Every year, thousands of campers go to teen summer programs or overnight camps wondering if they will make new friends, learn new skills, or gain confidence in living independently. Increasingly, more and more families are asking about food. Parents are worried about allergies, dietary restrictions, and nutritional content. They want fresh fruits instead of sweets, flavored waters instead of soda, and foods that are not heavily processed.
Worry no more! Camps for Vegetarians? No problem! Gluten free? A piece of cake (gluten free cake, that is)! Nut allergies, lactose intolerance, egg sensitivity, vegans, kosher families, and paleo-diets have all forced camps to rethink their menus.
I remember my first meal at camp…..chopped hotdog mixed with canned baked beans, iceberg lettuce, red jello for dessert, and “bug juice”. I had no idea what it was at the time. I later found out it was called bug juice because all the sugar attracted the bugs. Today, most camps are replacing institutional foods with health-conscious options. Many camps hire specialists to make sure kids with allergies are properly looked after. The trend is to give kids healthy choices and develop good eating habits. Salad bars are at almost all camps. Breakfast bars are not uncommon. Cooking has become a very popular activity. More and more kids want to be in the kitchen and learn how to prepare delicious meals. Many camps have gardens that provide some of the produce. Most camps still have canteen and candy is offered, but it is typically not every night. Dessert is often served but perhaps not at every lunch or dinner. Snacks are typically fresh fruits.
If you have a “picky eater” or a child with allergies, or just want to encourage good dietary habits, do not worry. Speak to a camp director about your concerns. Contact a camp advisor to discuss which programs focus on dietary issues or are more health-conscious. I think you will be surprised that “mystery meat” is a thing of the past.