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Camps Nourish Healthy Habits

Exercise, nutritious meals and outdoor fun are just the start.

Photos courtesy of Ramah Day Camp

With plenty of fresh air and outdoor activity, summer camps offer a pleasant alternative to TV and video games. But exercise and time outside are just the start of how camps teach about health.

“Camp is uniquely suited to emphasize healthy habits,” says Susan Ansul, director of Ramah Day Camp for ages PreK-14 in Elkins Park, PA. “Counselors are important role models, so we train them to use teachable moments to promote emotional and physical well-being.”

“As the world has become more aware of the importance of wellness, camps are putting camper health in the forefront,” says dietitian Marlo Mittler, a nutrition consultant to the American Camp Association. “For many camps this means revising menus, offering new options in the dining hall, adding alternative exercise programs like Zumba, and much more.”

Fun and Games

The Summer Fun Club, an Appoquinimink Boys & Girls Club of Delaware camp in Middletown, teaches wellness to boys and girls ages 5-14 through a mix of healthy lifestyle programs, including the University of Delaware’s Health Rocks. Unit director Quinton Sullivan says, “Some kids today don’t know how to jump rope, so we teach them. Jumprope is one of six fitness challenges. Another has children create their own games. Evaluations at the start and end of Summer Fun Club allow campers to see how far they’ve come.”

Andy Pritikin, owner/director of Liberty Lake Day Camp for ages 4-15 in Bordentown, NJ, believes that playground games are popular at camp because schools have cut down on or eliminated recess and children often don’t play them during the year. “Campers choose electives like Fitness & Nutrition, a mix of aerobics and nutrition education, Strength & Conditioning, Water Aerobics and Cardio Kickboxing, so they must be cool!” he says.

Food and Fitness

“Camp directors are recognizing that wellness and good nutrition will be well-received at camp, so some are making it happen,” says Mittler. “Small changes can go a long way — switching from white bread to whole wheat, replacing pitchers of juice with water, putting fruit out during the day and using only low-fat milk. This is the perfect jump start to healthier eating.”

Liberty Lake has eliminated trans fats and fried foods from its menu and offers apples all day. “Every camp should have a garden — it’s a home run for everyone: campers, staff, parents and the lunch program,” says Pritikin.

At Ramah, campers tend gardens and learn how to cook and eat what they grow. Last summer, they donated 1,600 pounds of their harvest to a local food pantry. Ansul has partnered with a local horticulturist to expand the camp garden and create more opportunities for families to learn about healthy eating together. “Camp is the time to get unplugged and connect with kids in active ways,” she says.

Ellen Warren writes for the American Camp Association (ACA) Keystone regional office serving Pennsylvania and Delaware. Learn more at www.acacamps.org/keystone and www.campparents.org.

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