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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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Taste of Home

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.

Make your own dirt cake at home—don’t forget the gummy worms.

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Bread roll dough in mold.; Shutterstock ID 1030099210; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHShutterstock / chaechaebyv

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.

Make cinnamon rolls from scratch the easy way—with overnight rolls!

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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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woman Cook hiking boiler fire.; Shutterstock ID 1116311867; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHShutterstock / Vasilchenko Nikita

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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Cook make dumplings standing behind the kitchen counter. Day of opened door for mass-media in the Ukrainian parliament canteen. November 23. 2017. Kiev, Ukraine ; Shutterstock ID 761546422; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHShutterstock / Krysja

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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Taste of Home

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.

Learn how to make the best-ever banana bread at home (and use this granola substitute for something new!).

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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.

Learn how you can dress up your favorite cake mix 55 different ways.

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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.

Feed your own crowd with our favorite sheet pan desserts.

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.
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