Story by Leah Lizarondo
My son, who is 7, just came home from his first-ever sleepaway camp. An avid skateboarder, he won a scholarship to the best skate camp in the U.S. and we could not say no even as I fretted about being away from him and leaving him to his own devices for the first time.
Of course, one of the things that I was most concerned about was the food. I knew it was going to be a fun-filled week with very active days and late nights. I wanted him to have a great camp experience and part of that was making sure he kept his energy and health up so that he could enjoy camp to the fullest. I had to devise a plan.
I knew I couldn�t make choices for him anymore � on what he ate and when he ate it � so the best I could do was prepare him (and really, myself!) as well as I could. At the same time, because of his young age, the new environment he would be in and the new people he would meet and want to make friends with, there was a balance I wanted to strike between giving him awareness and making sure he didn�t feel alienated.
I hatched a plan. And executed.
At the end of camp, when we looked at an accounting of his time there — aside from a few bouts with candy with his new friends — I was happy to see that this young boy was able to make smart choices. I was a proud mom in more ways than one.
So here are some helpful tips on how to prepare your camp-goer for camp:
1. Prior to camp, get the �lay of the land.� � My son has never really been to a cafeteria before. He goes to a school that only serves a set lunch and he packs his own. Long before the start of camp, I brought my son to a cafeteria to show him what it would be like. Stations of food where you make your own choices! I showed him that the range would be wide � from a salad bar to desserts.
I also talked to the camp�s head of dining prior to dropping my son off, to get an idea of what to expect (and predictably, there is quite a lot of opportunity for improvement).
2. Talk about it (but not too much!). My son and I had a short conversation about the choices he would have and what may be the best options. This is where I say, pick your battles. Each family may have different priorities and its best to stick with a few so as not to overwhelm your child. I wanted my son, as much as possible, to stay with �real food� and not fill up on desserts because �it was there.�
3. Eat together. On drop off day, we went around the cafeteria together, talked about what would be good choices (when in doubt, peanut butter and jelly or honey!) and we ate a meal with him before we said goodbye.
4. Pack him some snacks. Knowing kids, food is the last priority when playing. And camp is virtually a week-long play date. I packed my son some healthy energy bars, some dried fruit and crackers for those times when he needed a boost. I also packed him some healthier dessert options, made with whole, real ingredients so that it would be easier for him to forego some of the less healthy options at the cafeteria.
These snacks came in very handy especially because dinner ends at 6 p.m. and the kids have a couple of more hours to practice and play before lights out.
5. Relax. Especially for moms with first-time camp-goers, this may not be so easy (it wasn�t easy for me!) But once you do the above tips, it really is out of your hands. Your children will do the best they can but they are at camp to learn, spread their wings and enjoy the (new) experience.
As I said goodbye to my son, what surprised me was how confident I felt that he would be able to make the best choices. As I look back, I see now that making food education and experience a central part of family life is making a difference. The moments that I�ve felt �embattled� as I navigated the prevailing standards have been worth it.
About the author: Leah Lizarondo is a nutrition counselor and food writer. She creates and curates delicious whole food recipes at The Brazen Kitchen and writes a weekly food column for Pittsburgh Magazine. She received her training in Health Counseling from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, has trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute, and received her Certification in Plant Based Nutrition from Cornell University. She would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.