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!

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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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  1. My husband is the executive director of a summer camp in NC which when founded in the 1940s was built on the idea that kids “don’t get dessert twice a day” at home, so we should offer this at camp. We have personally been involved for 10 years and I have felt passionate about changing the food culture. We have a fabulous food director and kitchen staff, but it is really hard to eat healthy while feeding hundreds of people three times a day. Especially on a tight budget and the need for the kids to eat since they are so active. I would recommend starting with manageable changes. For me, this was serving only water at lunch, offer as much fresh fruit as able, veggies at lunch and dinner. The food director also tries to make from scratch as much as possible: pizza dough, bread, spaghetti sauce (which he blends kale and bell peppers into..makes my heart rejoice), muffins, BBQ. I feel like this has helped tremendously cutting some of the processed food (but there is still a lot). And the fact is kids don’t eat as healthy when parents are not involved. I see it first hand all summer. Another change we made was in our snack shop. This past summer, we kept all the candy bars, etc, but added cliff bars, Z bars, dried apples, nuts, kashi bars, Vitamin water (I got all this from Costco since our distributor did not carry them) and changed the size of all soft drinks and gatoraide to 8 oz. For the morning snack, campers could only choose from the “healthy” options.
    It is an uphill battle but I do believe small changes matter and having more options help…and kids are only eating this bad for one session the entire summer (unless you are my family and we are there for 12 weeks), which is why they had 145 green smoothies from june-august.

    1. Which camp do you run? Sounds like you are doing better with the food than most camps! I would like to have my kids look at attending your camp!

  2. Having worked at a summer camp for three years, I can say there is one good reason to give children candy at camp. That being said, the camp I worked at served (relatively) healthful food. Children at camp expend tons more energy than at home. They would eat the camp kitchen clean, and we fed them well! The extra sugar snacks were given just for the fun of it, but they also served to make up for the extra calories burned at camp. With out them, I think that a good number of the kids would have burnt out early! One cannot consume enough salad and whole grains to maintain the energy of active campers– just don’t work! (I tried it at summer camp as a teen, not recommended to anyone!)

    1. Are you kidding me?? The kind of energy that candy and processed sugary junk food gives you is not good energy. It’s proven that those foods leave children unable to focus, hyperactive, headaches, nausea, and inevitably a big sugar crash with very low energy! Your last sentence made no sense at all to me. You can absolutely eat enough whole foods to maintain energy for active campers, that is exactly how to maintain energy! Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, proteins, etc. Not junk food. I cant believe I was the first to comment on this post.

      1. Sarah, you are so right in pointing out the result of eating pure carbs, that is, sugar, being a “sugar crash.” I guess I made it sound as if what we did was Ideal. Eating sugar does give you a lot of energy. However, it does not cause hyperactivity and inattention (see this article unless you get a sugar crash, then your low blood sugar can cause some of the aforesaid problems unless you eat again. If you eat a balance of carbs and fats and proteins, you will be able to maintain blood sugar levels for much longer. You will however still get a “sugar crash” if you don’t eat after the carbs and proteins and fats are all burnt up. Eating candy is not something I would recommend unless other options were unavailable. I believe something much more nutritious would be a better option, such as granola bars and a glass of milk or a good trail mix, however for us counselors, we did not have that option, we had candy. If we had given the children a “healthy” snack of carrot, celery, and zucchini sticks with hummus dip (not that we had any), they would have had to consume gargantuan amounts in order to get enough energy to keep them from passing out before dinner, and would have ended up with stomach aches before they achieved the needed caloric intake. Please reread my last sentence, because I know that some who have relatively low metabolic rates are able to maintain on not much other than salad and bread, but highly active teens simply do not have the stomach capacity to hold the volume of whole grains and vegetables that have enough calories to keep them going five hours. Do the math, a young teen, NOT ACTIVE, would have to eat about eight slices of wheat bread in addition to that whole salad with low fat dressing, at every meal just to keep from losing weight and slowing their metabolism (rough estimate). Candy and junk are not anywhere close to being good nutritious food, but where extra calorie boosts are needed, they can be helpful in a pinch.

  3. Loved this post. I think breakfast is the most challenging meal at camp. Anytime I have been to camp, our breakfasts consisted of a wide array of sugary cereals, yogurt, apples, bananas, and juice. It’s easy and cheap.

  4. This reminded me of my Kinder’s first week of school. He came home on the second day and told me that he had chocolate milk. I nearly had a heart attack! Because, why on God’s green earth should a 5 year old boy have access to chocolate milk at lunch time?!?!? I freaked out a little, which is silly, but I have worked SO HARD to prepare and plan healthy, appetizing lunches and it bummed me out that they were even SERVING chocolate milk. Didn’t they watch Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution?? That was a few years ago!!! Well, obviously, I needed a little time to calm down. :)

    After they got their routine down, they sorted things out and had only the kids getting school lunches take a milk. While this is still a concern I will talk to the admin about (now that I’ve calmed down), at least, for now, my son is not drinking it.

