The summer before my twins started Junior Kindergarten, we decided to send them to a couple of week-long day camps to introduce them to the “full day” experience. Leading up to it, I hadn’t really thought about food and as the day approached, I realized that for the first time I needed to plan and pack enough food for a morning snack, lunch and an afternoon snack. It felt daunting, but I learned a lot over the season. So whether you're packing lunches for the first time, or have been packing them for a while and are in a total rut for ideas, check out my tips below for camp lunch packing success!
Diversify your food groups
Aim to pack food from 2-3 food groups for each snack and 3-4 food groups for lunch, plus a source or two of healthy fat. I suggest you determine the amount of food your child would eat at home and add an extra serving or two: Children tend to have bigger appetites at camp as they are usually very active.
Here's a good example of what you might pack for a day:
Morning snack: baby carrots, raisins, and yogurt
Lunch: whole grain pita triangles with hummus, cucumber slices, diced apple, and rolled up turkey slices. Or consider a hot lunch, such as leftover pasta or Shepherd’s pie.
Afternoon snack: grapes, cheese cubes and sweet potato crackers
Aim for sources with high nutrient content and limit empty calories
Avoid items with added sugars and food dyes. There is a lot of stimulation at camp and children do not need the extra sugar or food dyes for their body and brain to contend with.
Make the food as accessible as possible
If your child spends their entire time opening packages they may not be able to at as much as their body needs. I personally have three favourite container options : PlanetBox, OmieBox (has an insulated compartment for hot lunches) and the Wean Green Glass Containers paired with Bumpkins cloth snack bags (easy to open and close and easy to wash).
Find out if there are any days that the children will be going off-site or being served a snack from the actual camp so that you know ahead of time to plan differently. For example, if they are going off-site you may wish to make the lunch a very easy one to eat and avoid anything that needs to be heated or assembled. If the camp is serving a special treat one day, then you could send less food or focus more on less-perishable food at least.
Consider allergies and sensitivities
If your child has an allergy, ensure that they understand how to protect themselves properly and consider putting an allergy label on their lunch box. Avoid nut products altogether, so you're not putting other children at risk.
Hydration is key
Pack a water bottle that your child can easily refill independently throughout the day.
Keep it cool
Add an ice pack on both sides of the lunch bag, as the summer heat can be intense and food safety is so important for little ones.
Try to monitor intake
Let your children know that it is okay if they do not finish their food, but request that they bring everything home that they do not eat. This will help you determine their overall intake for the day. If they ate everything, they may be less hungry at supper. If they ate very little, perhaps they aren’t given sufficient time and need coaching on time management or “talking vs. eating” at nourishment breaks. Or perhaps they were not very hungry. Either way, they will likely take a larger portion at supper.
Label, Label, Label!
There is bound to be another child at the camp with the exact same lunch bag/box and your child will most definitely leave their water bottle behind on more than one occasion. Labelling prevents mix-ups and losses of valuable items.
If you have any questions, please go ahead and leave those below in the comments section and I'll be happy to answer then for you. Wishing you a safe summer with your happy, nourished campers!!