Changing Tastes in Jewish Summer Camp


For many parents, thoughts of summer camp are accompanied by their personal experiences — the friendly rivalries of color wars; evening campfires by a shimmering, moonlit lake; and the warm affections of the common woodland mosquito (they love us so much that they can’t help but eat us up).

“S’more challah” is a pre-Shabbat treat at J Camp. Photo courtesy of J Camp. (Featured photo credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus/Erik Loera)

And, of course, there was the food — burgers, hot dogs, ice cream, and the iconic s’more, punctured and roasting on its stick. But with rising concerns about healthy eating, including among children, camp menus are changing with the times.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, it was serve as many kids as possible as fast possible,” said Kara Hoffman, assistant director of 6 Points Creative Arts Academy, which will operate for its third summer this year. “Camper health was not the first priority.”

This traditional strategy is not one that Creative Arts wants to replicate, according to Hoffman.

This traditional strategy is not one that Creative Arts wants to replicate, according to Hoffman.

“Our early childhood program has a healthy choices program,” said Emily Peisach Stern, the senior director of J Day Camp, which has adopted a similar approach. “Children can learn about healthy eating habits and staying active.”

Stern cited rising obesity rates as a reason for the creation of these health programs.

Not every camp is taking this approach though. Some camps prefer to stick a bit closer to the tried and true.

“I wouldn’t say things have changed in terms of what the kids enjoy eating,” said Phran Edelman, director of operations at Camp Shoresh. “We still serve hot dogs, pasta, chicken nuggets.”

That being said, Edelman noted that Shoresh has become “more conscious of health, offering fruit and vegetable sides. We also offer other healthier options in the canteen, where kids can buy snacks other than chocolate and candy.”

In addition to healthy lunch options, some camps teach kids to eat healthy outside of camp.

“We’ve offered healthy cooking with our culinary arts program,” Hoffman said. “We’re an arts community, so we have a heavy emphasis on culinary arts programs.”

“There’s been a lot of interest in cooking camps in general,” Stern said of J Day Camp. “Kids really enjoy creating their own food. We’re actually launching two specialty culinary camps this summer because of that interest. It’s part of our J Camps Plus platform, which are one-week camp experiences.”

Edelman stated that Camp Shoresh had not seen an interest in healthy cooking education.

In addition to overall nutrition and health, concerns over allergies have also become more prominent.

“Over the last ten years, there’s been more concern with allergies, whether it be with nuts, gluten,” Stern said. “We’ll make sure to have gluten-free and dairy-free options. We’re looking to provide a safe atmosphere.” Stern went on to say that J Day Camp makes “sure to know which campers have allergies and tailor the program to their needs, communicating with parents.”

“We’re able to accommodate about 95% of the allergies we get questions about,” said Hoffman on Creative Art’s approach. “The biggest issue is airborne allergies, which is not impossible but is more of a challenge.”

Camp Shoresh emphasized that its hot lunches are optional, and that parents are free to send their children to camp with a meal that meets their needs, according to Edelman.

Camps have also been making efforts to accommodate children with additional dietary needs, such as veganism.

“If a camper is vegan, we make sure to take their dietary needs into account,” Stern said. “As a society, we’re more keen about noticing the dietary needs of our kids, and we’re paying more attention to it.”

“We do have campers that are vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian,” Hoffman said, “and all of them will have access to food at our camp.”

At Camp Shoresh, Edelman stated that they get less “than a handful of kids every year that are vegan or vegetarian. Most of them choose not to be part of the hot lunch.”

Similar to the trend happening in some schools, all three camps noted that there is less soda at camp now or that it is no longer offered at all.

“We don’t offer any soda products or juices at camp,” Stern said. “Really the only type of liquids we provide at camp is water and some type of Gatorade for sports occasions.”

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