be receptive.

  24. Instead of trying to push your views on someone else that might like that camp, maybe you should go to another. You probably should have researched a little before taking her there. Here is a novel idea take her camping yourself and have fun as a family then you can give her what ever you want. Let her bring a couple of friends so it feels like the camp you sent her to. To many people in this country want everyone else to change to their view instead of leaving other people alone and letting them live their own lives. I agree kids shouldn’t be eating that stuff but it’s not my or your place to tell someone else not to. If enough people stop going there they will stop doing it or go out of business

    1. Shawn, Wow?! Really?! That is the most ridiculous thing I may have ever read. Thank God Women’s Rights and Civil Rights leaders didn’t share your limited point of view or we’d still have women with no right to vote and slaves. Really, you might think about expanding your limited ideas. I don’t think she’s planning on going in with both guns blazing demanding change but if you were paying hundreds of dollars (though I do not know that is what they paid – I’m only basing that on my own overnight camp experiences) for an experience for your child I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that, perhaps, WATER of all the crazy things is available to CAMPERS OUT IN THE HEAT AND SUN at all times. And to follow with your limited view, you know that this blog is about REAL FOOD and about trying to encourage change in our world so if you are shocked and offended that writer of this blog is thinking about (GASP) going out and trying to encourage change perhaps you might find the McDonald’s Corporate blog better suited to your taste? Just a thought.

    2. Hey shawn, “Here is a novel idea,” how about taking your own advice and “instead of pushing your views on someone else” maybe you should go to another blog. “You probably should have done a little research” on what the mission of this blog is all about.

    3. Hi Shawn,
      I worked 2 summers in a row at a children’s camp in the kitchen. I was really surprised with the amount of processed crap that was severed to the kids. There were some healthy side options such as fresh fruit, raw veggies, and salad but a the majority of the food was made from processed ingredients. I was surprised because of the fees parents were paying for their children to attended. It seemed the camp spent more on junk food and other gimmicks to make the camp more appealing than providing wholesome meals for them campers. Also campers could bring money for the tuck shop or ice cream island or their parents sent up accounts for them as part of the payment for camp. It was crazy the amount of candy and junk some of these kids were buying. Also snack after camp fire was usually something surgery. After hearing many of the difficulties trying to get their kids to quiet down for bed I really began to question the food choices the camp was making. Actually so did some of the parents after their kids came home and were ill when they came home because of all the junk. I know things started changing because of parental input. Yes camp is fun. Yes it’s alright to have a treat but camp doesn’t have to be a place to over indulge and overload your system.

  25. Hi!
    Wonderful post!
    As a food-conscious college grad who has both attended various summer camps throughout my childhood, as well as worked at a summer camp during my college summers, I have definitely seen both sides of the camp food spectrum. When I attended camps, the ones I spent my summers at were definitely rife with junk food – though I do distinctly remember the “no juice before finishing water” rule.
    As a staffer in my college years (a Kitchen Staffer one year, at that!), I was fortunate to work at a camp where the food director was very intentional with feeding the camp kids and staff well. She was a mother of two kids herself and know the significant impact that food made not only on her kids well-being, but also their morale, energy, and ability to focus and get along with others. She took this knowledge and brought into the camp. One would think that your average camper and college staffer would be upset at her food “policies,” but campers and staffers alike have always raved about the quality of the food served.
    Personally, I see there are still areas for improvement (GMO & Organic conscious, etc.), but I’ve listed some of the key things she did that made a huge difference:
    -There was absolutely NO soda at camp… Milk was the treat that was served after finishing one’s glass of water.
    -There was dessert after dinner (mostly homemade), but there was NEVER any candy except chocolate and marshmallows for a cabin’s s’mores night.
    -We used real eggs in everything,… even for a camp’s-worth of scrambled eggs. I definitely remember cracking manyyyy of them.
    -Many of the meals were made from scratch or almost from scratch (I can attest to this from my experience as one of their kitchen staffers, my end-of-summer gift to my fellow kitchen girls was a cookbook with our favorite camp recipes. Baked oatmeal or foccacia bread anyone?
    -During Staff Training, the Kitchen Director educated the entire camp staff on why good nutrition made for happy, healthy campers that, in turn, make for happy, healthy staffers.

    The primary unfortunate part, is that despite the camp’s excellent food program (for a camp, anyway), is that it is an incredibly expensive camp.

  26. Growing in nearly all ways at camp is hard to achieve but my 14 and 12 year olds have had just that at Camp Celo and Camp Eagle’s Nest in their last four summers. Beyond bonding in play, responsibility and fellowship they have learned about how food is grown and prepared. They come home from their three weeks of camp healthy and happy AND wanting more of the good choices offered them at both. I say come to the beautiful mountains of NC if models elsewhere fail to raise the culinary standards!

  27. We started school this week and what is tomorrow’s lunch menu? Cheesy breadsticks and marinara sauce! How is that a ‘meal’? We will be packing lunches tomorrow…

  28. You are a very realistic Mother & gave your daughter great advice. And you accepted her right to make her own decisions. Very wise. During the years my children attended camp I spent a few of those years as an adult advisor (unpaid) to a specific group of kids & their counselor. It was a great experience for both kids & adults. The focus of the camp was not food & the food was convenience food, served by unskilled college kids who only worked all over the campus, including the cafeteria. Skilled professional cooks have to have jobs where they work more than just 3 months a year so there were no professional staff at the camp. The camp had a goal of funding as many low income kids as possible to have the camp experience. The cost seemed expensive but not unreasonable by middle class parents. Food costs did not occupy a big percent of the budget. Evening snacks were not provided by the camp, but were either purchased by the kids at the snack bar or provided by the counselors as a treat for the kids. My point is if you want great food for your kids be prepared to spend a lot of money to send them to a more upscale camp.

  29. Our family is now on its third generation of campers and camp workers at a specific Michigan camp. Junk food has always been banned, except for one or two nights during the two weeks that a special treat was given and enjoyed immensely due to it being so rare. There are numerous healthy messages for both mind and body (zero waste, being kind, building like-long relationships etc.) encouraged daily. While crafts crafts, sports, and other activities are part of this experience, they are only a piece to what makes the camp experience so life-changing and fun. Making healthy choices for oneself and the planet are pillar beliefs at many very successful camps around the country and I would encourage other camps (or camp staff) who feel that junk is a must to examine the models that don’t. Many campers LOVE camp because it is not the real world, and while eating healthier might be a challenge for some, so is the high ropes course, being away from mom and dad, and leaving new best friends – all aspects of what make camp the wonderful experience it is.

