Use healthy messages to make the camp experience
by Vickie L. James, R.D., L.D. and Claudia L. Hohnbaum,
M.A., R.D., L.D.
|Dear diary, I just got home from camp and I feel
so good about myself! I met so many new friends, had fun swimming,
singing camp songs around the campfire, and making cool crafts. But,
this year, camp was different, even better than most summers. This
year at camp I took the Challenge!
Camping EVEN BETTER than most summers? What was this young camper referring
to? This story begins with Carrie Schroyer, director of Chalk Hills Camp,
a camp of the Fox River Area Girl Scout Council, located one hundred ten
miles north of Appleton, Wisconsin, on the Menominee River. Chalk Hills
Camp prides itself in offering a variety of camping experiences for the
campers, ranging from the introductory program for day campers, to specialty
sessions featuring science, theatre, art, or adventure camping, to a very
specialized wilderness trip program. "We try to offer a progression
in all our programming so girls will come back year after year and continue
to be challenged each summer," explains Schroyer. The beautiful habitat
that nature offers this campsite, combined with the dedicated staff, some
forty members strong, offers an outstanding camp experience for Girl Scouts.
So what kind of improvements was Chalk Hills Camp seeking?
Lets begin with an entry from my journal. I'm Vickie L. James, a registered
dietitian and the national director of Healthy Kids Challenge (HRC), a
school- and community-based health initiative that has as its mission
to provide an adaptable school/community approach to educate, motivate,
and link kids and adults (KidLinks) to make healthy living a habit.
"Today I received an e-mail from a Girl Scout camp director wanting
to know if Healthy Kids Challenge could go to camp. I was reminded of
the HKC philosophy of taking healthy messages not only to schools, but
everywhere kids live, learn, and play. What a great place to increase
opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity, the camp experience!
I know it's time to take Healthy Kids Challenge to camp!"
What is Healthy Kids Challenge and what is our match to kids camping?
Healthy Kids Challenge is a nonprofit foundation that assists elementary
schools and programs with increasing healthy eating and activity opportunities
for kids and their families. We have developed an award-winning program
with our KidLink concept that focuses not only on healthy messaging for
kids, but, also for all who are connected with kids. Healthy Kids Challenge,
created by Cooking Light in 1998, developed from a one-week, one-school
trial in 1998-99, to a four-school pilot in 1999-2000, to over 600 schools/programs
on board at the end of school year 2000-2001. Today over 700 schools/programs
in thirty-three states, Australia, Japan, British Columbia, and Canada,
are now Taking the Challenge.
Healthy Kids Challenge revolves around two primary concepts.
- Healthy change is led by a KidLink team KidLinks is a leadership
team of people who connect with kids and have the opportunity to influence
choices that kids make with eating and activity. Key KidLinks include
school administrators, teachers, school meal staff, families, community
partners, and kids themselves.
- Make the healthy changes AWE-some Change Healthy Kids Challenge
helps link kids, schools, families, and communities for what we call
||Appealing and fun
||Welcome and inviting
||Easy and simple
That's where kids camping entered the Healthy Kids Challenge picture.
Education of the child does not stop at the classroom door, but extends
itself from school, to the home, and out into the community. After-school
programs, intramurals, youth organizations, and yes, kids camps are jumping
on the bandwagon, along with schools!
Read now from yet a third journal entry, that of Chalk Hills Camp director,
Carrie Schroyer: "For several years now, one of our goals at camp
has been to help girls feel more comfortable with who they are and how
they look. We have challenged our staff to celebrate their own uniqueness,
and to role model that satisfaction. Fat talk is not allowed at our
camp. After two years of no fat talk, it's time to step up and do even
more to promote a healthy image! The Healthy Kids Challenge information
appeared on the Web site and my wheels are turning!"
Through much long-distance correspondence, Healthy Kids Challenge was
able to do a thorough review of the existing menus, snacks, activities,
and classes offered at Chalk Hills Camp. Goals were set for healthy change
for the campers, and for leadership provided during the camp experience.
Take the Challenge goals set for campers included:
- Have fun.
- Feel good about yourself.
- Enjoy the meals and snacks.
- Learn how to make healthy choices and create healthy habits.
- Increase opportunities to practice healthy choices at camp.
Take the Challenge goals for leadership included:
- Serve as role models for the campers.
- Develop ownership for the healthy Challenge.
- Develop a personal wellness plan.
- Feel good about yourself and the campers.
- Be motivated to develop and implement healthy messages through the
- Enjoy meals and snacks.
- Offer feedback regarding camp changes.
- Have fun.
What kinds of healthy change recommendations were made and what were
the outcomes at Chalk Hills Camp? We started with the menu, where the
focus in the past had been on cost savings, and ease of preparation, not
healthy choices, variety, or balance. Soon, a two-week menu cycle evolved,
with over sixty new healthy menu choices added, many being kid friendly
versions of Cooking Light recipes tasty, yet lighter in fat and sodium
content than many existing camp recipes. Low fat ground turkey was substituted
for part of the ground beef in main dish recipes; skim milk was offered
instead of whole or 2 percent; more fresh fruits and veggies were added
to the menu by adding a salad bar; and milk and water were substituted
as the beverages of choice at meals instead of sugar-flavored drinks.
