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.”

37 Comments

  1. This was the number 1 issue that our scouters mentioned at camp this year- Happy to see it is being addressed, and hopefully rolled out nationally.

  2. The change was subtle at our camp – baked chicken instead of fried. Someone had taken care with veggies. My picky eater first-year-camper son got seconds on broccoli and cheese sauce and demanded we have the open-faced roast beef at home.

    I was pleased.

  3. Two of the camps we attend sell ice cream by the pint! I’ve complained about that for years.

    I should point out that your mention about Scouts spending $6 more at the trading post is a useless statistic without more information: While you imply that Scouts bought lots of ‘good’ items, the higher spending could also mean that Scouts bought just as much of the sweets they have bought in the past, since your article says prices for sweets were increased.

    • When the camp I worked at years ago did something similar, the trading post increased sales per person because they were buying the things they wanted to eat. And while we didn’t increase the prices of the bad stuff, they did buy more of it because they were not eating as much in the dining hall.

      • I think the point they are tying to make is that the trading post sales did not suffer because of the lack of sweets and junk food. One of the biggest objections we heard was that if we did not offer the traditional candy, snacks, and soda our Trading Post sales would suffer.

        I happen to be the Camp Ranger at Bashore, and have seen first hand that if we offer healthier options, the Scouts will eat it. The first year that we offered a salad bar it was so popular that we had to add a second one to keep the serving line moving.

        This year we switched out our Slush Puppy base to a 100% fruit juice base. We sold just as much as before, but without all the high fructose corn syrup. We also offered healthy snacks that sold just as well . We offered a variety of flavored water and a few sports drinks as well as spring water while cutting down on the offerings of sugar laden soda.

        It’s a great start and we owe it to this generation of Scouts to teach them about healthy choices, portion control, and thinking about how much impact a few additional minutes of exercise can make.

  4. This is a change we need to foster in all of our large BSA-organized events. It is difficult to encourage scouts to eat right when trading posts carry so much unhealthy food. I have also been to large events set up by several councils such as merit badge colleges and orienteering competitions, and all too often a troop selling food as its own troop fundraiser panders to unhealthy dietary habits.

  5. I *love* that someone is addressing the quality of food (instead of the preservative-laden, high corn syrup Sysco items we get now)….but there is one area that tears me apart more than that: SUSTAINABILITY!

    For those camps who don’t clean dishes, PLEASE try to find an alternative to styrofoam and plastic cutlery packages! I would happily pay an extra $20-25/week (and so would my campers!) to have paper trays, individual cutlery dispensers, etc.

    Take a large camp with 8 weeks of camping * 500 campers * 5 meals/week = 20,000 styrofoam trays and 60,000 pieces of cutlery (if you’re using the pre-packaged) into a landfill each year…and that’s just one camp!

    Same at Jamboree where we had to get pre-packaged utensils at the Staff mess!

    We may not able to eliminate amount of trash, but we could do *a lot* to reduce it

    • Not everyone can afford an extra $20-$25 per person for camp. I know families that are barely making it. Fundraisers can raise only so much, and things still need to be paid out of pocket.

    • I was at Bayshore this year, food was ok. No complaints from the boys.

      As for plasticware and styrofoam plates, I’ve never seen that at any camp. What camp is doing that?

      • Here at my home council, our Boy Scout camp dining hall uses plastic trays and cups and metal utensils that are all washed in a Hobart commercial dishwasher…good sustainability. (Except when they start serving seconds where there aren’t enough trays so those get served on Styrofoam plates.) Down the hill of our reservation at the Cub Scout camp they have a dining pavilion and get all their food cooked and trucked down from the BS dining hall. When I was attending there as a Cub leader everything was served on Styrofoam plates and cups with disposable utensils as they did not have facilities there to wash and/or store dishes, cups and utensils. I commented every year that at least they could get rid of the foam and go to something less horrible for the environment, but since the cups and plates were branded with a local restaurant chain and it was all donated, there wouldn’t be a change anytime soon.

    • When I was a scout leader we had our troop but their own metal plate/spoon and fork! It is a part of their camping gear and goes with them at any event. There is no waste of any kind of all troops would do that.

  6. My son camped at Bashore this summer (his troop camps at different reservations every summer). His quote when he returned home ” Bashore has the best salad bar EVER!”

  7. It was nice to hear about good things from camp bashore in Pennsylvania where I attended as a youth. I think that all the council’s can learn from the Arnold’s example.
    As someone else has commented, I know my current Council in Kansas and Missouri has a long line at meals when it serves salad bar and it is very healthy and popular!
    Sooner or later adults and children alike will learn that eating delicious can also mean eating nutritious!

  8. Thanks for the great article on food and nutrition at Summer Camp.
    The photo of the scouts enjoying a healthy and filling meal at Bashore is of my Troop 224 St. Jeromes Catholic Church during week 4 .
    All the meals are served cafeteria style on reuseable trays, with real silverware. After all tables have been served there is call for seconds that is well received by the hungry scouts.
    When meals are finished each troop has appointed ” Waiters ” that stack the trays, separate the silverware,dump the liquids and clean the table.
    The food has always been one of the most popular things with my Troop at Bashore for the last 10 years we have been there. GO GO CAMP BASHORE! John Gonzales Scoutmaster Troop 224 Hyattsville Md.

    • Locally Sourced items are not sustainable during the summer. If you think about it – a farmer who would sell their wares at the local produce market would have to literally harvest his entire crop in order to feed a summer camp.

      The trick to camps are High Protein, some carb, some veggies. Any other combination, and we are looking at issues in which not enough quality nutrition are going into the kids.

      I have all but stopped eating anything at Camps as they don’t have a good balance. I had bariatric surgery – and will have something in the line of 1/16th of a plate, and give the rest to the kids, and take protein shakes and bars with me in order to have a quality meal. I will hit a can of beans in a heartbeat.

      For some reason, French Toast sticks and one sausage patty don’t cut it in calorie intake for kids – probably because there is not a lot there. I had kids want my protein bars after breakfast because they felt lethargic. A quarter of a bar got them to Lunch. I used it as an opportunity to teach them how to eat properly – looking for protein in Legumes and all the fun with gas after. They loved it!

      This is a positive step – more expensive I am sure – but positive none the less.

      • I Also had the Bariatric surgery, however eating is something I love I also have a passion for cooking. At Camp Munhacke, we do not use frozen French toast, pancakes or waffles. Our food service, dining hall is set up in a Buffet style, and we offer seconds, even thirds. Hungry Scouts, parents and Yes Staff do not make for a good camp experience. Not everyone is going to like every meal, that we understand. For that reason breakfast includes Scrambled egg, Either sausage links, patties, ham or bacon depending on the day. They also have either fried red skinned potatoes, or hash browns, again depending on the day. And every breakfast has either Homemade Pancakes or Homemade French toast depending on the day. Every day there are homemade breakfast muffins along with assorted cold cereals, homemade oat meal , yogurt, fresh cut fruit, granola, assorted fruit juice and milk. We also offer single portioned peanut butter and jelly w/ white or wheat bread at every meal. This is a taste of what is offered at Camp Munhacke. I take great pride in what is served to our Customers ( the Scouts and their Parents are the customers this should Never be Forgot. )
        First and foremost we are Scout Camps, but in this world we are also in Business. Our Scouts and their families can choose to spend their money at any one of 1000’s of other places.. The decline in Scouting and the use of its many camps, tells the tale. It is time for the Councils to open their eyes and Look at the Camps as a Business, camping now is not the same as it was 50 plus years ago. I look forward too hearing back from you and kind a wonder if anyone at the Council level will reply. Only time will tell…

  9. Being the Food Service Director he at camp Munhacke A Michigan Crossroads Council camp. We are all about fresh and Homemade. I have removed 90% of all the processed foods. our mashed potatoes, rice pilaf, spaghetti sauce, are all homemade. The frozen fried then re heated chicken is gone, it is better to buy, wash cut season and bake chicken. it is at this point that we have better control over cost, and flavor. We have a salad bar with over 25 items on it, and it is a Huge hit with the Scouts and Parents alike. We also feature 2 Homemade vegan and gluten free soups daily, they to are a hit. Another director once said soups are a waste, no one eats soup in the summer, WRONG. Here at Munhacke we can go thru over 10 gallons of soup alone per day. We offer homemade breakfast muffins every morning, cookies at lunch and homemade cupcakes for dinner. But wait, we do dot sell candy, chips or snack cakes in the trading post. It is our feeling that it is better to make the offerings in the dining hall with a complete well balanced meal, with the supervision of parents and leaders. There are always seconds available, and almost no waist. Fresh cut fruit, like apples, oranges, grapes and watermelon are always a hit.

    We would Love to get more information on bettering our food service program here at Camp Munhacke. I am also on a Council food service committee , working on better, menus, and meals state wide.

    Please keep me posted on your program, and if there is any way for me to be further involved.

    Thank You
    Michael Doherty
    Camp Munhacke
    Food Service Director/cook

  10. what other camps are implementing this great program? Any in Michigan?
    something really needs to be done to address the high calorie and sugar content at mst BSA summer camps. Its’ really not in line with what we are trying to promote as healthy eating & lifestyle

  11. Camp Minsi (in Pocono Summit PA) has an amazing salad bar that is such a hit with the Scouts and leaders… plus they have an equally amazing fruit, yogurt and oatmeal bar at every breakfast. I was impressed not only with the amount of choices Scouts were given, but the fact that so many Scouts were enthusiastically taking the “healthy” options… the staff modeled healthy behavior and encouraged it among the Scouts (from drinking water to eating their vegetables)… not to mention the camp really went above an beyond to accommodate special dietary needs (from gluten-free and dairy-free to vegetarian and even full halal meals). The food was always fresh and everything was homemade from scratch… the best “camp food” I’ve ever had (and the boys loved it too).

    A+ to the Camp Minsi dining hall staff and camp management for making good healthy eating a priority at Scout camp… very refreshing to see this when so many camp focus on the bottom line and providing easy and cheap options.

  12. No! We don’t need this in all camps!
    Scout Camps should be Patrol Style Camping and cooking. Scouts learn more in a week at a Patrol style camp than at a year of monthly weekend campouts!.
    And it is a much more Superior Scouting program to boot.

    The future in Scouting lies in its past!!!

  13. Although we need to fight childhood obesity. This can be accomplished at a Patrol style camp as well.
    We need to save our Patrol Style Camps.
    Our future lies in our past.

  14. I am all for healthy options at camp. And an increased quality of food is imperative for the scouts at camp. As an adult leader, I easily log 18k steps on Monday and my step count goes up from there – and the boys in my troop are far more mobile and active than I am. Even with stellar salad bars, there just isn’t enough protein and good carbs in the form of fruits available to keep these boys going. My boys know they can come find me for trail mix, protein bars or mixed nuts to keep them going to the next meal. Let’s look at the calories of quality of food and the portions compared against the output of the average scout at camp when making dining hall choices.

  15. First of all, I would have thought healthy diet in the dining hall would be driven through the National Camp Inspection process. Or don’t they still have those? Our Charter Org’s Crew ran the summer camp program for both Boy and Girl Troops also under them. We rented an unused camp and did our own theme based camping. The Dining Hall and Trading Post was very healthy, well-balanced and sustainable in the food and supplies. Soda was prohibited during camp.

  16. I agree that this would be much welcomed in many camps – but do remember that there is a reason for some of the “less healthy” choices – they do tend to carb load and feed for energy. However, I know that they could and should make better choices. We have a salad bar at our council camps, but it consists of the basic salad mix, cheese, bacon bits, and croutons.

  17. Jeanne Arnold, a Boy Scout National Executive Board member and Penn State Children’s Hospital donor, was asked to lead the Boy Scouts of America’s Presidential Task Force to address childhood obesity. To accomplish this, she asked Penn State’s PRO Wellness to partner with the scouts to craft a healthy eating strategy.

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