BSA camps adding healthier options at dining halls, trading posts

At Bashore Scout Reservation in Pennsylvania, the campaign to keep Scouts physically strong starts at the dining hall.

Starting last year, Scouts who attend summer camp at Bashore are served meals with more whole grains, leaner proteins, and increased fruits and veggies. At the trading post, sugar-laden offerings have decreased, replaced by healthier alternatives like yogurt and applesauce. And each week, Scouts are given pedometers to track their steps as part of a campwide competition to see which troop is the most active.

What started at Bashore in 2016 expanded to six more camps in 2017. But this is only the beginning. Thanks to the generosity of two Scouting donors, this healthier-camps program is free and available to any BSA council willing to implement it.

It’s another way the BSA is doing its part to combat a widening problem in this country: childhood obesity. And what a problem it has become: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6 to 19) has obesity. These children are more likely to be bullied, have chronic health problems and suffer from low self esteem.

Can one week at summer camp make a difference? According to the American Camp Association, the answer is yes.

“Memorable camp experiences change lives, and these changes carry over into the future,” the association writes in a post on its website. “Policies and systems can be encouraged within camps and across the camp community to prevent and reduce obesity. Identifying good ideas and best practices can facilitate the adoption of these practices now and for the future.”

Jeanne Arnold spoke about healthier camps at the BSA’s Top Hands conference in Dallas. (Photo by Roger Morgan)

Leading the charge

Jeanne Arnold has spent her life uniting organizations behind the common goal of improving the lives of children and families. Arnold and her husband, Ed, are among Scouting’s most generous donors. Both are recipients of the Silver Buffalo Award, the BSA’s highest honor for adult volunteers.

Jeanne Arnold chairs the BSA’s Obesity Prevention Task Force. The BSA has empowered young people to keep themselves physically strong for more than 100 years, and the task force is the latest example of this effort.

“The work being done on the front line with the Boy Scouts of America shows the Boy Scouts as thought leaders,” she said.

What worked at Bashore

At Bashore, which is in Jeanne Arnold’s home council, a registered dietitian developed a new dining hall menu that decreased the amount of sugar, salt and fat without sacrificing kid-friendly taste.

“We got excellent comments back about the food being good and the Scouts wanting to come back,” she said.

In other words, you might say it’s Scout-tested, parent-approved food.

At the trading post, the new approach meant changes to both product placement and product cost. Healthier options became more visible and less expensive.

“These good-for-you foods were priced lower than candy, slushes and soda, which were still available for purchase,” Jeanne Arnold said. “They just weren’t the first thing you saw.”

The results: plate waste decreased at the dining hall, meaning Scouts ate every bit of those healthier meals. And trading post sales? They actually increased by an average of $6 per Scout.

Bashore’s Step-Up challenge was a hit, too. With the motivation to get more steps than fellow troops, Scouts moved more each day.

Average daily step counts increased as the week went on — from 14,251 on Monday to 17,550 on Thursday.

Beyond Bashore

For Summer 2017, the BSA’s push to make camps healthier expanded to seven council camps across the country. The program is available to any camp in any BSA local council.

Best part of this whole effort: it costs nothing to councils or Scouting families, thanks to the generosity of Ed and Jeanne Arnold. The Arnolds have put financial support behind this effort to improve menus and enhance education through nutritional science.

Many Scouts, though, don’t need convincing. They’re used to better-for-you food at home.

“Many of these kids are already eating healthier snacks at home because of their millennial moms,” Jeanne Arnold said. “Hopefully this will increase recruitment as parents know the health and safety of their kids is supported in Scouting.”

Healthier young people can be more active in Scouting and have more fun participating in this life-changing movement.

And while a Scout’s time spent at camp might be less than seven days, Jeanne Arnold says that’s enough to make a difference.

“Summer camp is only one week out of the year,” she said, “but through research it is well established that that immersive experience can change behaviors.”