Bringing Balance: Day Camp Lunches

If you’re like me, you couldn’t wait to be done with school lunches come June, but just when you thought you’d been given a reprieve, you realized it was going to start all over again with day camp lunches, and the air went right out of your happy balloon.

One of the most popular presentations I do is my “School Lunch Solutions” workshop. I usually start those up every September, but because the school lunch issues tend to carry over into camp lunch frustrations, I thought I’d start early this year and try to help some of you get out of the rut and inspired for August day camp lunches.

Here are some simple, creative tips for dealing with the following common frustrations that go along with a packing a school or camp
1. My child’s lunch comes home uneaten most days;
2. My child’s main lunch staple is PB&J and I’m not allowed to send it; and
3. I rotate through the same three lunches. I need ideas!

Your child’s lunch could be coming home uneaten for a number of reasons.  First, if young children are given very little time to eat their
lunch, and/or are slow eaters or social butterflies (or worse, like my daughter, both!) they often have very little chance of finishing their lunch. To make it worse, your child also may be suddenly faced with challenging container lids and packaging.

Solution?  Ask your child’s counsellor what’s happening at the lunch hour: Is there someone supervising who can help with containers and remind kids to eat? Are campers permitted to engage in other activities that might be distracting while they are eating? 

Ensuring the food is easy to access by avoiding complicated packaging, and asking the counsellor to remove distractions and gently remind your child to keep eating can go along way.  Most times, the staff will be happy to oblige – after all, it’s in their best interest to have well-fueled campers!

With respect to the “nut-free” restriction, make sure you ask what the specific restrictions are at each day camp.  “Peanut-free” is a lot less restrictive than “nut-free” and allows for more variety in meals and snacks, because tree nuts, like almonds and walnuts are permissible. 

My solution for the PB&J dilemma is to introduce your child to some of the peanut butter alternatives that are “nut or peanut-free”.  My favourite is Sunbutter, which is made of healthy, camp-safe sunflower seeds.  Get your kids liking this before the summer’s over and you will have an easy new school lunch alternative:  SB&J! If the camp is “peanut-free”, then almond butter is another great alternative.  You can find both sunflower seed butter and almond butter in the natural food section of the grocery store.

The best way to get out of the “sandwich rut” is to make a list of all the healthy & portable lunch options in your arsenal.  If you’re low on ideas, google “kids’ school lunches” and get some more!  Post your list of healthy lunch and recess snacks in your kitchen and stock the
ingredients. When you’re stuck for a creative idea, check the list and get packin’!

There are lots of great lunch ideas in my new cookbook, Real Food for Real Families, including alternatives to the popular, but chemical-laden, processed Lunchables line.  I’m including a couple of recipes from my Middle Eastern Lunchables here to get you started.


Middle Eastern Lunchables

Pita Party Chips (recipe below)
2 tablespoons homemade or store-bought hummus (my Yummus Hummus in the cookbook is delish!)
2 tablespoons homemade or store-bought tzatziki (try my Tasty Tzatziki in the cookbook)
1⁄4 cup Garbanzo Gobble (recipe below)
Sliced veggies to dip
Fresh fruit, berries or applesauce

To make: Divide these ingredients among several small containers or arrange in bento-style lunch box. Add a refillable bottle of water and you have a lunch that’s really lunchable! Serves 1.


Pita Party Chips

You’ll need:
3 small whole wheat pitas
Olive oil in pump mister
2 tablespoons grated Asiago cheese
1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder

To make: Halve each pita, then cut into 6 triangles. In single layer, transfer to nonstick baking sheet. Lightly spray with oil and sprinkle with Asiago and garlic powder. Bake in 325°F oven for 7 minutes. With tongs, gently turn over and bake until golden and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool. Serves 4.

Garbanzo Gobble
High in protein and fibre, these are a tasty alternative to potato chips, surprisingly satisfying and crunchy as a snack. You can also use them as a salad topper or add them to savoury home- made trail mix.

You’ll need:
1 can (14 oz) chickpeas, rinsed, drained and patted dry
1/3 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch sea salt

To make: On nonstick baking sheet, spread chickpeas. Bake in 325°F oven, shaking pan occasionally and watching carefully to
prevent burning, until golden and crunchy (test one to ensure it is crisp in centre), about 65 minutes. Transfer to heat-proof bowl. Toss in oil, garlic powder and salt to coat. Serves 6.


Wendy McCallum, LLB, RHN, is passionate about providing busy parents with the tools & support they need to feed their families wholesome food, so everyone can play, learn, and feel better!  She is a mother of two terrific nine-year old kids. For information and recipe ideas, visit her website or pick-up her cookbook

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