Kick Nutrition Up A Notch

Providing meals for campers often involves finding a balance between foods that promote health and options campers will actually eat—all while taking cost and resource limitations into consideration. Unfortunately, many children arrive at camp with a wide range of food aversions or preferences that range from the very specific to the very general (i.e., “I don’t eat cottage cheese” to “I don’t eat ANY fruits and vegetables”). Considering that some children require 20 or more introductions to a food before accepting it, it is unrealistic to expect these children to overcome their foods aversions within the relatively short timeframe of camp. If they don’t like fish before they arrive at camp, it’s unlikely they’ll absolutely love it in a week or two. On the other hand, catering to the food preferences of picky eaters by serving fried foods and sugary desserts at every meal is not appropriate either.

Kids should definitely be able to make their own choices and take ownership of their eating behaviors, but these should be accomplished within the guidelines and health options that camp leadership provides. The good news is, with some creativity, know-how, experimentation, and even “sneakiness,” you can serve campers foods that are fun, familiar, and kid-friendly—yet much healthier

Modifying recipes may not turn picky eaters into vegetable lovers, but they may be inclined to try a dish before denying it.  Photos Courtesy Wellspring Wisconsin

Modifying recipes may not turn picky eaters into vegetable lovers, but they may be inclined to try a dish before denying it.

Photos Courtesy Wellspring Wisconsin

than their traditionally prepared counterparts. Achieving this involves identifying foods that have mass appeal yet knowing how to modify certain ingredients within these recipes to achieve the biggest health benefits without compromising flavor, texture, and visual appeal. There is nothing wrong with challenging the comfort zones of campers by offering familiar foods cooked in unconventional ways (i.e., layering tortillas and taco ingredients into a pan to create Mexican lasagna, rather than just serving traditional tacos), but straying too far from what kids already know and like may result in their skipping the food altogether and choosing a PB&J sandwich instead.

Methods For Modification

There are three main recipe-modification strategies for kid-friendly meals:

  • Elimination
  • Reduction
  • Substitution.

Elimination involves leaving out any “less healthy” ingredients that are not essential to the recipe. This may involve serving cakes or muffins that are already sweet without added frosting, or removing fried onions or bacon bits from a salad recipe. Reduction is appropriate when eliminating an ingredient altogether is not an option, and involves reducing the number of less-healthy ingredients, such as sugar and fat by a third or half of the recommended amount. In some cases, doing this compromises the flavor or texture of the final dish, but in other cases, this is easily achieved. For example, you may decide to use half of the recommended chocolate chips in a chocolate-chip cookie recipe, or reduce the amount of oil in preparing a salad dressing. Reduction and elimination often involve replacing these ingredients, which leads to the third recipe-modification strategy—substitution. Substitution involves exchanging less-healthy ingredients in a recipe with healthier ones. This may mean replacing a portion of the pasta in a pasta salad with an increased portion of vegetables, swapping the oil or butter in a baked good with pureed fruit or applesauce, or simply using a low-fat or fat-free version of ingredients, like cheese or sour cream, instead of their full-fat counterparts.

Trial And Error = Success

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