junk food

Change Camp Food!

You may be in back-to-school mode, but if you were unhappy with the snacks or meals your child received at summer camp this year, now is the time to speak up. Why now? Because camps are sending out end-of-summer evaluations and surveys–and there’s plenty of time to look at parent feedback and make improvements for next summer.

This summer, I posted a sample email you could cut, paste, customize, and send to camp directors about junk food snacks (access it here). Turns out, Melanie of Cultivate Wellness found my post while searching for a way to express her displeasure about the food her daughter was getting at camp. She used it as a template to send a letter to the camp director. When she told me, I asked if I could post it here as another great resource for you:

Dear [Camp Director],

My daughter  is really enjoying her fifth year at [name of camp]. The smiles and stories she has every day when she comes home are priceless! Thank you for making it such a success!!!

She has filled me in on the food items provided at the overnight as well as the picnic lunch from last week. From what I understand it was Doritos with cheese and meat and “camp cones” (marshmallows, ice cream cones and chocolate) for the lunch, and when I picked her up from the overnight for a sporting event, she was eating Pop-Tarts, Froot Loops and chocolate chip pancakes. With the childhood diabetes and obesity rates rising higher and higher, I am wondering if you would be willing to consider some different items in the future. In fact, on the welcome flyer sent home with my daughter, one of your areas of focus is Healthy Living: Improving the nation’s health and well-being.

I am not opposed to treats, in fact, we incorporate treats into our lives at home in moderation. However, the overwhelming amount of sugar and trans-fats and processed food provided at the camp meals is concerning to me (and probably many other parents as well).

Bananas, air popped pop­corn and clemen­tines are per­fect exam­ples of inex­pen­sive foods that would help sat­isfy kids’ hunger, fuel them for camp, and ben­e­fit their bod­ies. For breakfast, might I suggest limiting it to just one of the sugary items and supplementing with scrambled eggs to provide some healthy protein. For the cookout, even grass fed local hot dogs with whole wheat buns, or even the Walking Tacos made with plain tortilla chips would be a better choice.

Perhaps I’m the only mom to have spo­ken up, but I am quite sure that with the health crisis our country is experiencing (where this generation of children is the first in centuries to be expected not to live longer than their parents did) that there are many other parents who are equally as con­cerned about junk food in their kids’ diets–and would be happy to know that the [name of camp] is help­ing by pro­vid­ing healthy snacks. And even if the parents aren’t clued in to the dangers of eating excessive amounts of sugar, trans fats and processed foods, I think you could do a real service in helping kids and families learn about healthy eating.

I know that the you care about our kids and want the best for them. Return­ing campers might miss all the processed food at first, but I think they would for­get about them quickly and grow to love and appre­ci­ate the healthy offer­ings just as much. My daughter mentioned that she was trying to figure out what was the healthier option at breakfast — the Froot Loops or the Frosted Flakes. It would be great for kids to go to camp knowing they don’t even have to think about that kind of thing.

Please consider this in the long run. I would be happy to work with you on choosing items that work for your budget and storage needs. Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I really do appreciate all your hard work.

Sin­cerely,

Melanie

Though she hasn’t heard back from the camp yet, Melanie sent a similar one to another camp director and got this response.

Hello Melanie,

I’m glad to hear you daughter enjoyed camp! We like to see campers having fun and learning new things.

I appreciate your feedback on snacks. It’s something we’ve long struggled with because of our budget constraints and sheer volume of campers we host. We’re currently working towards offering more healthy options in upcoming camps. Thanks again for your feedback!

Bottom line: Camp food doesn’t have to be all junk. Camp directors need to hear from parents. Parents CAN make a difference.

For more about camp food, read Camp Snacks: The Sequel and Changing Camp Snacks For The Better.

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In Praise of Food Activism, Big & Small by Real Mom Nutrition

School is starting in the next few weeks. Are there are changes you’d like to see in your child’s school, like less sugar in the classroom or more events that get kids moving? If so, make this the year you get involved! Here are three ways to jump in:

1. Attend PTA meetings. It’s the very best way to know what’s going on and have a voice in school functions. Consider these next steps:

  • Suggest an alternative to the typical junk food fundraisers. Check out this guide to healthy (and profitable) fundraisers from Center for Science in the Public Interest.
  • Read this guide for parents from Corporate Accountability International if there’s fast food marketing in your child’s school and you’d like to change that.
  • Work with other like-minded parents to brainstorm solutions to what bothers you. Teachers and administrators hear plenty of griping, but concrete ideas (and offers to help) are much more effective. I started this simple Fruit Ninjas program after seeing how much fruit was going uneaten at breakfast.

