By Carol McIntire
June 19, 2012
|FUN AND FOOD! A food revolution is taking place at Camp Aldersgate where campers are helping prepare healthy meals. In the photo above, campers proudly display an extremely large lasagna noodle they made with the assistance of kitchen staff.
You won’t find bags of prepared, pre-packaged food stuffed in the freezer at Camp Aldersgate on Leesville Lake.
What you will find are campers in the kitchen helping prepare fresh food and smiles on the faces of diners in the dining hall.
It’s all part of a new program at the camp known as a “Food Revolution.”
According to Camp Director Eric Dingler, the revolution began last camping season after he and members of his summer staff attended the Midstates Camping Conference in Chicago.
“Several members of the staff attended a session called Food Revolution,” Dingler recalled. “When they came out, they were all excited, saying we just had to do it at our camp. They literally drug me kicking and screaming into it. I thought it was an impossible idea. They took charge of the program and I let them. In the end, it was one of the greatest leadership decisions I’ve ever made.”
The idea behind the program is to feed campers a nutritious meal using whole foods.
This is the second year for the program and it lies in the hands of Audrey Groves, food service director, and Rob McNeely, head cook.
Rob said the idea of nutritious cooking falls right in line with his talents.
“I grew up on a farm and my specialty is outdoor cooking,” McNeely said. “With my farming background I know about good wholesome foods.”
The camp staff plants a garden in the spring consisting of herbs, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. The camp purchases products from local vendors to ensure they get the freshest products available. They utilize the services of a local bakery and local butcher shop as well.
Campers sign up to work in the kitchen (five at a time) where they learn to make pasta (ravioli and lasagna noodles) from scratch, mix their own salad dressings (sweet onion vidalia has quickly become a favorite) and even make their own mozzarella cheese. Even pancake mix is made from scratch.
Campers learn to make fresh chicken nuggets using fresh chicken breasts dipped in coating made on site. McNeely then bakes the nuggets. “We bake everything, we don’t fry in grease,” Dingler noted. “It’s much healthier for everyone.”
A new lakeside barbecue pit falls right in line with McNeely’s outdoor cooking talents and is expected to quickly become a favorite as have fresh hamburger patties cooked on an outdoor grill.
The program has become so popular, this year there is a waiting list for campers to be kitchen helpers.
McNeely even treats the campers to his home made pies.
“In our herb garden we grow stevia which is a sweetener produced from the leaves of the Stevia shrub,” he explained. “ It is 300 times sweeter than ordinary granulated sugar and does not significantly raise blood glucose, making it suitable for diabetics. It is great for pies.”
The herbs are also used to make red sauce that is made in the fall and frozen for use when adult guest groups that visit the camp year round.
In the fall after campers have left for the season, Dingler dries the herbs, which can be kept and used from six months to a year later.
“Not only is it good for the campers, it is teaching them to eat healthier, which is one of the goals of the program,” Dingler noted. “We are hoping the campers will take the ideas home with them to their parents, who will in turn prepare healthy meals for their families.”
A unique aspect of the program encourages children to at least try new foods. “We offer them the opportunity to try a new food and, if they like it, come back for seconds,” Dingler noted. “That is one of things we celebrate.”
Early on, staff members sang the praises of the food.
“During staff training for the 2011 camping season, the staff said they felt healthier and ready for a day’s worth of activities after eating meals,” Dingler said.
Eating healthier is not the only advantage of the program, the director said, it has saved money.
“We served the same number of meals in 2010 that we did in 2011 and we were able to reduce food costs by $9,000 over that time period,” Dingler stated. “We are quite proud of that.”
Since the camp also welcomes adult groups, they felt it was important to go one step further and calculate the nutritional content of the recipes they serve.
“We even can provide the Weight Watchers point value,” Dingler noted with a smile. “That makes a lot of our adult campers happy.”
As for where the program goes from here, Dingler has plenty of ideas, several of which are in the planning stages but he was reluctant to elaborate on until plans are finalized.
“The possibilities are also endless,” he said. “We want to help make not only our campers and their families healthier, but our communities as well. We are hoping to be able to do just that.”