  30. As a former camp counselor I have a few ideas on why the skittles and sports drinks.
    – dehydration is a big issue, you take every opportunity to get fluids into your campers (even junk). Many kids come to camp already dehydrated and aren’t used to drinking. Camp well water tastes funny. Some campers ate scared of the outhouses and will avoid drinking to avoid peeing in an outhouse. Any incentive to drink anything is good.
    – some kids won’t eat dinner Because they dont like what is being served and have been picky eaters at home. They will be hungry at bedtime unless there is something to eat. Bedtime is also when homesickness tends to set in, esp if a kid is miserable/hungry. But a fun snack (candy, s’mores) will fill tummies and make potentially homesick kids happy. (“I miss mom, but we had skittles, it’s not so bad here!”)
    – just to have fun! Camp isn’t so much about teaching kids to eat their veggies. It is more about learning to waterski, and use an outhouse, building a fire, and being independent without mom. Those are big scary things, and if skittles help, we would give the kids.

    I know this will be unpopular, but We are camp counselors, not parents.

    1. I actually had the same thought as Julie… camp is one of those once a year things where you get to have a “break” from normality. I’m all for eating whole foods daily, and I’m aware that there will always be a special occasion to celebrate, but it’s just one week of junk. I’m not sure it’s worth it to get so frustrated and upset about it. Make suggestions and offer advice, but don’t pour too much time and energy into it, because camps are working with the odds against them (budgets, picky-eaters, homesick kids, etc.). I do applaud the work with the schools (something that happens on a daily basis and NEEDS to be reformed). But, I’m not really sure that in the grand scheme of things that it needs to be such an issue.

      Also, probably not going to be a very popular train of thought, but that’s my 2 cents.

      1. YOu don’t think it’s important to refuel the body properly after a day out in the sun and with physical activity? It’s ok “for just a week” to consume preservatives, chemicals and likely hydrogenated oils contained in processed foods that actually CHANGES the cellular DNA make up? To be overloaded on sugar when in confinement with so many other kids and thus lower the immune system rendering the child useless to fight off impending viruses? So many kids come home from camp and a week later are sick, wonder why? There’s the answer. I’m all about having fun but there needs to be moderation, the focus on whole real foods and then some fun treats later. The treats don’t need to be packaged and nasty, kitchen staff need to stop being lazy! One week of nasty food during their “week of fun” only reinforces that that type of food equals fun and is necessary. It will translate once again over to birthdays and other celebrations and trickle down to eventually to “I deserve candy because I read a book” and using food as a reward. It’s a messed up system and definitely a week can have lasting effects not just physically but psychologically as well.

    2. I do get this, but…

      Do you really want kids throwing up at night because their tummies hurt? Offer PB & J (or sunbutter) as an option for kids who don’t like the main dishes.

      I don’t think the food has to be kale and spinach casserole to be “healthy”…or even that expensive.

      A baked potato bar, tacos, even homemade macaroni and cheese are all good “unprocessed” alternatives to nacho cheese sauce from a can.

      And s’mores fall into a different category from skittles and soda. S’mores are awesome. Yes, you want to have those happy, fun, carefree times at camp. But you don’t want to make them sick!!

  31. Hi,

    My sons go to camp at Green River Preserve which is in Cedar Mountain NC. They have never been served the types of food that your daughter’s camp offered. Green River has their own farm which provides some of the veggies cooked in the camp kitchen and the meals are healthy ones. I do not think I have ever heard of Froot Loops or any other highly processed cereal being served for breakfast. That being said they do have desserts after dinners, usually pies or cakes made onsite. Snacks on hikes are usually fruit (apples, bananas, etc) or some type of granola bar. Water is served with meals.

  32. I totally get the soda/water thing. My daughter is 8 and has never tasted it, I know people look at her like she’s crazy also.

  33. I was a camp counselor for 3 summers (2007-2010). I would always get sick for the first 3 weeks of camp adjusting to the crappy food- even available to the counselors. The only hope for getting half-way decent food was to say that I was a vegetarian when I am fine with eating leaner red meat, chicken, and fish. Because we didn’t get paid a lot (food and board is included in your pay) I would try to stretch my paycheck and buy healthier staples for myself. I would have to quickly eat my food privately (because we weren’t supposed to eat staff food in front of the kids) and then sit and not eat anything at meal times. Management got mad at me for doing this but when I explained about their food they said I should be grateful it was “paid” for.

    Multivitamins were also a must- I felt that I never got enough nutrients eating their food and running around all day with the kids. At the end of the summer when I’d go back home I’d get sick again re-adjusting to healthy foods. ugh… camp food.

  34. Wow! I spent MANY years at camp as a child and the only candy we were allowed to eat was purchased at the canteen. There was never any soda. The food was somewhat healthy, always fresh options and our drink choices were milk or water with “bug juice” on the weekends. Dessert wasn’t offered daily either.

    I agree with other readers, find a new camp. I know that when we have kids I will do whatever I need to do to ensure my kids can have an overnight camp experience. One of the best childhood memories I have!

  35. Aaaaa….camp. What fun memories!! Candy at night was a tradition, but not passed out by the camp. They made you bring your own money for that crap. I feel like the camp could’ve gotten away with doing the candy/soda routine on the last night, but the reality sounds insane.

  36. At my son’s day camp, I was disappointed that they served pop tarts for a snack. No nutritional value whatsoever!

  37. Even just from the perspective (forgetting all the health problems) that sugar before bedtime is not going to make getting heaps of excited kids to bed easy, it boggles my mind to think that the camp hands out candy after dinner. surely they realise that they are making bedtime harder for themselves?

  38. I’m so sorry your daughter’s camp offered evening snack of that variety. I have worked in organized camps for many years. Often we used to offer (gross, sugary, chemical laden) popsicles for afternoon snack but evening snack for over a decade has only been fruit or possibly freshly popped (not microwave) popcorn depending on what the activity was. Most afternoon snacks are trail mix, fruit, carrots and celery, etc. My camp was a bit more hippy than many but I’m glad to know we were able to provide better food to our campers. Most of these changes were a result of our staff stating they didn’t want their campers full of all that sugar and other products–particularly when heading to bed (that and our staff wanted better choices for themselves)! Also, we require all of our campers to drink at least one glass of water before they can have juice at meals and we do not provide any alternative drink besides water with snacks. None of these changes were particularly difficult but changing the mindset of the kitchen staff did take some effort. Putting out a bowl of fruit was no more work than a bowl of Oreos, and now our kitchen staff is great. Good luck.

