Schools throughout the nation employ successful programs to promote healthy eating in children, and summer camps are now increasingly considered as holding promise for similar initiatives. However, there is a gap in our understanding of the current status of healthy nutrition in summer camps and potential summer camp nutrition interventions that might help curb childhood obesity rates.
In order to address this gap, we conducted a study in collaboration with an UNCOM member agency’s Summer Day Camp in Milwaukee to understand fruit, vegetable, and milk consumed in a summer camp setting. Camp participants included youth aged 4-12 years, and lunch was served daily. Lunch plate waste of fruits, vegetables, and milk was recorded at five time points over the seven-week camp period. Nutrition data consisted of weighed amounts of food served and weighed amounts of food wasted (left on the plate). By understanding the amounts and types of foods consumed, policies and strategies can be developed to support improved nutrition not only in summer camps, but also in other youth-serving settings.
The study results suggest that fruit, vegetable, and milk consumption rates in the camp are very low, and waste is very high. Fruit and vegetable plate waste in the camp generally exceeded national averages, and each camper consumed only about one-fourth of an eight-ounce milk carton per meal. Whole apples and coleslaw had the highest waste, whereas applesauce and mashed potatoes had the lowest waste.
Strategies to reduce plate waste in the summer camp such as nutrition education, rescheduling lunch to a slightly later time in the day, and smaller serving sizes should be explored. Particularly interesting is the observation by camp staff that more children accepted milk when it was served in individual cartons as opposed to being poured from pitchers into cups. Similarly, camp staff indicated that fruit was most likely to be eaten if it was cut into pieces rather than served whole. These staff observations coupled with the study results suggest that ventures within summer day camps to promote healthy childhood nutrition should be considered as potential counterparts to school-based programs.