Kick Nutrition Up A Notch

Although the methods noted above can result in something virtually identical to the original, less-healthy version of the dish, they may change a number of the food’s qualities. Therefore, experimentation is the next part of the process. Substitutions work great in certain recipes, but not as well in others. Some changes may also require

Reducing sugar in some recipes will not affect the taste.

Reducing sugar in some recipes will not affect the taste.

adjusting cooking times or methods. For example, leaner meats are naturally less tender than fattier ones, and can dry out or toughen if cooked according to instructions for a recipe that originally called for a higher-fat meat. Therefore, cooking temperatures may need to be lowered, and meat may need to be tenderized ahead of time, or cooked in fluids to achieve an optimal result. The only way to identify the appropriate modifications is to try different recipes until the best end product is achieved.

Veiling Vegetables

A final skill of those who successfully create healthy menus that campers enjoy is a touch of sneakiness, the ability to slip healthier ingredients into a menu without campers even noticing. For instance, add fruits and vegetables to meals in less obvious ways so the initial visual appeal is not compromised for kids (or even adults) who instinctually avoid these foods. This approach could include adding pureed sweet potato to pancakes, pureeing squash, peas, and other vegetables to thicken soups and sauces, or even putting vegetable toppings underneath or between ingredients. For example, a chicken pita pizza can also be topped with shredded fat-free mozzarella cheese, chopped broccoli, chopped tomatoes, pizza sauce, or fat-free cream cheese. Placing the mozzarella cheese over the chopped vegetables is visually similar to the cheese pizza most kids love, and reduces the likelihood that those who don’t like broccoli will avoid the pizza all together.

On another note, make sure to give menu items names that “sell” them to the campers. Calling a breakfast of sweet potato pancakes “Grandma’s Sweet Pancake Stacks” sounds yummier than merely “Sweet Potato Pancakes,” and also eliminates the initial resistance of campers who avoid “healthy foods” or vegetables at all costs. I’m not suggesting lying to kids about what a meal contains or how it was prepared; being honest and open about what ingredients are included in the foods they’re eating is definitely recommended. We can even place cooking classes and taste tests into weekly programming to encourage kids to become more familiar with, and comfortable around, different foods.

Kids Tested, Parents Approved

While the initial creation of healthy camp meals takes time and planning, it greatly improves camper satisfaction and parental approval. Those who are unfamiliar with menu planning and nutrition may want to consider utilizing a nutrition professional. The internet is also a treasure trove of resources for individuals looking for healthy recipe ideas for different dishes; it doesn’t take a registered dietitian or expert chef to find these recipes and experiment with them to see if they could work for your camp.

One last thing—pay close attention to how campers respond to each dish served throughout the season. Ask them for feedback, and work closely with the foodservice staff to gauge which menu items are a hit and which are not appealing. This will allow for menu improvements year after year.  In addition to providing healthy foods, campers will look to you and the staff to serve as models of healthy eating behaviors. Make sure staff members are informed about the nutrition and foodservice goals of the organization, and are aware of the role they have in encouraging and demonstrating healthy food choices. This will encourage an even more positive response to a healthy menu.

Cari Coulter, RD, LD, is the program director for Wellspring Wisconsin, one of 10 Wellspring Camps serving families throughout the world. Reach her at

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