2. Join the school’s wellness committee (or start one). You can create wellness programs and even help shape policies concerning food and physical activity. Consider these next steps:

3. Foster good communication with your child’s teacher. Ask (politely!) about how food is used, if at all, in the classroom. Consider these next steps:

  • Get facts about food in the classroom from The Lunch Tray’s Food In the Classroom Manifesto, plus ways educators can help get junk food out of schools with these ideas from Spoonfed.
  • Ask about celebrating birthdays without food–or go the non-food route for your own child and see if it catches on. Read my post 10 Food-Free Ways to Celebrate School Birthdays for creative ideas that kids and parents will love.
  • Arm yourself with the facts on candy rewards in the classroom. This White Paper from Casey Hinds of USHealthy Kids is a terrific summary of the current research and includes food-free strategies for classroom management.
  • Find out how to work with teachers to create a healthier classroom. School Bites created this Healthy Classrooms Initiative that includes resources and ideas you can use in your own school.

Good luck, have fun, and be part of the change!

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Why I’m Not Lovin’ McDonald’s New Go-Gurt

June 24, 2014

The news that McDonald’s is including yogurt as an option in their Happy Meals should be, well, happy news. Especially since it’s a specially-formulated version of Go-Gurt that contains 25 percent less sugar than Go-Gurt sold in stores. But I’m not cheering. When I attended the McDonald’s shareholders meeting last month with Corporate Accountability International (read, […]

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Are Artificial Food Dyes Safe For Kids?

June 10, 2014

If you’re wary of artificial food dyes, you’re in good company. A lot of parents are questioning whether these rainbow hues are safe for their kids, while scientists are working to get to the bottom of this decades-long debate. I recently spent months researching and writing a feature for Parents magazine about artificial food dyes […]

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Soccer Mom On A Mission…Watch It!

March 13, 2014

Two years ago, I tromped around the soccer fields in my community, snapping photos of the snacks I was seeing. I set the photos to music and turned them into a video slideshow called “Soccer Mom On A Mission”, with the hopes of raising awareness and mobilizing a new wave of Snacktivists to create change. After […]

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What Are The Olympics Teaching Your Kids About Food?

February 11, 2014

“McDonald’s is, like, the official restaurant of everything.” That’s what my nine year old said to me as we were watching the Olympics the other night. That’s because every 10 minutes that McDonald’s commercial was on the screen. You know which one I’m talking about: the split-screen showing an Olympian biting their gold medal on […]

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A Call for Candy-Free Valentines

February 4, 2014

Remember Valentine’s Day as a kid? If your school was anything like mine, you found an old shoebox, cut a slot in the top, and decorated it with paper doilies and puffy heart stickers. You stationed it on your desk at school and made the rounds in the classroom, giggling and dropping valentines in your […]

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Why You Should Cut Your Mother-in-Law a Break

November 26, 2013

When hanging out with a group of fellow moms, there’s only so long you can go before someone starts complaining about their mother-in-law. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes there are legitimate grievances (“She told me I’m a bad parent and a terrible cook!”). But more often than not, the complaints feel a little thin (“Can […]

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Will The Real “Healthy Snack” Please Stand Up?

September 23, 2013

I’ve been known to gripe about the state of kids’ snacks (read: “Snacktivism“). I’m so tired of Fruit Roll-Ups, Capri Suns, and Cheez-Its being trotted out for every. single. kid-related. event. And I’m thrilled when I see parents, school administrators, church leaders, and coaches asking for better quality snacks–especially now at the start of the […]

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The End of Soccer Snacks?

September 17, 2013

More than two years ago, I finally gave voice to my feelings about soccer snacks–specifically, irritation that my kid was getting cookies and donuts and fruit punch and cupcakes after trotting around on a field for 20 minutes (read: “Soccer Mom Soapbox“). I vowed to speak up and change things. And since then, I’ve helped […]

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