Friday, June 16, 2017

Helping your child get ready for camp food

Having a child or teen who is a picky eater can be challenging at home, school and during social engagements. Many parents worry how their child will do at summer camp away from the safety net of regularly accepted foods and plunged into the unfamiliar world of camp fare. My advice is, to go for it. Not only will the camper gain a multitude of enriching life experiences at summer camp they will be introduced to a rich food experience, especially at Canoe Island French Camp.

April's son, Evan, enjoying fresh mussels

The heart of Canoe’s food program is in providing thoughtful food experiences which focus on local ingredients that are minimally processed. Campers have responsibilities in the family service dining area and the Chefs are vital members of the staff and frequently share the recipes and cooking process with the campers. Three well balanced meals and at least one snack are served each day. Campers have choices of typical and novel foods throughout each session and meals are a time to gather, share about the day and an integral component of each session’s theme. Campers, counselors and staff all eat together at Canoe in a family style, community dining room and the peer interaction is rich. Food variety and mindful eating are modeled. Because Canoe is a small island, nearly all food is shipped in from the larger San Juan Islands & mainland. Water use on the island is tracked so there is a nice emphasis on how the footprint of campers effects the local ecology. Eating seasonally, composting scraps and using untouched leftovers are important.

As a dietitian who specializes in pediatric feeding and swallowing disorders, Canoe Island French Camp provides an optimal environment for expanding food repertoire for all kids because they intergrade mindful local eating and weave food-based cultural experiences, celebration and cooking into the curriculum of camp. Cooking classes are one of the most loved activities and each 2- or 3-week session closes with a plated, 7-course Bon Voyage banquet complete with multiple cutlery, wine glasses, and a cheese course.

Problem eaters are typically defined as people who consume a limited number of foods, often less than 10 or 15 weekly. They may shun whole food groups or eat only specific textures of foods or brands of food. They frequently demonstrate rigidity in other areas of their life, have other sensory-based issues, growth challenges and sometimes anxiety, especially if pushed or forced to try a new food or flavor. If you have a potential camper who has these tendencies, a talk with staff is advised. In this situation checking out one of Canoe’s shorter family camps may be a good starting point. Do make sure to allow your child the opportunity to eat near peers and staff and avoid negative language around dining. A good starting place is to offer two familiar safe foods at each meal with the expectation that there is exposure- in seeing, touching and possibly a taste of a new food.

Bon appétit, explorateurs de la nourriture

April Mitsch, Pediatric Dietitian
Assistant Professor- Pediatrics
Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, Oregon

and mother of two campers