Before the last campfire at summer camp 2015 fades from your memory, focus some energy on developing new camp activities that involve the food service operation. Food activities can range from campers making and mixing their own trail mix before leaving on a hike to offering an entire week of camp for those who want to focus on the culinary arts.

Once you settle on a selection of food-based activities for future campers, it's time to create spaces and design areas for implementing the program. Make sure there is adequate food preparation space, access or cooperation with the kitchen for ovens, etc., and the trained staff (with food handler certification) to conduct the activities. Some camps ask their cooks to teach classes between meals, but that should only be done if the food service staff member has a light-duty schedule that can accommodate the additional time. If possible, hiring a culinary arts instructor is the best way to cover all the bases related to food service activities.

Here are some ideas for inserting food-related activities into the programming lineup. Some activities may or may not fit well with a camp's particular layout or kitchen access. Many can be modified to work in the dining hall or other prep space.

Trail-mix-making 101

Campers need to see, learn, and understand the importance of building a nutritiousyet- fun-yet-completely-individual trail mix. This trail-mix-making lesson has two purposes: One, it teaches campers the importance of choosing items that are naturally healthy and provide a proper nutrition balance. Two, it offers the camp an opportunity to cut higher food costs associated with pre-prepared, individually packaged trail mix. Some of the pre-prepared mixes are overloaded with salt, preservatives, and other fillers. If you buy your own items in bulk, you can save money (especially if you provide measuring/portion control tools) and control the amount of salt and preservatives a camper takes in. For instance, you can easily buy roasted, unsalted nuts and seeds in larger-sized packaging.

The list of food products for make-it-yourself trail mix can include granola; peanuts (always check the camper allergy list before serving any nuts); cashews; almonds; sunflower seeds; pine nuts; pumpkin seeds; raisins; yogurt-covered raisins; dried apricots; dried banana and dried apple chips; M&M candies; craisins (dehydrated cranberries); whole-grain cereals like Cheerios, Chex, Kix, Life, or Fruit Loops; Goldfish crackers; pretzels; marshmallows; and popcorn.

Cooking and Baking Classes

The possibilities are endless with cooking and baking learning opportunities as program activities, but they do need to be structured around kitchen or oven space, tools and utensils, staff support (proper instruction), and the food or meal items available. Most campers would be delighted to learn how to make pizza dough, then make their own pizza; making cookies or biscuits is a no-brainer; and you wouldn't believe how many creative things one can do with some dough and a hot dog. Hot dog "roll-ups" are pure and simple crowd-pleasers.

Other cooking and baking class ideas include:

  • Macaroni and cheese (from scratch)
  • Apple pie • No-bake cookies
  • Rice crispy treats
  • Pasta dough (from scratch)
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Turnovers or other puff pastries
  • Caramel popcorn
  • Fettuccini Alfredo

The "Five Ingredients" Competition

Picture a huge cook-off event between cabin groups. Each group is given five, randomly selected ingredients designed to make them think creatively for an edible and fun end product. This activity actually ended up being the final cooking exam for my high school culinary arts students, and they really took this seriously, enjoyed the competition, came up with brilliant, completely unexpected dishes, and earned amazing votes of confidence from other students and teachers who volunteered to do taste-testing.

Another option for the competition could center on how the cabin groups prepare their five ingredients. Some could choose to cook theirs over a campfire, some could just use cold foods, some could use a microwave, or they could schedule time to use equipment in the kitchen.

"Culinary Arts" Camp

Just as thousands of campers sign up for high-adventure camps, they could also be participating in a culinary arts-focused camp program where campers spend a block of time each day in a new culinary lesson. Even the youngest of campers can benefit from learning safe and proper food handling, kitchen and utensil safety, personal hygiene, and the unique opportunity to build life skills. Providing a fun, safe location to learn the art of saladmaking, fun foods like gelatin critters, or making bread — these can all be part of a culinary arts program at camp.

Culinary arts campers could also be given a unique arts-and-crafts activity by making and/or painting/decorating their own aprons.

Consider one more take-home treasure to represent a camper's memorable moments in culinary arts camp: Provide a small "Culinary Capers" photo album. Thanks to the power of the Internet and the digital world, a small collection of pictures can be transformed into an instant scrapbook the campers will love.

Viki Kappel Spain, M Ed, is an author, consultant, and speaker, and has been cooking in the camp industry since 1985. She is an active member of the ACA Northern California Field Office, and presents at ACA and other agency conferences, featuring essential information in the camp food service arena. Viki can be reached at