Summer Camp Food In The Foodie Era
July 7, 2014, by Kristy
Summer Camp Food In The Foodie Era
July 7, 2014, by Kristy

An interview with Keith Klein, Director and partner at Camp Laurel and Camp Laurel South, two Maine Camp Experience camps.

There is a greater awareness of diet and health than ever before; parents (and even kids) want to know what they’re eating. Just as school cafeterias have made menu changes, so, too, have camps adapted to the “foodie” era.

We recently sat down with Keith Klein, a partner at Camp Laurel and Laurel South, to discuss the growing interest in food served at camps.

“Over the last many years, there’s been a shift toward healthy eating. But I think the key is moderation and to find a balance between healthy eating and food that kids love. This is their vacation and we’re not only focused on healthy eating, but there needs to be healthy alternatives. And the most obvious way in which camps have dealt with that is by going to a more choice and buffet system. Some camps have gone full buffet. Some camps have gone partial buffet. Some camps have made a modification of both. The Sunday nights of having mashed potatoes and pot roast are over. Nobody eats like that anymore and I think camps have changed with the times.”

So it can’t be overlooked: Good food is an essential component of a good camp.

“They say an army moves on its stomach. A camp does, too. It’s not that it has to be gourmet food, but it needs to be good. The days of opening up a box of chicken nuggets and throwing them into a big deep fat fryer and serving them with ketchup are over. Yes – we still serve chicken nuggets still, but they’re baked or done with trans-fat free oils. And if we’re serving chicken nuggets, like we do at our camp, we also serve crudité or zucchini or squash and more healthy side dishes.  Kids love crispy kale.”

But aren’t camps known for snacks, and lots of them?

“A lot of camps, like ours, eliminated dessert at lunch. Years ago there were always lunch dessert and there still may be at camps, but a lot of camps have gotten away from it. Fresh fruit is now huge. In the past, there was much less fresh fruit. Now it’s available to our camps at every meal, three times a day and there’s a daily fresh fruit break at 11 o’clock in the morning. Many camps have fresh fruit available all day long. Kids can come by anytime and pick up a piece of fresh fruit from the dining hall from a designated location around camp. At our camp we started something called, “Tasty Canteen” and “Healthy Canteen.” We run canteen say, four days a week. Two of those days are “Tasty Canteen.” You can get a traditional candy bar — Hershey’s, Kit-Kat, something like that. On “Healthy Canteen” day you can’t get those options, it’s healthy options like granola or Chobani yogurt. There’s more attention paid to these choices all the way around.”

Along with increased food options, food allergies are also a part of the changing needs in kids’ diets. Gluten and peanut allergies are the top contenders.

“At our camps we have a gluten-free chef; someone who is hired and cooks for the children who are strictly gluten free. We have a gluten-free zone, where gluten-free food is cooked in one section of the kitchen and served in one area and it’s one chef handling the food. It seems to work well. Maybe the days of having a designated gluten-free chef are going to be over because food suppliers are saying now we can accommodate the regular menu with really tasty items at reasonable prices and it’s all gluten free. It looks like the large providers of food products at camps are taking notice of dietary needs also.

In terms of peanut allergies — again, it runs the gamut. Some camps serve peanut butter, other camps are completely peanut-free. Many camps are peanut-sensitive. At our camp, we are completely peanut-free except for pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at a certain table, pre-wrapped, and handled only by designated food service staff.”

Camps are also responding to campers who are picky eaters as well.

The salad bar is the obvious. You can live and eat off the salad bar at our camps. There’s grilled chicken, fresh turkey, homemade hummus and pita. There are great options.  Tofu, fresh spinach, chickpeas, even homemade guacamole. Also, at Camp Laurel if a child doesn’t want what is being served at lunch, they can get a piece of grilled chicken or a hamburger or a hot dog. Not a choice everyday, but those three things are offered on the daily grill on a rotating basis. Kids are just more interested in eating protein. Grilled chicken or sliced steak. That doesn’t mean they don’t like pasta, but they eat more pasta with broccoli or grilled chicken.”

Meal options aside, camps are also realizing eating organic is important to parents and their campers.

“We buy more organically. We buy more locally. We support our local farms. We even have a farm to table cooking program at our camps.  There was an article last summer in the New York Times on the front page of the dining section that talked all about the culinary programs at Camp Laurel and Camp Manitou. It’s really relevant, check it out.

More options, more organic, more local. It’s all a work in progress, but camps are taking up the challenge.

“I think we need to continue to offer more choices and more healthy options. We have to respond to what kids like to eat and we have to stay current and relevant.”

Maine Camp Experience Resources & Tools

Looking for the perfect Maine camp for your child?  Try out our helpful new tool where you can select a camp by choosing: type of camp (girls, boys or coed) and session length (2-7 weeks).  It helps to narrow down a few camps to a manageable list that includes rates.  Then you can research these camps in more depth.  

Next, be sure to contact our Maine Camp Guide, Laurie to discuss these camps as well as for year-round advice and assistance on choosing a great Maine summer camp for your child.

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“I greatly enjoyed speaking with Laurie (Guide at Maine Camp Experience). Thanks to her guidance, ideas and suggestions we truly feel that our ultimate choice is the right one for us. We can trust that our seven year old daughter will have a wonderful summer!”

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