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Camp Cuisine: Keeping Kids Healthy

Six new ways camps are keeping children healthy

Worried about what foods your kids will eat when they travel to camp this spring or summer?

When you went to camp as a kid, you probably didn't serve yourself lunch from a salad bar, but that might just be changing for your children. According to the American Camp Association (ACA), the majority of children's recreation and travel camps now offer not only salad bars, but also fresher foods and healthier cuisine.

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.

The ACA says camps nationwide are addressing recent concerns about the growing problem of childhood obesity and diabetes. Camps believe kids who eat the right foods through thoughtful menu planning - along with physical exercise - can curb child weight gain problems. As wellness becomes a focal point in today's society, healthy habits are now reaching expected places including summer camps, kid-friendly travel resorts and day camps. A healthy day camp travel experience can provide the structure and activity needed to keep your kids healthy year-round.

A recent study by the ACA shows 63 percent of children who learn new activities at camp tend to continue engaging in these activities after they return home. Many of these camps now offer health-friendly activities with their reinvented menu,which accommodates allergies, special diets and healthy living. Also, camps are educating kids about nutrition and eating disorders.

Look for these healthy features in your child's camp.

1. Healthy menu choices
Over 66 percent of all camps accredited by ACA say they've started serving more fruits and vegetables to children. Additionally, nearly 40 percent have reduced the use of fried and sugary foods, opting for more low or no-fat choices.

Cooking with olive oil, adding flax, avoiding partially hydrogenated oils and making food from scratch are all ways camps are incorporating healthy eating into their menu plans. Even the snacks are leaning toward healthier choices, cutting out the junk food.

The ACA estimates that 66 percent of all camps now offer vegetarian options, with an additional 21 percent offering vegan choices. More than 10 percent of children's camps provide foods that are organic or locally grown.

2. Allergen-free foods
Many summer camps now provide choices that address specific allergy issues for children. The peanut-free option is provided by nearly 40 percent of all camps. Many camps are completely peanut-free, while others set up a no-nuts table at meal time. Camp directors also report being more attuned to children who have sensitivity to gluten.

3. Special diets
Kosher, calorie controlled or diabetic-friendly meals are now options many camps offer. Parents can ask camp directors about how to accommodate their children's special food needs.

4. Classes in nutrition
In addition to new menu choices, camps offer specific programs to teach children healthier eating habits. A few camps offer family night programs where health and nutrition topics are discussed.

5. Awareness of eating disorders
The ACA also reports that camps are now training their staff members to watch for indicators of eating disorders, making sure good eating behaviors are modeled for children. Health staffers are informed to watch out for children, and keep a trained eye on campers to look out for any problems or unhealthy behaviors.

6. Interactive programs
Additionally, camps offer special programs where campers can experiment with their own cooking. Summer camps may also offer programs on natural therapies and de-stressing for older campers.

When searching for your child's next travel resort or camp, check with the ACA's Find a Camp service to see what healthy programs nearby camps can offer your children and your family.

Learn more about ACA Camps and healthy camp options.

Source: American Camp Association

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