The menu challenges? The greatest challenge was young, very young, inexperienced
cooks, with limited food purchasing, meal planning, or quantity food preparation
skills. Making sure the food needed was on hand, planning time for all
the necessary meal preparations, and then making sure the recipes were
calculated to serve the correct number created new challenges in this
kitchen. What was the key to successful healthy changes? Healthy Kids
Challenge assistant director, Claudia Hohnbaum, M.A., R.D., L.D., and
two Kansas State University dietetic students spent time at Chalk Hills
Camp doing staff in-service that first week of camp. Read this journal
entry, from the lead HKC trainer for the camp, Claudia Hohnbaum. "We
started blazing new trails right away. From rolling up our sleeves to
helping in the kitchen to encouraging the cook staff and helping the camp
staff feel that they could lead the way to healthy change for the girls,
this was the beginning of a big, but promising Challenge!" The success
story is that the overall food budget for the camp was maintained while
campers and staff alike shouted "yummy" and "awesome"
to menu changes! While healthy, delicious entrees, such as Cheesy Chicken
and Broccoli Potatoes and Barbecue Pizza Bites filled the stomachs of
hungry campers and put smiles on their faces, hard work and the positive
attitude of the young cook staff was the true key to the successful menu
The challenges didn't just stop with the menu cycle. Since snacks are
a big part of the caloric intake of the camper, these too saw changes.
Healthier choices, such as popcorn, raisins, cheese and crackers, and
juice were added to the high sugar candy and soda options. This kept with
the HKC philosophy that all foods can fit in a balanced Food Guide Pyramid.
Frequency, portion sizes, and food/beverage choices were the lessons learned
with snacking at camp.
One of the discoveries made with the HKC recommendations for healthy
camp changes was that there were not as many physical activity opportunities
at camp as most assume they would find with a camp experience. Schedules,
time to get from one place to another, time spent with rules and directions,
and many program activities not incorporating physical activity or movement
were found to be the primary reasons for this. Without totally revamping
the program schedule, how could more activity and movement be added to
the schedule? More physical activity options were added during "me-time"
such as movement activities at meal time, and the Trail to Good Health,
a fitness/health trail, located in the center of camp where campers were
encouraged to follow the trail to help build health-related awareness.
Following are a few of the Healthy Kids Challenge changes incorporated
at Chalk Hills Camp this past summer:
- Wellness Bulletin Board A bulletin board dedicated to fun, healthy,
eye-catching tips, ideas, and information. Located in the dining hall,
often with camper healthy trivia quizzes.
- Me-Times More physical activity options offered during free time,
focusing on fun and movement, not exercise as a goal.
- Activity Challenge Campers kept track of their activity on Challenge
worksheets and were rewarded with wellness beads that signified the
various levels of wellness they participated in including swimming,
hiking, biking, and fun group game activities.
- Chef Nutricia Chef Nutricia visited camp meals to give campers health
and nutrition tips in an entertaining, fun, and educational manner!
- All-Camp Activities Station activities for the entire camp that
included physical activity and movement fun, as well as healthy eating
and wellness trivia, tips, and weekly camp themes messages.
- Take the Challenge Chain Campers and staff made anonymous personal
health goals. These were written on colorful strips of paper and strung
together as a paper chain in the dining hall throughout the summer.
Staff was encouraged to initiate discussion about the goals to encourage
healthy choices becoming healthy habits.
What have been the lessons learned at Chalk Hills Camp in undertaking
such bold, new steps for healthy camping for kids?
- Small, simple, easy-to-implement steps for change are important so
the process is not too overwhelming.
- Staff in-service education and ownership is key to positive role modeling
of healthy change.
- Training of food service staff is essential when going from convenience,
prepared items to requiring more knowledge of menu planning, ordering,
and quantity meal preparation.
- Building in support, recognition, and celebration of staff accomplishments
makes change a "want to do."
- Promoting healthy change to the families as well as the campers is
a good way to link the camp experience to the home.
- Kids will support healthy changes in their routine, including healthy
eating, and physical activity if provided with the awareness, knowledge,
choices, and decisions to do so.
And, a final diary entry from Schroyer, as she packs away the last camp
belongings and prepares to go on a well-deserved vacation. "This
first summer has been such a positive experience for all who attended
Chalk Hills Camp and experienced the Healthy Kids Challenge. I really
look forward to continuing the program next summer and making it even
bigger and better. We appreciate the assistance, support, and encouragement
provided by Healthy Kids Challenge. Staff noticed a definite difference
in energy level, and job performance was top notch! Girls and staff both
A final journal entry from a young camper reads as follows: "I've
learned to try new foods, found more ways to move and have fun with activity,
and really, I just feel good about me!"
Healthy Kids Challenge wants to acknowledge the difference Chalk Hills
Camp has made for kids in camping, and we challenge camps everywhere across
the nation to Take the Challenge! Make a great camp experience AWE-some!
Vickie L. James and Claudia L. Hohnbaum are registered,
licensed dietitians from Kansas, both with career-long efforts devoted
to kids health issues, school/community health initiatives, and team-building
techniques for healthy change. James is the national director of Healthy
Kids Challenge, and Hohnbaum is the assistant director of HKC. As of this
summer 2001, HKC is a freestanding nonprofit foundation that continues
to dedicate itself to the following mission: "To provide an adaptable
school/community approach to educate, motivate, and link kids and adults
(KidLinks) to make healthy living a habit."
Originally published in the 2002 January/February
issue of Camping Magazine.