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
Doritos
Fritos
Mini Oreos
Mini Chips-A-Hoy Cookies
Red Vines
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.
No.
Water?
Nope.
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.

 


 

Dear ________

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.

Best,


Katie Morford, MS, RD

Comments

07.14.2014 at 4:43 AM #

Sally Kuzemchak

Way to go Katie!!! Great use of that letter and I hope you’ll keep us updated on what you hear back from the camp director. Thanks so much for the nice mention too.

07.14.2014 at 4:43 AM #

katiemorford

Will do. I appreciate the inspiration.

07.14.2014 at 7:02 AM #

yunah

great post katie, i’lldo the same!
xander is @ SI too for the past few weeks & he told me of the food options there,
all i did was grumble,
sending a note like this is a better idea.

07.14.2014 at 7:02 AM #

katiemorford

Go Yunah! Let me know how it goes.

07.14.2014 at 7:57 AM #

Leslie

Great idea. Emmy saw GiGi last week at lunch because she was at USF’s tennis camp. She’s allowed to buy her lunch one day a week. (I pack the rest.) She ordered pasta (which she said was super oily), Ceasar salad (which she didn’t end up eating because it had anchovy dressing and she’s a vegetarian) and M&M’s (which, of course, she ate). Good for you for sending the letter. Please post an update if you get a response. 🙂

07.14.2014 at 7:57 AM #

katiemorford

Will do!

07.14.2014 at 8:37 AM #

Catherine McCord

I’m SO SO with you on this one. I never understand why schools and camps don’t offer options that will keep kids bodies running better while they’re running around. We need you as an advocate for all camps!! My son is going to a camp this summer offering oatmeal, bananas, nectarines, apples and water throughout the day. And the kids totally dig it! Kids will make solid choices if given the option.

07.14.2014 at 8:37 AM #

katiemorford

I agree, Catherine. And I think it’s important to give lots of positive feedback when schools and camps ARE providing those healthful options.

07.14.2014 at 9:15 AM #

Kelly

YES!! I have wanted to do this with my daughter’s school cafeteria…where they still serve fruit punch and other sugared waters vs. just filling the containers with water and sliced fruits and veggies…and the refined carbohydrate percentage is wayyy to high…ok thanks for inspiring to try to action this next year:)

07.14.2014 at 9:15 AM #

katiemorford

Good luck…I’d love to hear what happens.

07.14.2014 at 9:43 AM #

Mary Frances Ellison

Thank you for posting this – it is prompting me to write a note to the Tennis Camp that my daughter is currently attending where lunch onsite is included in the price (the day camp is at a private tennis club in Toronto – to which we do not belong).

I was rather shocked the first day when I dropped her off, and the kids (from age 5 – 13) were being given their choices for lunch: grilled cheese sandwich on white bread, plain pasta with parmesan cheese, pasta marinara, pasta alfredo, macaroni & cheese, sliders or a hot dog … with a choice of French fries or crudités on the side. And choices of fruit juices, fruit punch, milk (white or chocolate) or water to drink.

My daughter is making the best of it, and is happy to have grilled cheese (her favourite) with crudités and white milk as her choice each day (no variety, but it’s only for 1 meal a day for these two weeks) and we are supplementing with fruit and homemade granola bars for snacks in her backpack.

Thank you for prompting me to speak up and encourage this private tennis club to improve the quality of the food that it is feeding the next generation of tennis players …

07.14.2014 at 9:43 AM #

katiemorford

I don’t know where we got to this point where “kid food” is limited to pasta, grilled cheese, nuggets, dogs, and fries. What a disservice to our kids. Thanks for sharing and good luck with your effort.

07.14.2014 at 1:58 PM #

Erica Sanders-Foege

Thanks for the post! I love the ‘Snactivism” idea and I’m eager to see where this ends up for you…

07.14.2014 at 1:58 PM #

katiemorford

Most appreciated, Erica. I too am eager to see where this leads!

07.14.2014 at 5:37 PM #

Julie

Woohoo-way to go, Katie! I’m willing to be a snacktivist with you (am already, though I don’t got the fancy creds ;)). Nice post. I was missing you (but don’t know if it’s you or me who’s been away from MKH!

07.14.2014 at 5:37 PM #

katiemorford

No creds needed, Julie, just passion and heart, which you have in spades.

07.15.2014 at 3:36 AM #

Mandy

Good for you! Sounds like an appalling list of snacks on offer and so pleased you did something about it. Look forward to hearing what response you get.

07.15.2014 at 3:36 AM #

katiemorford

What surprised me was that there wasn’t a single healthier option in the mix.

07.17.2014 at 4:41 AM #

Kate @ ¡Hola! Jalapeño

Good for you Katie! I hope your effort is rewarded with some positive change for all those kids!

07.17.2014 at 4:41 AM #

katiemorford

Thanks Kate. It’s been radio silent on the response so far.

07.18.2014 at 5:19 AM #

Ann

Are you familiar with “Feeding the Young Athlete” by Cynthia Lair? Most of the information will not be news to you, but it could be a great resource to provide organizations that are unfamiliar with providing whole foods snacks to kids.

07.18.2014 at 5:19 AM #

katiemorford

GREAT tip, Ann. I agree, that sharing some good resources is an excellent place to start. Appreciate the recommendation.

07.21.2014 at 7:15 AM #

Elaine

I am imagining that the “snack bar” may be a money making operation and as they say in the restaurant business……”the bar carries the restaurant” – meaning I think that the profit from alcohol sales (the “candy” the consumer devours) is a necessary income.

So the real issue is the “consumer” and what they are most likely to purchase with their disposable dollars. That said – as more and more families and children are desiring healthy snack options – it would be wise for the “snack bar” to find ways to offer a nutritious snack at a reasonable profit. Keep up the good fight to educate and encourage – thats how these battles are won!

07.21.2014 at 7:15 AM #

katiemorford

I agree, Elaine, that sometimes these are income earners for camps and perhaps that takes precedence over the interest of the kids. I do think you can have both…make money on a snack bar AND provide nourishing snacks. That said, junk food does tend to come cheap and doesn’t need to be prepped or refrigated, which is part of the appeal for whoever is running the snack program. Thanks for the comment.

06.28.2015 at 4:45 PM #

Kirsten

What a timely post!
My daughter is about to start a netball camp tomorrow and I just read the what to bring email.
“Please note that you will need to bring your own lunch and snacks in a clearly named lunch box or bag (lunch should not consist of any nuts or nut products). We will provide fruit and drinks but please bring your own drink bottle.”
I’m hoping they will only be offering water but I was really pleased that they are providing fruit.
I would be interested to hear what response you get from the camp organisers and whether you think packing your own lunch is a better option.

06.28.2015 at 4:45 PM #

katiemorford

Hi Kirsten,

Sounds like the offerings at your daughter’s camp are better than they were at mine. I wrote a follow up to this post when I got a response from the camp director. You can find that here: http://www.momskitchenhandbook.com/uncategorized/update-on-my-summer-camp-snack-campaign/

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