  39. I agree with Catherine Phillips. Pick a different camp. Camp Merrie Woode is a WONDERFUL girls camp with much healthier alternatives and NO candy. There are sweets, but they are in moderation. There is an ever changing salad bar at all meals and even a vegetarian option.

  40. Your daughter did what every kid does when they’re away from their parent’s “prying eyes” – they experimented with food and ate what they are not allowed to eat at home! :) My mother runs the food services at a Jewish summer camp, and kids attend for the entire summer from all over the world. There’s usually a group of 20-30 kids from Israel who are Kosher. By the middle of the summer, they are eating EVERYTHING that all the other kids are eating.

    I think if we can instill good eating habits and good food choices in our children, and provide them with good food on a daily basis, we can trust them to make, mostly, good choices on their own. But they are going to taste the forbidden fruit now and then, and I think that’s okay.

    I’m glad your daughter had such a positive experience at summer camp, and I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to go! :)

  41. I don’t have a camp experience, but I have been really impressed with a local private school in our area that has commissioned a locally owned organic restaurant to provide their cafeteria food for Pre-K through 12th graders. I hope this trend continues to catch on and that schools (as well as camps, daycares, etc) begin to realize what an impact our children’s food has on their health and well-being.

  42. I started taking my 2 and 3 yr old to toddler time at our local library this summer. It starts at 11am and they do a craft or play a game or do an activity and it’s all been very good. But then around 11:30am out roll the bags of Capri sun and pre packaged Rice Krispie snacks, animal crackers, wafer cookies, etc and we are all offered on of each! I mean, it’s nearly lunchtime and these snacks are totally not necessary to enjoy our time at the library. I recently just accepted one jc and one snack and said my kids would share and the librarian was kinda pushy a out taking more– even for me! It was kinda awkward. They also get a ice cream ” treat” for every 10 books I read to them. Yikes–major overkill– in my experience kids don’t need these kinds of “encouragements” to love books.

    1. My girls recently attended a camping themed library program. They were served a fruity beverage and a s’mores snack (golden grahams, marshmallows and chocolate chips) at the end. I understand the s’more theme, but our family does plenty of camping and we mostly drink water. Plus, it was right after my kids had eaten dinner and just before bedtime so the last thing they needed was a surplus of sugar. Thankfully, I was able to water down my girls beverage and limited them to 1 serving of the s’mores snack. When I declined seconds from a parent passing them out, she looked at me like I was crazy. Why does every kids program seem to involve food?

  43. Thank you! I did a blog in Feb or March I can’t remember ( about an overnight trip my daughter and I took with the scouts. I too experienced the awful food choices they made. There were donut holes for breakfast, hot dogs and chips for lunch, Smores, soda and just all processed garbage.

    I felt compelled to blog about it b/c I was beside myself in disbelief that they couldn’t come up with something more nutritious than this. Some of these girls are so overweight already and my daughter and I watched in shock as some of them had 2 and 3 hotdogs for lunch with (like your daughter experienced) Gatorade or soda to wash it down.

    I’m so glad you posted this. More moms need to speak up about the garbage our kids eat at parties, events, school functions etc. As I am writing this I have now motivated myself to contact the leader of her troop and ask that we do a healthy eating segment at our house this year to teach the girls about eating foods that aren’t processed.

    Thanks Lisa!

    1. That is crazy that Girl Scouts isn’t trying to be more aware of nutrition!!

      In our Cub Scout pack, it’s parent led, so the planning is up to individual parents. Some parents do better than others with the nutrition.

      But in Boy Scouts, it’s boy led. They’re trying to teach the boys to be leaders. They do the food planning for their trips, and they are very aware of nutrition, and need their “menu plans” to be balanced.

      Maybe we just lucked out with a great troop, but they are very good about keeping the food balanced.

  44. Regarding the skittles and sprite after dinner- as an ex camp counselor, I cannot imagine why anyone would think it was a good idea to get the kids on a sugar high like that right before bed. We used to have ice cream every thursday after dinner (that was the only real dessert option) and it would take HOURS to get everyone to calm down again!

    1. I completely agree. I’ve been a camp counselor, and now as a young mom, I don’t at all comprehend why they would give the kids sugar, sugar, and more sugar in between dinner and lights out. Furthermore, they should ALWAYS have water available, especially in the summer in the south!

      1. Oh, and not all camps have the stereotypical “camp food.” The camp where I worked offered healthy, nutritious, varied meals with a full salad bar.

  45. You should check out Gwynn Valley camp in Brevard. They have their own working farm with cows, goats, chickens a d even a working mill where the campers can grind wheat and corn in flour and cornmeal. Mostly everything they eat comes from their own farm. They did have sweet treats but they were mostly homemade in their kitchen. Even the ice cream was homemade! My daughter went thus simmer and it was amazing!! Check it out for next year!

  46. Yep, there are camps that provide TRULY healthy food options. I REFUSE to support any camp that doesn’t. Just don’t send your children there, don’t give them your money! If they are that unconcerned with your child’s physical health, why would you think they care about them in any other way?

  47. Oh, man.

    I take a very similar approach with my kids and food…two are junior high age, so they are away from me plenty and need to make their own food choices. I will say that they prefer home cooking and healthy choices to junk food…because they DO have sensitive stomachs. So, a night of nachos means they’ll be on the john all night…not fun! :-/

    They went to boy scout camp this year, and said the food was really good. The salad bar was good, so they had salads along with their main courses, which sounded like mostly homemade “camp” food. Tacos. Burgers.

    There was always sunbutter and jelly (and both wheat or white bread options), so that was good!

    They had desserts, but they were cobblers and cakes. The camp store sold “junk” if you wanted it, but they weren’t passing out candy.

    The boys were VERY active at camp, so I was glad to hear that they did a pretty good job providing fuel.

    I would totally complain to the camp. It’s one thing to have some junk…another to make it ALL junk. Sounds like a recipe for a lot of kids with tummy aches! :-p

  48. Catherine Phillips

    Find a different camp! In North Carolina, Camp Gwyn Valley is amazing. No junk food and there’s a farm that supplies much of the food (and that the kids help with). It was where I learned my first healthy food lessons as a kid – I remember eating some Quaker Oat squares cereal (a “healthy” cereal in my little-kid mind) after being at camp and being struck by how sweet it tasted!

    1. But that doesn’t help all the other kids who will continue to be subjected to this food and without the benefit of parents who have taught them to be discriminating.

