The Importance of Mealtime at Camp

February 21, 2017
Jeff Cheley
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps

In honor of National Sticky Bun Day on February 21, Jeff Cheley of Cheley Colorado Camps discusses the camp’s famous cinnamon rolls and why mealtime at camp is so important.

Last summer, I was walking through camp about 9:00 p.m. one night, and there were a bunch of people hanging out in the kitchen. There was music playing, laughing, and a bunch of talking.

When I walked in, there were about ten staff members in the kitchen making cinnamon rolls for the following morning. And it wasn’t just the kitchen staff — two office staff members, our climbing wall coordinator, and other staff members were all there to lighten the load for our kitchen staff. And they were having a blast. THIS is what camp is all about! Collaboration, laughter, teamwork, supporting your friends, and creating an experience for others.

Cheley has been famous for their cinnamon rolls for years. Delta Wielkiewicz worked at Cheley for 27 years, and she was in charge of the homemade cinnamon rolls. She hasn’t been here for a while, but the cinnamon rolls live on. Every Sunday morning, we have a special breakfast with fresh fruit, yogurt, homemade granola, and a second course of either cinnamon rolls or coffee cake. Now, doesn’t that sound like a great way to start your day?

But it’s not really about the cinnamon rolls. Food and meals at Cheley are very important. Our campers are very busy. They are hiking 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks. They are backpacking for multiple days. They are mountain biking the hills of Estes Park. More importantly, mealtime is a time to slow down and connect. Our mealtimes are at least thirty minutes long. We want our campers to relax, enjoy the food, and learn to have meaningful conversations.

In society today, it seems we don’t slow down to really enjoy our meals. I hear so many stories of how rushed children are during school lunch or how they are finishing their breakfast in the car or on the way to the bus. After school, they are rushing from after-school activities to do homework or another after-school activity.

Camp provides a place for children to slow down. One of my favorite memories each summer is seeing a table of 15- to 17-year-old boys sitting in the dining room ten minutes after dinner just laughing and talking. The most enjoyable conversations are about each camper’s day, what they learned, how they succeeded, and maybe even how they struggled. Whatever they talk about during meals, it is about youth learning to have conversations, to connect with one another, and show compassion — all of this without the distraction of devices or homework looming.

The cinnamon rolls tasted amazing that next morning, as always. Maybe it was because they used the recipe Delta taught us so many years ago. Maybe it was because they were allowed to rise all night. Or maybe it was because I was still so excited about the positive impact of camp that was a part of the creation of those cinnamon rolls. Meals are just one more example of the goodness that exists at camp. 

Jeff Cheley is the director of Cheley Colorado Camps in Estes Park, CO.

Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps