Junky snacks for kids really irk me, whether it's chips on the sidelines of pee wee soccer or cookies passed out at preschool. Snacks are so omnipresent in our children's lives these days, yet so many of the ones they get outside the home are full of sugar, sodium, and artificial ingredients. It's fueling a preference for constant nibbling—on food that barely even resembles food.
Unfortunately, summer day camp seems to be no exception. At a university-sponsored camp, my son was given a bottle of sports drink and a sugary cereal bar every day. At another camp, my younger son got gummy fruit snacks and juice pouches, even though the theme of the week was "farming".
Believe me, I have fond food memories from summer camp: S'mores. Candy necklaces. Ice cream cones. All washed down with the bright red, sticky sweet, mysteriously nicknamed Bug Juice.
But times have changed. For many kids, camp is not a special, single week experience. Eleven million kids attend camp each summer. Some may spend many weeks, or even most of the summer, at camp. For working parents especially, camp is more than summer enrichment—it's a critical part of everyday childcare. Camps work hard to keep kids safe, happy, and busy with activities that get them moving, thinking, and learning. The food provided at camp should be an important, well-considered part of this experience too.
I'm a firm believer that if parents aren't happy about the food their child is getting at school, sports, church, or camp, they should speak up. Even a quick, polite phone call or email can help set the wheels of change in motion. So that's what I did. I called the university-sponsored camp and voiced my concerns over the daily sports drinks. The director said she'd heard from other parents about it and that they would switch to water. I did the same for the other camp—and while I never got a response, I made my feelings known. Camps need to realize that food and nutrition is important to parents.
No doubt, day camps have challenges that influence their snack options. They may not have refrigerators or the room to store fresh food. They may have budget constraints. But change is never impossible. Snacks like single-serving cups of applesauce and boxes of raisins don't require refrigeration. Bananas are ridiculously inexpensive. Despite challenges, one mom was able to help her child's camp go from snacks like cookies and chips to apple slices and watermelon. Read her story here.
For a sample script you can copy, personalize, and use for calling or emailing camp directors, go here.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.
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Image: Girl eating s'more via Shutterstock