Volume 17 • Issue 7 / July 9 - 15, 2004


Are they eating healthy while away at camp?

By Julie Rauer

“The health and consequently the happiness of the whole camp depends on the catering department,” wrote Major J.T. Gorman in his exhaustive, meticulously researched 1933 book, “Camp Cooking and Catering”. No doubt, volleyball games have been lost on suspect corned beef hash, craft projects buried under mountains of runny powdered eggs, canoe trips sabotaged by that second helping of mystery meat, and roaring campfires extinguished by the torrential flow of bug juice.

Ironically, modern perception of summer camp food from decades past is curiously skewed by notions of presumed nutritional advancement riding shotgun with galloping technological coups, but cell phones and computers have not ushered in mass consumption of nutritionally superior bread or increased servings of fruits and vegetables in children’s diets. Much to the contrary, today’s sleepover camp hot dogs and burgers are served on fiber deficient white rolls. Overall, about one third of teens eat the recommended servings of vegetables while a mere 11 percent of boys and 16 percent of girls eat the recommended servings of fruits, according to the U.S.D.A. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s 1996 Dietary Survey of teenagers.

Children eat anywhere from 84-168 meals in surrogate summer dining rooms, so the menu considerations are essential when making camp decisions. Some camps offer full salad bars at both lunch and dinner. Cafeteria style presentation abounding in choices of carotenoid and fiber rich fruits and vegetables — canvases for instant culinary creativity — will be far more tantalizing to kids than the single serving of predetermined greenery at home.

But other sleepaway camps offer empty calorie dessert smorgasbords, evil twin sister to the noble salad bar, which have likewise sprouted in summer places eager to please youngsters with proven favorites. With nine million American kids, 14 percent of children and 12 percent of teens, now obese, providing an omnipresent source of excess calories would be an inadvisable temptation. Since teens already top out the recommended sugar allowance from soft drinks alone, adding another 1,000-2,000 calories and accompanying refined sugar inherent in do-it-yourself desserts would simply pile on calories that could not possibly be burned off, despite increased summer activity levels.

Lean protein — prepared on premises — such as fish or other seafood, and sautéed, baked, broiled, or roasted chicken breast or turkey should be offered as at least one entrée choice at both lunch and dinner, along with healthy carbohydrates like pasta, rice, roasted potatoes, and whole grain bread. High calorie, excessive saturated fat options like hamburgers, bologna, American cheese, and French fries should not comprise or accompany most meals, yet appear daily on many camp menus.

Unfortunately, popular junk foods like hot dogs, candy bars, popcorn, pre-made burritos or tacos loaded with ground beef and cheese, donuts, and Hot Pockets have invaded both dining rooms and ubiquitous camp snack bars, groaning under the weight of a nutritionist’s worst nightmares.

Few teenagers are sated on a single hot dog, yet one Hebrew National beef frank has 150 calories, 30 mg. of cholesterol, an astounding 14 g. of fat (6 saturated) and 420 mg. of sodium, yet the numbers look relatively tame compared to one Philly Steak & Cheese Hot Pocket; this diminutive snack boasts 370 calories, 30 mg. of cholesterol (9 percent of the Daily Value), 18g.of fat (a whopping 28 percent of the Daily Value), 7 g. of saturated fat (35 percent of the Daily Value), and 740 mg. of sodium (31 percent of the Daily Value).

For parents of overweight children, be aware that low fat or low carb does not mean low calorie; many low fat muffins and cakes actually contain more calories — due usually to added sugar — than their full fat counterparts, while no carb foods like steak, sausages, bacon, and cheese are extremely high in calories.

Local day camps such as Manhattan Youth Downtown Day Camp and the Church Street School for Music & Art serve some snacks, but children bring their own lunches. Parents are able to inspire, positively influence, and ultimately excite their children with healthy, delicious homemade lunches. Food education and appreciation begins at home, assuring parents that when their kids are faced with the plethora of choices in sleepover camp fare, they will invariably make the right ones.

Julie Rauer is a founding partner of Real Results Personal Training, a Downtown company which develops individualized exercise and nutrition programs for children and families. She can be reached at (917) 553-4762 or julierauer14@msn.com

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