The buses pull into camp, and a hundred hungry campers converge on the dining hall for an orientation and a delicious hamburger lunch. Everything is ready — smiles and clean aprons are on — and all seems well for the first-time group. Just as the food is being served, fifteen campers and counselors come running to the serving window with panic-stricken faces. “We don’t eat beef! Do you have anything else for us to eat?” they exclaim, throwing an embarrassing wrench in the unprepared camp kitchen operation.
The above hiccup probably happens every day in every camp kitchen around the country, with more and more groups and individuals making personal or doctor-advised dietary changes. Even when group leaders and the food service director communicate at an optimum level — addressing meal times, themes, needs, and personal requests — the subject of special diets often slips through the cracks of communication and those needs only make themselves known at the last minute — catching the kitchen staff off guard.
How can the cooks save the moment? They can say “no problem;” ask how many would like a Gardenburger, a chicken patty, or a vegan Gardenburger; and magically pull those items from the freezer and microwave, grill, or bake them; and then deliver the food with speedy aplomb and a big smile. Not only will the kitchen receive rave reviews on the great lunch, but also warm thanks from the worried campers who thought they were going to starve.
The special diet issue does not need to be a problem in your camp food service operations — with advance planning and a multitude of tasty and affordable food options available for nearly all special diets. Meeting the food and dietary needs for vegetarians, vegans, lactose intolerants, additive sensitivities, allergies, and a wide variety of other dietary concerns can be handled easily if everyone embraces a true customer service focus.
Customer Service = A Great Food Service Operation
There are many aspects to the concept of customer service, and the camp food service operation is a major factor in the camp’s ability to achieve a positive customer service goal. Essential for providing a positive experience at camp for guests is taking care of their dietary needs. More and more individuals and groups are changing their diets and many opt for vegetarian or meatless meals. To be successful, camps need to address these issues and create a “no problem” environment for special requests.
Vegetarian, meatless, and other dietary restrictions
This topic is a hotly debated subject that has or should have the attention of every camp director and food service director. Camp cooking is exposed to a wide spectrum of vegetarian and meatless needs, and there are creative menu alternatives — ways to plan for vegetarian groups and staff without breaking the budget and at the same time keep everyone happy.
Most people in the United States who claim to be vegetarians fall into the category of lacto-ovo vegetarian, which excludes meat, poultry, and fish but includes eggs and dairy. There are many other variations, including vegan, and each camp cook needs to work into his or her menu and budget a vegetarian or meatless alternative if it is requested.
Many cooks find that the simplest way to provide for vegetarians is to serve main meal items separately. For instance, when serving spaghetti and meatballs, serve noodles with marinara (red and meatless) sauce in one dish, and serve the meatballs in another dish. Those who do not want meatballs can have spaghetti with parmesan cheese, and anyone else desiring meatballs can add them to his or her own plate. If there are enough requests or an entire group requests a vegetarian alternative, prepare some textured vegetable protein (TVP) meatballs or a TVP sauce.
Reasons for being a vegetarian
There are many reasons people choose a vegetarian diet or are told to eat a meatless diet, and everyone in the food service and customer service industry needs to not only be aware of these needs but be happy and willing to provide alternative food items.
Some of these reasons include:
- Health (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.)
- Animal rights
- Factory farming
- World hunger
- Dislike the taste of meat
- Family or friend influence
- Allergic to meat
- Economics or budget
Common foods that are vegetarian
Many people eat vegetarian or meatless foods without even realizing they are eliminating meat for a particular meal. Nutritionists have determined that avoiding meat or animal products one day a week can significantly improve the health of normal individuals. With the help of the following foods, people can enjoy a meatless meal once in awhile — pizza, French fries, salad, carrot sticks, raisins, peanut butter, cottage cheese, macaroni and cheese, cereal, pasta, bean burritos, pancakes and waffles, grilled cheese, oatmeal, eggs, ice cream, and milk.
Uncommon foods that are vegetarian
Most non-vegetarians are not interested in trying uncommon foods like tofu, soybean milk, tempeh, bean sprouts, and some beans, but they could benefit from the dietary advantages.
Nutrition concerns in the vegetarian diet