  49. I don’t have camp experience, but I have noticed this in many school and church situations. I am stunned that people in leadership think it is okay to give kids pop, candy, processed junk food, and then add a little more sugar on top. Then, we hear reports about obesity and diabetes being on the rise among children and people are shocked. Really?
    I sent a respectful email to request that pop not be served at a school field day. I listed my reasons and got a too bad, so sad response. It was frustrating. I let it go because I’m still new to the school, but at some point I’m going to need to start being pushy. Our kids, not just mine, but all of “our” kids, need health too bad for us to sit by and serve them pop and other junk at functions that are supposed to promote health and learning.

  50. My boys went to camp this year, oldest to church camp and then both to a 4-H camp for military kids and both said that for the most part they were given healthy foods, not so healthy snacks from time to time, water was the drink that was offered throughout. They had a popcorn night the last night, it was popped over the campfire, so a fun experience and not nearly as bad as microwave.

  51. And I totally agree the camp she went to could absolutely do a better job with food/snacks. Skittles and soda…that’s a bit overboard. Healthier options like whole wheat pita & hummus w/ veggies, or a cheese & fruit pack or trail mix, yogurt or other healthier options would be good to have. It seems like this place had more junk than healthy options. Should be reversed.

  52. I think it is wonderful that she tried to make good choices while away. It’s good that she wants to be healthy but isn’t afraid if there are other options served. I recently came across this article and it educated me that while I strive to be healthy & eat the right things, there is such a thing as going too far. I’m glad you are educating your kids that the goal is to eat the best they can, but junk food is reality and they will be faced with it and it’s ok to have it from time to time and you aren’t going to die or get sick. If you have it all the time or eat too much of it, well of course that’s a different story. Moderation is key.

  53. Summer Camps are wonderful growth opportunities for children, and should be healthy ones for them. I’m glad that your daughter’s first experiences was a positive one.

    I am the director of Eagle’s Nest Camp in North Carolina. We believe in nurturing the positive growth of our campers – which includes providing them with healthy foods and with the tools for learning to make smart food choices and either continue, or learn, healthy eating habits. Our campers sit with “table families” that include two counselor “parents” for the entire time that they are at camp. When they sit down to the meal, the table is already set with food on the table to be enjoyed family style. All of our food is made from scratch, and may of our veggies come from our garden or from local farms. When the cooks introduce the meal, the campers learn that the kale (yes – they eat kale) in the stir fry, or the tomatoes used for the soup our from our garden. They also eat pizza made from fresh dough that their cabin may have prepared (every cabin gets to learn how to make bread with our baker. Every cabin also gets to take the compost down to the garden and see the veggies that we are growing). For snack at the end of the day we nourish those hungry, growing bodies with fresh oatmeal cookies or pumpkin bread baked by our baker. And for all the vegans, vegetarians, and campers with special diets (like nut or gluten free campers) we have options for them too. Camps can and SHOULD promote the overall healthy growth of our children. Many camps are doing this with their food programs already. I’m sure that if you look around you’ll find some great models. And if you’d like more information, I’d be happy to connect you with our chef and with our garden manager for more ideas:

    1. I was intrigued by what you had to say about Eagle’s Nest Camp and so I just spent some time on the website. What an INCREDIBLE sounding place! When my husband and I have camp-aged children (we are foster parents) I would so love to send them there.

  54. If you are looking for another overnight camp in North Carolina for next year, check out Camp Chesnut Ridge in Efland, NC – near Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. My daughter went as a day camper this summer. They have their own garden, and I was amazed at how healthy the food choices were at meals. And she says it is the most fun that she has ever had!

  55. I call the nacho cheese and other highly processed “cheese” plastic cheese. I’d love to see a food revolution in this country! It starts at home, but getting our children to eat healthy is an amazing first step!

  56. There are many camps here in North Carolina that serve real, wholesome, nutritious, and delicious foods. Camp Celo south of Burnsville and Camp Eagle’s Nest close to Brevard have their own gardens, cooking opportunities for the kids and great food. We regularly use their cookbooks to make our own real and healthy foods at home. I agree with the above post that offered that you should vote with your pocketbook!

  57. I think a lot of people still think that veggies in any form are “good for you.” So, when you have corn dripping in butter and broccoli boiled to death and covered in cheese, they consider that a healthy choice. Our kids’ camp had a LOT of processed food and very few healthy snack options. Also, we did not have water readily available throughout the day, which was odd. It was up to the kids to refill their bottles in the morning. I left a comment on the survey form about the food and hopefully, others did, too. That’s the only way the camp staff will know that there need to be changes made. I do feel like most people are open to positive suggestions.

  58. My daughter has been going to the same camp in North Carolina for a few years now. One of the things that most impressed me, and I was very impressed by the camp in general, was the fact that every bit of the food is made from scratch – right down to all of the bread that is served. Their menu is better than most of my meals that I make at home – eggs benedict for breakfast one day and every morning a huge fruit bar with oatmeal and all of the natural fixings to go with it. The morning snack is a golf cart that drives around camp with apples or peaches or watermelon. That is not to say they don’t have treats, but they are exactly that… a treat. I keep waiting for mommy camp, no such luck. Oh and all of the food is made by local high school kids, who apply early for the coveted “kitchen staff” positions.

  59. You’ve inspired me to become more involved in my child’s daycare in Ambler, PA. I already had them change their fruit delivery so that the kids get more fresh fruit every week. But I still get annoyed by the processed food offered during snacks. Even their Crowley yogurt has 32g of sugar. 32g!!!!!! So I’m looking into joining the parents association so that I can get more support for changing what we are feeding our kids.
    Love the ideas above about organic gardens, making your own food (including ice cream!).

  60. I send my son to a self-sustaining sleep-away camp in Julian, CA that has an organic farm. The kids plant and harvest in the farm as part of their stay and the chef uses the bounty to feed the children and staff. There are also chickens and the children gather the eggs to eat, and this year they raised pigs… The camp is amazing and puts a great deal of emphasis on nature and our relationship as stewards of the land.

  61. I am having a similar issue at my son’s new day care. I pack his lunch and snack but the school gives the kids icy pops on the playground. (The ones that have so much preservative in them they are not sold frozen). We’re talking about 16-month-olds eating a big serving of sweeteners and artificial colors (and who knows what else) EVERY day. I live in Florida so this will be a year round thing. I am really bothered by this but I’m biting my tongue (per my husband’s request that I not be “THAT” mom).

