Making Meals Marvelous: Creating Healthy Habits At Camp

Posted by Steve Baskin on Jun 15, 2015 4:28:59 PM
Steve Baskin
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Over the last decade, Susie Ma’am has put untold hours into the Fillin’ Station, our Dining Hall.


[Note: one of the oddities at camp is the almost incessant need to give every location a special name.  It makes camp seem more special and unique, but it also serves to confuse any normal human.]  Here is a quick primer:

Fillin’ Station

Dining Hall

Ill Eagles Nest

Health Center (first nurse was Nurse Bird)

Home Plate

Original office


New office

Forum and Coliseum

Girls and Boys amphitheaters


Girls programming office and treat time area


Boys programming office and treat time area

Olympia and Parthenon

Girls and Boys covered gyms

This is only a 40% sample.  Simply know that sometimes we do not know where we are going!]

Susie Ma’am has been working with the wonderful kitchen team to accomplish a balance between the following goals:

  • Make sure that camp can accommodate food allergies and dietary needs,
  • Move the camp diet to healthier options,
  • Make sure the campers still love the food.

This, my friends, is a tricky balance, but it is one that Susie Ma’am and the team have had great success with.

For the last decade, we have committed ourselves to providing options for campers who need to avoid peanuts, gluten, dairy, eggs, and a wide variety of food allergies.  We also provide options for campers that are vegetarians.

We want to create a camp that can serve all children, even if they have important dietary needs.  For example, we have several peanut allergies.  So our food is all nut-free (except the peanut butter which is served in a separate area), and cabins with peanut allergies agree to a different eating protocol to assure that their cabinmates are safe and comfortable.

Susie has also overseen a trend to healthier foods.  We want to partner with parents in creating healthy habits for campers. This is an area where the desires of parents differs from the wants of campers.  While we parents might want our children to eschew all carbs, sugars and fats, they still want to have fun with their meals.  As a result, we have taken several subtle and incremental steps.

  • The morning treat is a piece of fruit.
  • The afternoon Treat Time has improved.  We have made our snacks and drinks healthier.  Five years ago, we served sodas at treat time.  Now we serve water-based sports drinks with electrolytes and vitamins.  The treats are low in sugar and modest in size.
  • We have made the salad bars larger every year.  I eat heavily from the salad bar.  There are greens and baby spinach (no iceberg lettuce), and 8-10 veggies.  There are also 5-7 premade salads (pasta, tuna, chicken, cous cous, Waldorf, etc).  We have 5 salad dressings including the spicy Jalepeno Ranch.  [One of the unexpected stars of the salad bar has become the pickled okra.  It is a little spicy and quite tasty.  Even people that usually avoid okra like them.  They, however, create a bit of a controversy between those campers and counselors that eat the stems  - yours truly included – and those that do not.  While this difference is a substantial one, we have managed to maintain peace and love in the Fillin Station.]  At first, I thought the salad bar was mostly for counselors, but over the years, I have been pleased to see an ever-increasing number of campers using it.  When they see their counselors using the salad bar, campers use it more to emulate the older folks.
  • Every breakfast features a wide variety of fruit, including cantaloupe, honeydew, grapefruit, mixed fruit and oranges.
  • We generally substitute French fries with sweet potato fries.
  • The hamburger buns are now whole wheat.  Also, our pasta is half whole wheat and half white – just enough white so that no one notices.
  • Hamburgers and hot dogs at picnics never have any fillers.

OK, not everything is completely healthy.  Fun and tradition are also a huge part of meals at Camp Champions.  Were we to eliminate Corn Dogs + Mac & Cheese, we would have riots.  I kid you not.  We even have a camp shirt with a corn dog holding a macaroni’s hand with the caption “I Love You”.  It was a huge favorite.  Four summers ago, Susie Ma’am moved Corn Dogs and Mac to the first WEDNESDAY rather than the first TUESDAY.  I am not going to say we had riots, but we did consider an armed guard for Susie Ma’am. [Worry not, the calendar was corrected by the next session.] 

We also have three themed meals that we rotate through the summer.  First, we have the Cave Man meal.  This is the absolute favorite of the young boys.  Chicken wings, ribs, corn on the cob, and rolls are poured onto the tables covered in butcher paper.  The boys eat without shirts or utensils.  Girls wear shirts, but ones that they do not mind getting messy.  This spectacle is not for the faint of heart. 

Second, we have Hero Gyros.  We serve Greek food – especially gyros with tzatziki sauce.  The campers wear superhero garb or togas.

Third, we will introduce the Bavarian meal this summer.  This will feature bratwurst, sauerkraut, pretzel pizzas and strudel for dessert.  I will get to wear my lederhosen and provide campers with one of the great American camping traditions – mocking the camp director.

The picture I put with this meal was taken for George Zoeckler, our former Assistant Boys Director who is now directing camps in China.  For two summers, George lobbied for “pizza bagels” for a one-day-per term treat.  We finally found a product that was sufficiently healthy and introduced it this year.  It might have been a year too late for George, but it was a hit with the campers!


Steve Sir


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