    BTW, when he came home and told us we were like, “ok, one time every week, you can have chocolate milk, but the other days, we would like you to drink white milk.” And we explained all the reasons why. Then the next day he came home and said “I drank chocolate milk. I forgot about drinking the white milk” LOL. Poor little 5 year old. How is he supposed to resist that kind of stuff!! More reason to share with the admin the reasons why flavored milk should not be in the school.

    Thanks for your camp post!! It prepared me for what lies ahead…LOL

  5. I guess I am surprised. Camp is supposed to be about eating healthier with of course a brownie or s’mores in there somewhere. I remember a camp I went to and we had real food. Dang of course that was almost 32 years ago. But wow that much junk at camp?! Wow!

  6. I just asked my daughter what they had a camp for her and her sister. while i imagine it’s not made with whole grains, at my daughters camp they had pancakes, french toast, eggs, fruit.. plus cereals like cheerios, rice crispies, etc. They have sandwiches and such at lunch… snacks/dessert are sometimes offered and include cookies, cake, brownies, etc, and chocolate pudding the last day. No candy is allowed unless you bring it to camp with you, and all food much be held by the cabin counselors in a secure area, and only to be gotten with permission (during their “quiet” time of day in the afternoon). There is no soda/sport drinks at all. Drinks suring meals is mostly water. there is sometimes juice at breakfast, but only one pitcher for each table. milk needs to be requested, but is available. Vegetarian options are also available by request (either ahead of time coming to camp, or during a meal).

    not perfect – but for a camp, i’m happy with it, and sounds a lot less junky then what your daughter experienced!

  7. Your daughter did great making the choices she made! I am a little surprised that they didn’t offer water too and handed out candy after the meal…don’t they realize sugar makes kids crazy? lol

  8. I would look at this as a cost issue. The camp that my child attends serves over 3,500 kids a summer there is NO WAY they would hand out expensive Powerade and Skittles or any prepackaged food. Water is available at all times and campers are required to bring a reusable water bottle. Meals are served family style and each table gets one pitcher of tea or lemonade and that’s it. After that everyone gets water. I imagine the cost savings are huge compared to what you described.
    My daughter said that sometimes there are store bought brownies for dessert. If you are lucky the Dessert Divas will prepare homemade desserts the week you attend! These are older ladies that donate time and loving desserts to the camp. You could be a kitchen/dessert diva!
    Furthermore, I would like to dispel the MYTH that eating whole food is more expensive than processed. I’ll use pizza as an example. With a coupon I found 10-12 inch pizza for $3 each plus tax. Per 1/4 pizza 350 calories, 15 grams of fat and sodium off the charts! Homemade – $.71 for dough from the bakery if I’m lazy. $2 for mozzarella ball and $.50 for 1/2 jar of black olives. Other toppings we get from the garden. About $.10 for homemade sauce. So, $4 for 2, 16 inch pizzas. Plenty of leftovers, much much more nutritious and cheaper!

  9. My Husband and I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago and it has inspired us to make a change in our household. We’ve started meal plans, gotten fresh groceries, and I can safely say that about 90% of the food we eat in our home is not processed. However, feeding a family of 3 (and our son is only 1) on an almost all natural diet is extremely expensive. This isn’t even including buying organic (i couldn’t even imagine what we would be spending if we bought all organic). So I really can’t imagine what the cost would be to serve a camp of hundreds of kids all natural/organic. Unfortunately, it comes down to economics – the higher cost in food would drive up the price in admission, and in turn, a large chunk of parents wouldn’t be able to afford to send their kids, thus driving up the cost for the remaining kids. If you can create a very real, cost effective plan for providing better food for the campers, then i say go for it. definitely present that information to the camp. I’d like to think that the camp would be willing to listen to a reasonable, well-researched request. Otherwise, it may be a good idea to send your daughter(s) with snacks that they can grab from their bag as an alternative to skittles and soda. You also may need to pack water (which, I agree, it’s ridiculous to not have water available to the kids). Anyway, i really appreciate what you are doing and it’s definitely making a change in my world. Thank you for keeping things civil and providing alternatives instead of just bashing companies and telling us why something is bad.

