By Peg L. Smith, CEO, American Camp Association

If you went to camp, you probably didn't serve yourself lunch from a salad bar. Times have changed! Now the majority of camps offer salad bars—just one sign that camps' menus are reflecting all our families' changing tastes. This is one of many updated ways camps are encouraging the longstanding tradition of healthy behavior—in the dining hall as well as on the playing field or at the swimming pool.

Camps are doing much to help address concerns about kids eating the right foods, as one of the healthy ways to promote well-being. At camp, thoughtful menu planning—along with physical exercise—is helping stem problems of weight gain among children. Wellness is especially important in today's society, particularly with concerns about childhood obesity and eating disorders. A summer camp experience can provide the structure and activity needed to keep kids healthy year-round.

According to research conducted by ACA, 63 percent of children who learn new activities at camp tend to continue engaging in these activities after they return home.

What are some of the things camps are doing?

Over two-thirds of all camps accredited by ACA say that they've started serving more fruits and vegetables. About four in ten have explicitly reduced the use of fried foods and sweets or sugary foods. Some offer low or no-fat options.

Cooking with olive oil, adding flax, avoiding partially hydrogenated oils, making food from scratch—these are all ways for children to eat healthier that camps are incorporating into their menu plans. Even in the camp canteen, the trend is toward healthier choices and less candy or "junk food." Although 22 percent of camps have policies prohibiting care packages from home, some camps allow parent-sponsored cabin or bunkwide "parties" with options of healthy snacks for all.

Kids are being introduced to all kinds of foods—whole grains, tofu, even fruit soups. In a recent survey, two-thirds of all camps responding said they offer vegetarian options, with 21 percent offering vegan choices. More than one in ten camps provide foods that are organic and/or locally grown.

Responding to concerns about allergies, many camps provide choices that address each child's allergy issue. The peanut-free option is provided often, with nearly 40 percent of all camps saying they offer this choice, potentially including items like soy nut butter. One camp, for instance, sets up a no-nuts table at meal time. Camp directors also report being more attuned to children who have sensitivity to gluten.

For other special diets, meals that are kosher, calorie controlled, or designed for diabetic campers are also available. Ask the director of the camp you're considering what is offered.

In addition to new menu choices, there are camps that use specific programs to teach healthier eating habits. One day camp even says it invites families to family night programs where topics such as healthy choices are discussed. Another camp schedules a mandatory class on nutrition for its campers.

Camps have always placed an emphasis on health and fitness. Today, the activities and food options they provide—and the healthy behaviors they teach—are more important than ever.

Peg L. Smith is the chief executive officer of the American Camp Association.

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