    1. Erin – I think you have every right to be THAT mom. You should wear it with pride. I’m sure other moms feel the same way. Maybe you could try to find other mom’s that will support you and together you can make changes at the daycare. That’s what I am hoping to do with my daughter’s daycare through the parent association.

      1. Erin, I agree with Cary – if you don’t advocate for your kids by being THAT mom, who will? If you don’t want to make a big fuss, just tell them that your child is allergic to artificial sweeteners. I have always been sensitive to “sugar-free” anything – I get a migraine and feel nauseated for most of the day after even just one bite or sip.

        Ask them if you can bring a box of all-fruit pops so he doesn’t feel left out (though at 16 months he probably wouldn’t notice).

        Then chat with the school director to suggest alternatives. I was THAT mom with cloth pull-ups at my son’s daycare and the teachers were surprisingly open to it once I mustered the courage to ask.

    2. Erinn,
      I totally understand about not wanting to be THAT mom, but if you calmly and respectfully request that the school look into other snacks, and offer affordable suggestions, there is nothing wrong with speaking up. You won’t be yelling, you won’t be threatening, you’ll just be rational and forthright, while keeping a smile on your face. Nothing wrong with looking out for the children! I tried this at my child’s preschool and while they looked at me like I had two heads, I had nothing to be embarrassed about. I was totally cool and polite. They just aren’t used to requests like that, I’m sure!

      1. We don’t have the popsicles at our daycare, but still lots of processed foods (“breakfast”, lunch, & afternoon snack). My son is 20 monthes old and is already balking at me sending in alternatives.

        However, for the suggestion that speak up and “offer affordable suggestions”. What might one offer for snacks/breakfast (breakfast = yogurt, Nutrigrain bars, Special K bars, etc)? The school has to rely on Sams Club, or other places like that, and the options are minimal. They do not have a kitchen and have limited fridge space. (Lunch is catered – so that’s a whole other rhelm :-) There’s no reason why the caterer can’t offer better food.)

  62. I’m sooo with you on this. I just read an article in the Aug/Sept issue of Kiwi about schools adopting the farm to table concept (which is actually just how people USED to eat but what industrialization pushed to the side). Some schools are growing gardens and incorporating it into their curriculum! Kids are helping with the weeding, composting, and harvesting. How awesome is that?! Camps should have this on their radar as they are right in the middle of growing season in most parts.

    Maybe you should start you own camp? You could call it something like “Real Food, Real Kids, Real Fun.” I would sign mine up immediately. :)

  63. Speak up and tell the camp owners your concerns. There are PLENTY of other camps that offer clean, healthy food — you should “vote” with your pocketbook. There is absolutely no need for soda or candy at camp. EVER. And not having water available??? That’s a no-brainer.

  64. It is an inspiration to me that people are trying to improve the food that kids intake at schools and camps.

    Each year, our church host a sports/athletics day camp for elementary kids. high school kids are volunteers counsellors with adult coaches and administrators. I was put in charge of hospitality for the church for two years, and hence the kitchen for the camp.

    as camp approached, I wrote and re-wrote menus and snacks (two snacks and a lunch) for each day until I had a balanced, kid-friendly plan. My philosophy was that if these kids were training their bodies to be healthy in exercise, they needed to be training their bodies to be healthy with food too. A retired dietician was a part of the volunteer staff; she looked over the menus and gave her approval. We knew it was not perfect and not 100% real food, but it took major steps in that direction.

    The first year, I met with some resistance, ad some questions. But most people agreed or went along with what I was suggesting. Families agreed to bake homemade things, or bdonate wholesome fruits, veggies, etc. Some donations did not fit our list of needs and we found ways to use them– like the man who brought three watermelons, a bag of oranges, and a bag of apples at the last minute!

    This replaced bottle gatorades, fake juice pouches, kool-aid, candy, pre-packaged crackers with cheese spread, packaged granola bars, icee colored/flavored/ sugared water popsicles, cupcakes, sloppy joes (with lots of sugar & white bread), grilled cheese sliced sandwiches, ordered out pizza, hot dogs, etc.

    For beverages, …
    Each day ice water was provided in big drink coolers in a “cooling station” under a pop-up tent. Breaks between each station allowed kids to get drinks more easily. Also, they were encouraged to drink water at snack times. beyond my control were lunch drinks– often powdered lemonade or gatorade; water and milk were also options and some children chose these.

    For snacks & desserts, we provided…
    1. homemade granola bars,
    2. carrots & nut butter (was supposed to be hummus, but that was not well-received)
    3. celery & ranch (or nut butter),
    4. apple slices & but butter
    5. orange quarters
    6. watermelon slices,
    7. fruit cubes on sticks,
    8. dark chocolate-covered frozen bananas,
    9. homemade popsicles using watermelon juice & leftover fruit
    10. yogurt sticks,
    10. frozen yogurt sticks,
    11. cheese cubes & whole grain crackers (in split bags to look like butterflies & keep moist cheese from making crisp crackers mushy),
    12. simple ice cream sundaes,
    13. oatmeal & dried fruit cookies,
    14. homemade brownies,
    15. homemade trail mix

    Everything was pre-packaged by the volunteers the day before or the morning of serving. Baked goods were made the night before to keep them fresh and more edible.

    For meals, we had…
    1. soft taco bar with lots of veggies (easily dropped the meat for the few vegetarians or the shells for gluten free, or the cheese for dairy free)
    2. turkey or ham sandwiches with green salad on the side (the goal for this year was to cook our own turkey and not use cold cuts)
    3. grilled chicken strips (not breaded; marinated with Italian herbs, olive oil, etc) with a small side of pasta with homemade sauce (and lots of veggies added to the sauce)
    4. hot dogs & chips were served by the sponsoring organization one year; the second year, we got them to change to pizza from a local Mom & Pop operation. I wanted to make, but got voted down; it was my hope to change that for this year).
    5. grilled hamburgers with veggie tray (and bags of chips provided by the sponsoring organization)
    6. peanut butter & jelly was the back-up plan for allergies or picky eaters. (after turkey sandwich day, those were possible as alternatives too).

    It wasn’t a home-run for all real food, low sugar, low salt, and increased fruits & veggies, but it was LOTS better than what had been served before.

