As a nutritionist, one of the most frequent questions I get from both mothers and teenagers is how best to prepare for a healthy summer at sleepaway camp. Summer camp poses a unique challenge for many kids. They have to adjust to a schedule and environment that they are not accustomed to. In addition, new and unfamiliar foods can become a reason to skip meals and rely on junk food to fill the void. Campers usually have limited access to a refrigerator, and they don’t have meals tailored to their preferences, as they often do at home.
However, sleepaway camp is also an opportunity for kids to make their own food and exercise decisions. Because they do not have Mommy at their disposal, kids learn to develop self-reliance and take responsibility for their choices.
Here are some strategies to help your child enjoy a happy and healthy summer away from you.
Teach your children about MyPlate and what goes into
a healthy meal.
Though it seems surprising, few parents actually educate children about the components of a healthy meal. Mealtime at camp often presents children with a lot of variety, and if they don’t know what they should be piling onto their plates, they’ll often just take whatever is most appealing. Unfortunately, many of the best-tasting foods are also the lowest in necessary nutrients like calcium, protein, and vitamin D.
MyPlate is a USDA icon that displays the elements of a balanced meal. This includes a grain serving, a protein, a fruit, a vegetable, and a milk serving. Ideally, your child should try to have most of these components at lunch and dinner. Breakfast should include at least a grain, protein or milk, and a fruit. Although tuna on bread with sliced cucumbers is an okay lunch, a cream-based pasta dish should be complemented by a healthier side dish. Similarly, cereal and milk, or yogurt and fruit are nutrient-rich choices, but a bowl of refined farina and French toast is not a balanced combination.
Pack some healthy, non-perishable meal substitutes so your kid won’t go hungry.
Though your child will be getting most of his or her nutrition at camp meals, if he is a picky eater, you might want to do a little research into what the camp has available in the event he doesn’t like a particular lunch or dinner. Many camps have good default alternative options. It might also be a good idea to pack some healthy, non-perishable meal substitutes so that your kid won’t go hungry. For example, whole-wheat crackers and small to-go peanut butter packs, melba toast with small cans of tuna and packets of mayo, or a protein-rich cereal that can be combined with milk from the kitchen are all great, easy options.