8 Cooking Secrets from a Summer Camp Kitchen
Summer camp food is more than bug juice and s'mores. Find out how kitchens keep all those hungry campers happy.
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When you think of summer camp, chances are you’re thinking of canoeing, tennis lessons and singing songs around the campfire. (OK, yes, s’mores!)
With such a busy schedule, camp kitchen staffers have to put a lot of thought into creating a well-organized meal plan that can keep the camp spirit going. One cook from We-Ha-Kee Camp for Girls in northern Wisconsin shares her secrets for feeding over a hundred campers and counselors with hearty, homemade meals.
Going camping with the family? These cooking tips will ensure your trip is a wild success.
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Everything can be repurposed
If you can believe it, there are leftovers in summer camp kitchens—no matter how hungry the campers. That’s when cooks start to get creative. Yesterday’s bread becomes today’s croutons for the salad bar. And that leftover chocolate cake (can you ever believe there’s extra?) becomes dirt cake—a camper favorite at We-Ha-Kee.
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Downtime is still productive
Even when the kitchen is quiet at We-Ha-Kee Camp for Girls, there’s still something in the works. Downtime between meals is the perfect time to allow rolls and cinnamon buns to rise. When the kitchen starts up again before the next meal, these rolls will be popped in the oven and will be hot and ready for campers when the dinner bell rings.
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Many hands make light work
At camp, you won’t find too many folks dawdling before or after meals. That’s because as soon as the dinner bell is rung, campers and staff are busy setting tables. After dinner is done, campers clear their dishes, wash their tables and get the dining hall ready for the next meal. With so many helpers, set up and tear down only takes a few minutes.
Need help getting your kiddos to clean up? One mom has a solution.
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Not all cooking happens in the kitchen
You can bet that at camp, kids aren’t just looking to sip bug juice and have snacks in the dining hall. Cooks and counselors teach campers how to make simple snacks over the fire. S’mores are, of course, a classic, but you’ll find campers learning how to assemble the perfect pudgy pie. And don’t forget about the Girls Scout camp classic banana boat: a banana sliced down the middle, stuffed with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, then wrapped in foil and placed over the fire until all gooey. Get the recipe.
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Real ingredients are always better
At We-Ha-Kee, you’re not going to find tubs of margarine or slices of processed cheese. That’s because the camp cooks use the sorts of ingredients they’d cook with at home. After all, we all know that homemade whipped cream tastes so much better than the stuff from the tub!
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Don’t forget about friends with allergies and special dietary needs
Camp food is not one size fits all. At We-Ha-Kee Camp for Girls, you’ll find vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available at every meal. Plus, the entire camp, like many, is nut-free. That doesn’t mean that campers miss out on tasty treats. Rather than using walnuts in banana bread, camp cooks use nut-free granola to get the same crunch and added texture.
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Dress up your shortcuts
Many summer camps pride themselves on cooking their meals mostly from scratch. However, with hundreds of kiddos to feed all summer long, you’ll find a box mix or two in the kitchen. At We-Ha-Kee, cooks bake up boxed cake mixes but doctor them up with fresh fruits and cream.
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There’s always room for dessert
When campers and staff are out being active all day long, they definitely work up an appetite. That’s why you’ll find a fresh dessert with every lunch and dinner. Since cooks at camp need to feed dozens of kids, they often rely on large pans of bars, brownies and sheet cakes.