    This year, I was no longer in charge. The woman who took over reverted back to the original way of doing things. I don’t know for sure, but I am guessing it’s because that is how she feeds her family, it took less work & coordination to get donations, in her option- it is cheaper, but most of all because it is “less hassle”. (sigh)

    I have heard many friends complain about the food at their kids’ camps. So, good luck to those of you trying to change the camp food (or school food) mentality. You need to be an advocate, and find an ally on the inside; it may take commitment on your part as well. Seriously and with all honestly, I wish you luck and would love to hear more success stories. :-)

      1. @Cary- glad there are some ideas that you can use! Here’s a little more detail in case you are interested…

        The “butterfly” cheese & cracker bags looked something similar to this-

        The nut butters, ranch, and hummus (that never got made) were portioned in little cups with lids from GFS.

        The veggies/fruits were portioned in ziploc-like snack bags. Things that would brown like apples were rinsed in a lightly salted water (instead of pop) to reduce browning.

        Brownies & homemade granola bars were wrapped in press-n-seal or waxed paper with a strip of tape.

        Frozen bananas were cut in half width-wise, stuck with wooden sticks, peeled, frozen on wax paper-lined trays, spooned warm chocolate over them while they were frozen, sprinkled with any “decoration” (a few sprinkles were added for fun & color; a little goes a long way. can use nuts, or shredded coconut instead). They were put back in the freezer until serving time. They were served & eaten outdoors so there would not be chocolate stuck in the carpet & furniture!

        Ice cream was pre-portioned in single scoops on chilled trays, then re-chilled until serving time. at serving time, scoops were put in small bowls and a couple of toppings- sliced bananas, nuts, whipped cream, dark chocolate sauce were available.

        Homemade trail mix used up our leftovers from a previous church event and from the week-
        … chocolate chips (white, milk, dark)
        … nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts)
        … whole grain pretzels (or minimal ingredient, whole grain cereal)
        … dried fruits (banana chips, cranberries, raisins, cherries, pineapple)
        A few servings were made without nuts for nut-free, and few without grains for gluten-free. These were made before the large batch was created & portioned for the kids that were allergy free.

        Taco meat was ground turkey and Penzey’s Chicken Taco Seasoning was used.

        Hamburgers were about 1/2 hamburger and 1/2 ground turkey (or chicken).

        Every meal had a toppings that could be made into salads, or a green salad (topping varied based on what we were cooking that day). The first day, the tacos could be eaten as taco salads instead of tacos. One day the salad was served mixed lightly with a homemade Italian dressing. On other days, there was a bowl of torn up greens and smaller bowls of toppings: usually– tomatoes, peppers, carrots, nuts, shredded cheese, dressing; and sometimes– dried or fresh fruit, green onion, cucumbers, celery, meat, etc.


  65. Lilian Solorzano

    I am a mother of two little girls, and although my eldest is too young for camp, I can only imagine what you were feeling when you heard the “skittles with soda” news. My daughter was in pre-k 2 last year and I remember one day arriving at her school and chatting with her teacher. Her teacher could not contain her excitement when she proceeded to show me a box of DULCE DE LECHE CHEERIOS. Now I don’t know if they have these in other parts of the country (we live in Miami) but its basically CARAMEL CHEERIOS. I was stunned. She told me the kids loved it and she started buying it with her own money to give them a “treat” during snack time. At this point, I didn’t want to make the teacher feel bad, so I kept my horror inside (mostly because I knew my daughter only had another month there, and then she was free of this nonsense.) Her school was great, and did have a policy of no candy or sodas. But they served tons of processed snacks like goldfish and animal crackers EVERYDAY, and my daughter’s constipation got worse in the year she was there. She is starting a new school next week that emphasizes clean eating. They don’t allow any treats, not even for parties. The suggestion is to share a toy or game with the class come Birthday time.

    Also, I just want to also add that I LOVE your page and your website. I have used a lot of your recipes, and although my babies are still small, I know I will be coming to your site more and more. The hardest part has really been to convince my hubby that organic produce is the way to go ($$$) so we do our best, but he’ll come around. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO!

    1. Our preschool snacks are the worst too! Graham crackers, gold fish, cupcakes, popsicles, candy (special treat?), etc…I volunteered this year to be a helper in the room and I am totally going to volunteer to bring healthy snacks for the class, even if I have to do it every day (3 days a week, 10 kids, not too bad, right?)

  66. I have attended camp as an adult leader for two years now, and my girls have attended for four years. I’ve noticed that this particular camp seems to be open to change. The first year I attended a few leaders and campers actually brought their food to supplement what was being served at camp. As the cafeteria became aware of the foods being brought, they have started including those foods in their menus. It behoves the camp to make the campers happy. So I’m sure this camp will be happy to work with you to make changes.

    I do have to say that I am horrified that water was not available to your daughter! Most camps provide water at all time–it is a safe and health issue. As a leader, one of my jobs is to monitor water intake among the girls I supervise. Several times through out the years of this camp girls have become dehydratered or suffered heat stroke because of lack of water. Every camper should have a water bottle and water available to refill it or disposiable water bottles should be available.

    I must say that the salad bar is saddest part of camp–even though it is often the sole source of veggies. The salad bar has lettuce (which I have a hard time eating because it has a chemical taste), cucumbers, tomatoes, croutons, “bacon” bits, sunflower seeds, cheese, and five kinds of salad dressing. If I were to go and make myself a big salad from the salad bar, I would use up most of the cucumbers and tomatoes which are meant to feed 70 campers! Cooked veggies are never part of the meal because most kids do not like veggies and whole grains are not featured for the same reason, so the salad bar serves as the main source of fiber for the week. Which makes the lack of variety and quanity so sad.

    I agree with the above comment—ask the camp if they would send out a survey, and then ask if they would be open with you guiding them towards a better food culture in the future.

  67. My daughter and I recently spent a day at a rescue farm here in Ohio that offers day camps. I knew that the snack choices wouldn’t be particularly healthy but I was very disappointed that 1. they didn’t have water breaks like they said 2. every snack they served in the 6 hours we were there was sugar (donuts – popsicles – little debbies) 3. the snacks were served with fruit flavored drinks instead of encouraging the children to drink the water they told us to bring.

  68. Every year, I take a group of 4-H members to 4-H Summer Camp. The food there is absolutely delicious and they serve a lot of real foods….but not totally. The do have a small salad bar with 1c. sized bowls. But I could see where the kids would get bored with the cucumbers, carrots, and cherry tomatoes that are on it. They do serve some things that I would rather not eat, but when you’re their you kind of have to eat what they give you or not at all. I would love to see an all out revolution of school cafeterias and camp cafeterias. My boys take their lunch everyday because of all of the highly processed meats and “fake” cheese they serve at school. Nacho cheese IS NOT REAL CHEESE!!!

