This past spring, the South Burlington, Vermont, Recreation and Parks Department was awarded a $33,000 NRPA Commit to Health grant. The newly acquired funds help infuse our Junior REC Camp, an eight-week summer day camp for youth who have completed K-6th grade, with daily wholesome, local, organic nutritious lunches and snacks provided by the dedicated staff at South Burlington Schools Nutritional Services. The funds didn’t cover the cost of meals, but they did support nutrition and physical activity.
To encourage healthy eating education and habits, our department made a conscious decision to include daily meals in the cost of camp so every camper would benefit from the incredible meals and snacks served. In addition, kids had the opportunity to assist in planting and harvesting food weekly, through field trips to local farms and on-site gardens. This hands-on down-and-dirty experience gave the children a good understanding of where their food comes from and why the local farm-to-table concept is so important to experiencing good nutrition to put into their bodies.
“I love teaching kids about where the food comes from and all the different ways to use it,” shared on-site chef Karyl Kett (aka “Camp Mom”). “Getting the kids involved is key! The more connected they are to the food, the more willing they are to try it. If your hands touch the food in the growing and harvesting process, rather than if it is just placed in front of you, you are more likely to sample the fruits of your labor. Being part of this process encouraged kids to be more creative and courageous in their meal-time choices,” Kett added.
Nutritional Services Director Rhonda Ketner was able to use her expertise in “food costing” to keep the food pricing affordable and the quality exceptional. According to Ketner, “A case of canned pears might cost $36, and after draining and portioning it into ½-cup servings, it yields 50 servings. Compare that to a case of fresh pears that may cost a bit more but can be sliced in 150 servings. If you use food costing and averaging, you can often use fresher, more locally sourced products and actually save money.”
The camp and nutritional staff were intentional about including the weekly “theme” in the daily meals as well. For example, during the Amazon Jungle Week, the kids enjoyed Amazon Anaconda Chicken Wraps. Camp Mom Kett made sure all menu items were nutritionally balanced by using whole grains; low-fat, low-sugar preparations; and by focusing heavily on fresh vegetables and fruits. Special dietary needs were always considered and accommodated so all campers could have a delicious, fun experience. “What we have found this summer,” says Kett, “is that kids love to play with their food, so making things festive, fun and engaging is really important.”
In addition, because setting the stage for a relaxing meal is also important, checkered tablecloths and center pieces made out of onion stems were used to help create an atmosphere conducive to enjoying instead of rushing through a meal. Campers, staff and parents alike were impressed with meals being served “home-style,” including with tablecloths and centerpieces.
Healthy food choices and the importance of regular physical activity were promoted by weekly sessions with the experts from a local South Burlington fitness gym, who also partnered with us in our Commit to Health program. These local fitness experts not only provided the campers with direct physical education twice a week, but also provided us with some essential before-and-after statistical data.
NRPA’s five-year Commit to Health campaign is supporting the implementation and evaluation of Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards in park and recreation sites across the country, and we were eager to jump onboard as early participants. The goal is to have more than 2,000 sites implement it in their out-of-school programs by the end of the five-year campaign, and we would encourage other recreation departments to look into this extraordinary opportunity. In the work we all do, most of us are already exceeding the physical activity standards and, with the prepared supplemental documents and activities that NRPA supplies, implementing the nutrition is easy and “organic.”
Consider stepping up your summer camp offerings next year and taking the leap to sign on to Commit to Health.Let us all be reminded that no matter what the weather, what the season or what the day brings, we must all…Keep Calm and PLAY ON!