Summer Camp Junk Food and What I Did About It
Picking up my youngest daughter after her first day at soccer camp last week, I was filled with delight. Dozens of girls of all ages were running around on the expansive green of a university field as energetic young coaches encouraged them along. The blue skies overhead and majestic backdrop of St. Ignatius church on the hill just above were the icing on the cake. It was inspiring. It felt like what summer camp should be. It felt wholesome.
As Virginia recounted her day there, it began to feel less wholesome as she shared the contents of the snack bar. Here’s her recollection of what was sold there:
Air Head candy
Mini Chips-A-Hoy Cookies
Large bottles of Gatorade
Chocolate and regular Rice Krispie Bars
Welches Fruit Snacks (a product with artificial colors, flavors, and corn syrup as the second ingredient)
Fresh fruit? I asked.
Carrots and dip?
Not a one.
I was shocked.
Granted, the snack bar is optional. Parents can send snacks from home, which is what we did. But why not offer more wholesome options at that snack bar? Teach the girls about soccer, sportsmanship, AND the role of eating healthy in feeling energetic on the field.
At a camp that runs seven hours long, most of them highly active, it seems counterintuitive to fuel the kids on corn syrup, processed flour, and artificial ingredients. Sure, I can see offering a treat at camp, maybe as an end-of-week surprise, but having nothing but junk food be the staples of the daily snack just doesn’t make sense to me.
So I took a page from friend and fellow dietitian Sally Kuzemchak, and decided to do a little Snacktivism. I sent a letter to the camp director sharing my thoughts on the snack bar (see below). I have yet to hear back from her, but hope that it might get the wheels turning on healthier options down the road.
If you’ve been similarly disappointed by summer camp snack, I encourage you to do some Snacktivism of your own. Check out this post Sally wrote about her own successful campaign to change snacks at her son’s camp. She offers tips and a sample letter, which she invites you to use and tailor to your own needs (which is exactly what I did).
I’d love to hear your thoughts on summer camp snack , including any stories of camps that are doing it well.
My daughter Virginia loved her week at your camp. It was inspiring to see all those girls out on the field. The coaches I met were terrific.
Since I know the camp has the children’s best interests in mind, I feel compelled to share some feedback with regards to the snack bar. I speak from the perspective of a mom, registered dietitian, and child nutrition advocate. I was surprised to hear about the snacks offered at camp and wonder if you’d consider swapping out the cookies, candy and chips in favor of healthier options. The kids play hard at camp and need to nourish and refuel between meals. The current snacks are high in sugar and artificial ingredients and very low in nutrients. Would it be possible for the camp to provide something more nutritious? Some ideas: fresh fruit, trail mix, watermelon, grapes, raisins, cherries, bananas, apples, popcorn, whole grain crackers, whole grain pretzels, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, hummus, cheese sticks, cups of yogurt, or natural applesauce.
I also hope you’ll consider eliminating the sports drinks that are served. Your camp does such a great job of having water dispensers on hand and the kids can receive adequate hydration through water breaks there and with the water bottles they bring from home. In the case of sports drinks, kids can replenish any electrolytes lost through sweat at their next meal. Eliminating these drinks would also cut down the amount of waste that the camp generates.
I understand there may be limitations on what kind of food the camp can purchase and keep in storage, and this may not be a simple issue. But providing wholesome fuel for the kids seems in keeping with the wholesome kind of fun you offer on the field. I would love to hear your thoughts, and I’d be happy to help in any way that I can.
Thanks so much for your time.
Katie Morford, MS, RD