  69. My kids (ages 8 and 11) go to Gwynn Valley Camp in Brevard, NC. They have their own farm (garden and animals) where the kids can choose to work. They produce 70% of what they eat at camp- fresh veggies, fruit, beef, eggs, ice cream…they have a working mill where they grind corn for feed or johnny cakes. They also use the mill to make homemade ice cream! It’s the most wonderful place in the world! I want to be a camper there! My kids LOVE the food!

  70. At Camp Nuhop near Mohican State Park in Ohio, not only are the meals healthy, they have an organic garden! It provides a supply of fresh veggies and also teaches the campers (and their counselors and parents!) how fun and simple it is to have homegrown food.

    1. Thanks for that info, Kay. I’m near Cleveland, and it’s good to know there’s somewhere close to send my kids when the time comes.

  71. I totally agree! There is no need for that much sugar in any camp, school, etc.
    I would be proud of my kids, as well! Not only for trying to make some healthy choices but for telling me the truth! That shows they can totally trust you! :)

  72. I am a teacher and worked at an overnight camp
    The only junk we served was the nights we would have popcorn with a movie or make smores. Super hot days(heat index over 100) we did give ice cream and popsicles for snacks. It was more about staying cool than snacking though. I can’t understand why you would load kids with sugar before bed. Nightime snacks were usually apples, whole wheat pretzels or granola bars. Meals weren’t always the healthiest, but there was always fresh fruit and a veggie. Absolutely no soda was served. Lemonade and Fruit Punch (really watered down) were served at lunch and dinner. Milk, oj and apple juice was for breakfast. The rest of the time it was water, water, and more water. They hate it at first but after about 3 days they were used to it and stopped.

  73. I worked at a summer camp one year and I swear everything tasted like salt. When I asked for a sandwich (sun-butter and jelly) for a kid that hate chineese food… They eps aid unless she is allergic she has to eat what we sent out… Really cause I won’t eat it either?!? Need less to say I wasn’t happy there and was half starved by the time camp was over!!! Shelf life seems to be a bigger concern than health is and it’s pretty sad!

  74. When I went to camp, we had to buy candy and soda at the snack shop. Meals were (moderately) healthy, and were served with water, juice, or (unfortunately) Kool Aid. They had breakfast cereals, but I think the most sugary option was Frosted Flakes.

  75. I am so impressed with the balanced view you have offered your daughters! My kids attended a wonderful sleepaway camp for several years run by the Campfire organization and I was pleased to hear that they had a choice of water, milk or juice with meals (not soda or energy drinks) along with fresh fruit and salad. (And yes, I’m sure some of the other offerings were not that healthy, but my kids said they weren’t way better than their school offerings and not as bad as they had expected.)

    My pet peeve is why adults regularly offer sports drinks like Powerade or Gatorade to kids. Are they running a marathon or doing extreme sports? If not, then isn’t it cheaper and healthier to offer water? I once ran into a parent from school at Costco who had cases of Gatorade in his cart. He explained to me that his kids kept wanting juice and the Gatorade was healthier for them. I was so stunned by this reasoning I didn’t know what to say. I wish I had discussed it further with him but I didn’t know him well enough to be comfortable to do so, but now I wish that I had.

  76. I don’t have kids but I think it makes perfect sense that parents should have input into what is offered to their kids as food when the parents are paying for the camp. It just seems like common sense.

  77. We live in Washington and our kids have both attended Camp Seymour near Purdy, affiliated with The YMCA, and they have aMAZing food. They cook it all there, even the ‘treats’ and have a wide variety of food, grow food, and compost like crazy. I would encourage you to contact them and see exactly what they do. They definitely try to be green about most of their activities, and I must specifically rave about their homemade pizza and soup ;)

  78. I have only sympathy to offer. When I saw the Sysco truck pull up to my son’s overnight camp, my heart plummeted. He had raved about the food (and especially the salads!) the previous year, but at least this year, all the food was premade and pretty much just defrosted.

    It’s discouraging.

    At least they didn’t hand out candy after meals, and juice was fairly rare… and in the end, with the potable water stopping and the stomach flu, it was the least of the problems…!

  79. Need advice and help! My 4yr old son was invited to a bd party next week at McDonald’s. we don’t eat fast food, he’s never been into a fast food joint. He knows McDonald’s as bad food. The person the party is for is a good friend of his from his preschool. I was thinking of brining my own food, do you think that would be okay?

    1. Kelly, I would probably feed my kids first if it was a party that you are really wanting to attend. I think bringing your own food may be a little in-your-face, and since this can be a sensitive topic, I’d fill up beforehand! That way you can partake of the party, but not the poison! :)

    2. Kelly, check out McDonald’s website for a menu before hand… I’ve heard they are offering more healthy options although I truly don’t know. If they don’t have anything remotely healthy to choose, you could pull an allergy card and bring your own (say “he’s allergic to junk”). Or you could just go with it knowing that its a one time occurrence. I know with a 4yr old of my own, I’m afraid of exposing her to fast food and having her like it, but on the flip side I don’t want her to feel left out when all of her friends are able to have something and she’s not.

  80. I’m sorry this was your experience.
    The camp our children attend has a fantastic menu of homemade, fresh food.

  81. You should totally start an overnight camp or partner with one that has all of the usual fun activities, but is filled with a fun way of learning about real food. I would SO send my two kids :)!

  82. Maui surfer girls has a wonderful camp for girls 12-17. Organic chef on staff and the menu looks amazing. It’s not cheap but I’m saving my pennies til I can send my (now 10 year old) daughter. Great focus in girl power and healthy living.

  83. All I can say is WOW! My daughter’s overnight camp does not offer that kind of junk food. No candy, soda, or sports drinks. They offer water – a lot of it, in fact all campers are to carry water with them at all times, milk is offered and at breakfast juice. Yes, there are items such as hot dogs and such, but over all it’s pretty much homemade food. Lots of fruit and veggie choices, served at the table, no salad bar. The biggest sweets offered include smores’ or toast buffet (where they can add cinnamon, sugar, chocolate chips, butter, jam – whatever they’d like to toast – offered only once, if that, a visit and only during a campfire breakfast.) You mentioned paying a pretty penny to send her, my guess is you are paying for all those fancy, sugary choices. Water is a whole lot less expensive! Like I said, these items aren’t even offered at all camps!

  84. When I was 19 I worked at an expensive summer camp that was one of those 3 week session camps. The food was particularly dreadful too. The worst thing they did was— and you may want to sit down for this one– mix nacho cheese from a can with macaroni call it mac n’ cheese.