    1. Amanda, I know exactly how you feel! When I first considered changing up our diet, I knew it would be expensive. Over time though, I found that it really helped to shop at the right stores. I shop at Sprouts now and save SO much money. If I were to buy the same items at any other grocery store, I’d be spending at least twice as much. So you might spend some times looking at your local ads and figuring out which stores have the cheapest produce. You might be surprised! I recently switched to almost all organic produce and I now spend about the same amount weekly as I was spending on all my processed junk a few years ago. (Before I switched to organic I was spending MUCH less)

  10. It saddens me the way kids are fed in this country. I’m glad there are some people/organizations trying to do something about it, but it just seems to few and too little. My son’s elementary public school serves the most unhealthy food! I have no idea how they can say they have a ‘nutrition’ program! Most days I pack him a lunch, but even then, he’s constantly offered “snack sales” (of candy and chip), cupcakes and other treats from birthdays in the classroom, trading from his friends (it’s amazing how many parents send their kids junk!). I’m only self-educated in the ways of eating healthy and have a lot to learn, so it doesn’t feel like I should be the one contacting the schools to try and make the changes. But it seems that the professionals aren’t doing their jobs, maybe I SHOULD speak up…. and not take the easy way out just keep sending my kid a packed lunch (gulp).

  11. That was quite interesting reading your blog and no doubt some people have stomach like steel but I am not in those. Whenever I eat junk food my stomach starts misbehaving with me. Well I like the advice you gave to your childrens of asking a cup of water being someone’s guest. We should focus everytime we have food, that what we are eating and how much we are eating.

  12. I totally agree with what you’re saying. I just spent the weekend with my daughter’s Brownie troop on a campout. I just wanted you to know that I brought your granola recipe to have with fruit and yogurt for breakfast. When we were doing the planning the other leader didn’t understand what was wrong with the sugar cereal and pancake breakfast plan. We gave the girls the healthier option and several took it. Thanks!

  13. My husband and I live and work at a camp that serves this same kind of menu. Our family eats only real food so we are not able to eat in the cafeteria. The problem we are seeing at our camp is that the food service is out-sourced to a company who gets all of their supplies from another company (in this case Sysco). The ingredients they receive are almost all highly processed to begin with. The main drive is to keep cost down and convenience. The kitchen staff has to make 3 meals a day for hundreds of kids all summer long. Also, the kitchen staff thinks that if they make “healthy” meals then the kids will not eat them. The food ends up in the garbage because the kids will not make healthy choices when their parents are not around. I think this is true to some degree, but the kitchen staff also doesn’t really know what “real” food it. They need to be educated like everyone else. Kids will eat it if they are hungry and not filled with junk all day. We have lots of thoughts on this idea. If parents are concerned enough about what their kids are eating, would they choose a different camp that places more emphasis on healthy foods? Excellent camp programming is important, but also the health of our children should be important to camps as well.

  14. I think it’s so great what you do! I am continually frustrated with food choices when my daughter is away from home, and though we don’t do as well as you do on a daily basis, my daughter does NOT get soda and certainly doesn’t end every evening with candy! I’m so amazed sometimes what some people will consider a “meal” (the nachos). And no water to offer? WHAT??? Sadness. Keep up the good work and thanks for inspiring the rest of us!

  15. Good for you! There is a catering company in Toronto that delivers to schools and daycares called Real Food for Real Kids (RFRK)and they are awesome! It`s all organic, real food, and the kids at our previous Montessori school (we`re in the public system since grade 1) really did eat it all! Check them out at and even if they don`t have this kind of thing near you, you can get ideas from them — maybe even start your own kids catering co.!

  16. what happened to the camps that had campers having kitchen duty on a rotation basis and it was part of the skills they were taught?? I guess too many parents that did not want their little darlings having to do what was considered “work”. Spreading it around made it so no one was being any sort of worker bee in the camp but it did cut down on the whole thing being an expensively run camp. maybe it was only church and 4H camps that felt the need to continue to teach the fundamentals of preparing healthy clean eating meals. ???

  17. Summer camps would NEVER offer that kind of junk food to kids in Europe. It is sad that the vast majority of people in the US is so uneducated about food :-(

  18. Amazing and you should be very proud of that kid of yours!!

    I don’t have kids and am half way through my 10 day challenge (over half). So I’m a newbie!!! I hope to have kids one day soon.

    But something I showed people is how cheap it really is. but the hard part is it takes time to make.

    For the camp why not teach them the ways of the land and have everyone pitch in and do something all the campers would love that activity and eat healthy one day of the camp~

    just a thought. I wish you well in the future.

  19. I’m going through the same type of thing at my house as my daughter is leaving for college soon. We’ve perused the dorm menu and I’ve guided her the best I can, but just the thought of her eating that crap for 9 months makes my stomach turn!!

  20. 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. :)

  21. 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!

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

  23. 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!!

  24. 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!

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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!


  28. 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.

  29. 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!

  30. 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.

  31. 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!

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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!

  35. 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.

  36. 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!

  37. 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!

  38. 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.

  39. 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?