Raisins and nuts in a trail mix

Pack for Success: Promote Healthy Food at Camp 

School feeding programs play well as nutrition and energy-builders for young campers.

You may have observed that campers’ waistlines have expanded over the years, and that’s because America is in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic—and there is increasing pressure on foodservice programs to help address the crisis.

As a result of the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, kids are used to eating healthy at school, so don’t be afraid of acceptance when doling out healthy foods at camp. In addition, kids are becoming more savvy about what they put in their bodies than previous generations, so you may be pleasantly surprised at what they would like to see on the camp menu. 

Camps that participate in the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) are required to meet meal pattern regulations modeled after the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (though without the specific requirements for calories, fat, sodium and nutrients). For the vast majority of camps that don’t participate in SFSP, promoting healthy camp food is strictly voluntary. However, these camps can look to school programs and their foodservice distributor for guidance in expanding their healthy options and promoting efficiency.

When introducing a healthy menu, consider offering healthier options alongside, not in place of, your usual offerings. You might offer comfort-food snacks once during the day, for example, rather than at every snack and meal time. This will allow you to emphasize healthy camp food without making campers feel as if they’re missing something. Some tips to consider when creating a healthy camp menu include:

  • Buy more fresh, unprocessed foods
  • Use fresh, in-season produce
  • Bake rather than fry food
  • Flavor with herbs and spices instead of salt
  • Replace sugary beverages with infused water and make it available throughout the day
  • Cook from scratch, when possible
  • Provide healthy snacks like trail mix, nuts, seeds, yogurt and low-fat granola bars
  • Switch your heavier meal to lunch

Offering healthy foods is not enough—you also have to encourage campers to make healthier choices. For example:

  • Lead by example and encourage staff to make healthy selections
  • Use meal times as education opportunities (where food comes from, reading nutrition labels)
  • Include cooking as an activity/program for campers
  • Provide salad and choice bars (taco, pasta, baked potato, soup and sandwich)
  • Provide healthy snacks for purchase at the camp store
  • Provide bowls of fresh fruit on the tables as the main focal point
  • Grow a garden that campers can assist in maintaining 

Gordon Food Service creates a Camp Packet to assist you with your menu planning. The packet can be found on Gordon Experience. The packet includes the SFSP guidelines, healthy food tips, information on reducing sodium and sugar, salad bar layout, allergy and food safety information, and ideas for incorporating a grab-n-go breakfast concept. In addition, you will find a two-week menu cycle for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, along with the recipes and nutrition for the menu. Product lists such as grab-n-go, natural and organic are also on the Camps’ page.

Don’t forget to boast about your healthy program! This may be a big draw for parents and kids. Include information on your website and in your marketing materials, and inform parents on the benefits of healthy meal programs to their camper.