    There was a salad bar, but the line was RIDICULOUSLY long which deterred a lot of campers (and counselors as well) and of course, the options were sparse. I was lucky if I could grab a banana at breakfast.

    Not everything was terrible, but it was definitely a struggle– especially when the only bread option was white wonder bread. AND WHO SERVES BLTS to 8 year olds? THe camp would smell like grease for days after BLT day. I just didn’t get it. Here we were having these kids run around all day and we were feeding them crap.

    What was even harder was my bunk had a girl we were told to help her make healthy choices cuz her mom was trying to get her to lose weight. Try getting that one to happen when the options aren’t helpful.

    But not all of it was terrible, like I said. Twice a day they had an optional “snack time” where you could meet in between your class/activity and grab an apple or orange. A lot of kids would do it too. And candy was only given once a week as a bribe to get the kids to write letters home (when they traded their letters in, they’d get a full-size candy bar). They did do dessert every night after dinner but it was usually a tiny brownie or blondie. Super small.

    OH but cleanest bunk got to get ice cream once a week— and they were allowed to order a PINT to eat by themselves.

    just thinking about camp is now giving me a stomach ache. I told my husband that a dream of mine would be to have a healthy summer camp that doesn’t get the wrap of a “fat camp” but is known for great physical activities and good, wholesome foods. Please do something!

    1. Kelly~ can you guys eat first so he is not hungry when he arrives, and pack inconspicuous snacks in your purse? I wouldn’t outright bring my own food though.

      1. Thank you! Thankfully the party is only an hour and a half, I plan on going a bit “late”, or possibly leaving a few minutes early just to avoid any food issues. I don’t want to go but my husband says I should because its one of his close friends ugh!

  85. My youngest child’s classroom just banned birthday food treats because of extremely severe food allergies in the class (but only for this year). But I let the teacher know that I supported it for other reasons and that I hoped it could soon be school wide. 3/4 of the kids have birthdays during the year and bring in cupcakes, etc. She suggested pencils or stickers or things like that.
    I have a particular neighbor who seems to relish in feeding my kids junk when they are playing in front of her house or with her kids. I have tried talking to my kids about politely declining but I know that I’m going to have to ask her not to do that in the future.

  86. My daughter also had her first sleepaway camp experience, she’s 11. They, however, had a full on cafeteria with hot breakfasts, lunches and dinner. The downside was the ‘free snack time’ where they could spend their camp money on anything they wanted. My daughter chose the grape soda every single day and skittles-considering she rarely gets these things at home. I didn’t mind as much since they did provide three square meals. Not sure if you can publish this, but it was through 4H and they went to the Eastern 4H Center this year in Columbia, NC. Awesome experience and she will be going back. I do agree, if we give them options and reinforce the positive, whole food choices then that’s the best we can do.

  87. I have no experience with this but I would be willing to bet that if you start contacting the camp organization now, in preparation for next year, you might be able to help them prepare for a ‘healthier’ summer, and MARKET it as well! Teaching kids to eat the things their body needs to be active is awesome and the camp should support that. The counselors may have a better time getting them to sleep at night if they dont get them all hopped up on sugar just before bed :) Good job Mama! I hope to read about how you got them to improve their menu for the young campers!

  88. Check out camp Chestnut Ridge, a Methodist camp in Efland, NC. They emphasize healthful eating. My kids go on and on about how good the food is.

  89. I can think of a reason for skittles every night… sponsorship pure and simple. When I went to camp a quarter of a century ago (god that makes me feel old!) I remember asking why they didn’t have anything good to drink but koolaid and sodas. I think their sponsor was Coke.

    1. I was just going to comment about sponsorship…Powerade is a Coke product. It’s more than likely that Lisa’s daughter’s camp have some sort of partnership with Coke and therefore offer their products in lieu of healthier options…this is pretty typical in a lot of places sadly. I can’t believe they didn’t have water to offer the kids at all times! Not sure where this camp is, but here in Texas, it would seem a crime to not keep kids hydrated with water in the summer time!

  90. Why do we have to reward kids with food? It is like this after my daughter’s ONE HOUR soccer game. Apparently after only one hour of exercise at 10 in the morning, the kids need a gatorade, Rice Krispie treat and fruit roll up. Huh? My daughter doesn’t even want it and we cannot figure out whey the soccer club does not make more strict rules regarding snacks. And we wonder why kids today are so unhealthy! Good for your daughter for making some healthy choices, but shame on the camp for making none!

    1. I have been battling this for four years as the team mom to my twins soccer team… This year I gave up! The food industry has made it so that people are so brain washed regarding food and what is “good” after a game. I would tell my parents… To bring a banana and a small water after a game (after I was shot down for suggesting a snack was not needed) I told them that they would be hydrated from the water and would get potassium and other needed lates from the fruit… Ya you would have thought I gee 5 heads… I would love to hear if you are ever able to change behaviors because I have tire so many different ways and people just don’t want to possibly learn a possible different thought process

  91. When I worked at a summer camp there was no pop and candy was sent to campers by parents, I say approach the camp! Ask the camp to send out a survey to recent and returning campers and see what suggestions or feedback they get. You may have more people on y our side than you think!

  92. I went to 5th grade overnight camp with my little sister last year as a chaperone. They didn’t have any soda for the kids to drink. They had juice, milk and big coolers of water. They also had a nice salad bar, but the kids weren’t allowed to eat off of it???? 3 days with no fresh veggies? Seemed a little crazy to me, so I was sneaking cucumbers to my cabin!

  93. When I went to overnight camp (ages 8-14, I’m now 29) our after dinner snack was always a piece of fruit. Peach, apple, banana, etc. The only time they offered candy was in the afternoon, they called it “tuck” and your parents set up how much money you could spend toward junk food. The rest of the meals were whole foods. It was not a fancy camp either.

  94. I would really like it if you would start a camp that will help kids learn how to eat healthy :) My kiddos would be the first ones to join :)

  95. Great post. I love that you are positive, respectful and realistic about change. I also love the tip about asking for water. Keep up the great work and way to be proud of your kiddo’s good choices.

  96. I’m very interested to hear what you come up with…I completely agree. Kids are kids and they will usually go for the “junk food” when it’s offered. Even kids who are being raised to eat “real food”. My kids have never been given white bread at home, but when we order sandwiches out, they specifically request white bread…what’s up with that?? I subscribe to the idea that as long as most of their food is “real”, I’m OK with what they have elsewhere…but a whole week away at camp is hard! Thanks for all of the hard work that you put into this site…it’s changed the way I feed my family.