Probably one of the main things parents want to know in choosing a camp is,
“What is the food like? Will my daughter like it? And what if she has special dietary needs or preferences (preferences in this case meaning a strict choice like vegetarianism or veganism). “
Secondarily we hear from parents who say things like,
” What if she just doesn’t like what’s being served? Is she going to starve if she doesn’t like the offering?”
Let me put all your fears to rest while also offering you a ray of hope that all parents will like.
First, on the registration form for camp, one of the questions asks about dietary restrictions or special dietary needs. To this we get many responses saying, “She’s a very picky eater.”
So pickiness is NOT new to us! We’re old hands.
I’ve written a lot on the blog about our food, including addressing the Dining Hall and kitchen things, as well as our pro-active response to food allergies and dietary choices, and other general posts about our food — from traditions and culture to policies and practices. So check these blog post for questions related to those issues.
How did we get here?
But today I want to talk about pickiness. How did we raise such a generation of picky eaters?
I saw a recent article in the National Post titled “Death to the Chicken Finger” that really got me thinking about the social, cultural, and commercial factors that shaped kiddie food culture on everything from cartoon branding to nutritionless, bland offerings meant to avoid pickiness while failing to stretch kids’ eating habits and creating divides in families at home and when eating out.
Generally speaking I personally have no patience for this kind of culture. I believe in whole foods for myself and my boys and I have neither the time, interest, nor energy to prepare separate foods for them, especially when those foods are denatured and unhealthy.
At the same time I understand that in order to cultivate willing eaters you have to make an effort to expose kids to different foods and you have to meet kids where they are. If a child is resistant to a certain food, having a battle of wills over it isn’t the answer either — that would just nurture resentment and ill will.
Just a taste
So let me tell you how we make our way around this at camp.
At camp your girls are in our care, and we want them to have the kind of healthy food choices available to them that will fuel a vigorous day of camp activity. But that still doesn’t mean that every camper wants to try green beans or, say, corned beef and cabbage.
But every day we require every camper to at least take a “tasting” serving of all the foods served by the Hoppers on the dining plate (separate from salad bar etc., and NOT if the child has an allergy, intolerance, or pre-stated dietary choice restriction).
Because it is just a “tasting” size (and presented in a gentle and congenial way) we find that, since the tasting is our prevailing culture, most girls get on board with the program pretty readily.
We have had a few Junior Campers voice their resistance and react a bit negatively to having to taste anything they don’t want to taste. But it is our policy so everyone has to do it. But just like everything at Camp Alleghany, we work in positive ways, listening to the camper, and searching for common ground. Our counselors are trained on how to work with resistance and negativity wherever it comes up, and to privately and thoughtfully work to get the camper to stretch her wings and meet the new challenge with a ‘Ghany Girl spirit.
But more than that, what we have experienced is a tremendous success! In the end many girls come to like and even request seconds of foods they thought they’d despise, and the rest simply learn that in trusted circumstances life is about taking new chances and trying new experiences, food included, making them more adaptable all around to new situations.
Food — another adventure at camp
On more than a few occasions I’ve had parents thank me for the little girl who came back from camp who much more eagerly ate what was served and asked to try things she’d never had! And liked them!
So fret not about what your daughter’s day at the Camp Alleghany Dining Hall will be like. She’ll see that we all try a “tasting,” and we get more if we like it, and if we don’t, at least we tried and that’s cool too.
And even though we don’t indulge in many bland, tasteless “kids only” type menu items we do in fact know how to have a treat — milk and cookies, Bug Juice (our camp koolaid), little indulgences from time to time are all part of the picture in just the right proportion to be a delight without being mistaken for a staple.
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls