Carrots for Candy; The Great Boy Scout Experiment
...The role that PRO Wellness played with the Boy Scouts and nutritious modifications at camp was to look at camp menus and make them more healthful, Francis says. To keep things “child friendly,” the team started with small changes that significantly improved nutrition content.
The scouts were getting their food from two sources: the regular meals in the dining hall – and the snacks at the “trading post.” At meal time, it was easier to introduce changes that the scouts would accept, says Matt Adams, scout executive at the Pennsylvania Dutch Council.
“They had to go to the salad bar first and choose healthier options instead of hitting the line first with carbs – basically getting the rainbow on the plate first. It went really well,” Adams says. The salad bar has heartier, colorful food selections that includes eggs, chick peas and olives, plus fresh food daily from local markets.
Francis notes, “The menus of the past were carb-heavy, full of starches and sugars.”
The PRO Wellness team made some sneaky swaps. For example, chicken nuggets were dipped in whole-grain batter. Dieticians also switched carb-laden mac-and-cheese with carrots and hummus. Baked chips replaced potato chips. Other new menu additions were low-fat dairy choices, 100 percent fruit juice, more fresh fruits and vegetables to replace canned and frozen. They also limited sugary desserts to one meal. “We were trying not to touch entrees too much. We still wanted them to eat and be fueled, and we wanted to make sure they weren’t hungry. But now they fill up on nutrient-rich items, which is what they need, as opposed to mac-and-cheese, which doesn’t sustain them,” Francis says.
The Trading Post Challenge
The team then faced a bigger challenge – the “trading post,” which is where the scouts know they can get their favorite candies and snacks, such as slushies,
Kraschnewski says. Even some adults pushed back against suggested food swaps, noting that “kids should be kids” at camp, she adds.
“Food is interesting, because people get passionate about food,” she says. “The slushie sales at the trading post were just crazy. We know they get too much sugar from them, and in the heat, this can result in abdominal pain and even dehydration. Short-term acute illnesses from not being hydrated are common at camp, so there were reasons beyond obesity prevention to make changes.”
To help the scouts make healthier choices, the team tried some tricks used at grocery stores and convenience stores – they put the healthier options, such as fresh fruit cups, flavored waters, sunflower seeds, trail mix, and energy bars at eye level on the shelves. Candy and other snacks were still available, but the healthy options were positioned so that boys would consider them first.
“Surprisingly, the sales went up as we introduced healthier options,” Adams says. “This year, we still have healthy options in the trading post, strategically placed to eye level. And unlike last year at meal time, we’re not phasing in whole grains – we’re just doing it from beginning, immediately. The food quality is good.” PRO Wellness is also working with Boy Scouts’ chair of its National Camp Accreditation Program to rewrite the nutrition standards for all of its camps.
“We know that policy affects practice. If we could improve the policy, the camps would be more likely to improve practices. We’re excited about that opportunity,” Francis says. “Along with that, we’re working on a tool kit for remote assistance.”
Meanwhile, Kraschnewski says that while the program extends to other camping programs around the nation, she also hopes the scouts will take any newfound nutritious food or eating habit home to their families. And she hopes parents will be engaged with their children about their food choices at summer camp.
“Parents should be willing to ask questions of their camp. It’s their right to know what kids are exposed to,” Kraschnewski says. “And I’m so proud of our collaboration. This is an opportunity to have an impact on the Boy Scouts, who serve 2 million youth. Every new program is a start in the right direction.”