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ASU nutrition students share passion for health with kids

Camp CRAVE campers learn basic nutrition and cooking skills
August 13, 2014

When most children envision summer, they think of swimming in community pools or going away to camp. This summer, kids at Camp CRAVE traded their sleeping bags for aprons, and their goggles for whisks.

Camp CRAVE, hosted by the students and faculty in the School of Nutrition & Health Promotion, is in its second year of providing children in grades 4 to 6 with nutrition education and basic cooking skills. This year it expanded, offering two sets of basic and advanced skill sessions. Students in the basic sessions learned about the five food groups, how to read a recipe and how to use basic cooking equipment. The advanced sessions expanded upon basic skills, and introduced food culture topics such as Italian, Mexican and breakfast foods.

Exercise was another component of the camp. Campers started their day by heading to the Lincoln Family Downtown YMCA to do exercises like crunches, jumping jacks and pushups. In one advanced session, campers competed in water balloon relays, where they threw water balloons at their counselors and each other. Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Kohl’s FIT program sponsored Camp CRAVE to provide campers with even more fitness fun.

Trying new things

Five Arizona State University nutrition students worked as camp counselors. Each day, they gave students a presentation on a different nutrition topic. In the basic camp, counselor Ellen Robinson gave a presentation on the benefits of trying new foods, and then had them take a blind taste test of fruits like kiwi, mango and dragon fruit.

“One of the girls tried mango, and then after I told her it was mango, she was like, ‘I thought I hated mangos! These are really good!’” said Robinson. “That is exactly the kind of thing that makes this very rewarding ... when you can bring them out of their comfort zone and then they find out they like new foods, especially fruits and vegetables.”

For the July advanced camp, the campers were able to visit Discovery Triangle’s Fresh Express Bus, a mobile farmer’s market that gives residents of food deserts (urban areas with limited access to fresh food) the opportunity to buy fresh produce. Campers learned about farmer’s markets in a presentation by counselor Kim Murphy, and then walked to a local Salvation Army where the bus has a stop. Each student was able to purchase one fruit and one vegetable, and enjoyed showing off their healthy purchases to both their counselors and each other.

“This is a really good age range when they’re starting to become more independent and they’re starting to take on more responsibility,” said Robinson. “It’s a really good way to make sure that you instill these behaviors, like cooking for yourself or knowing what to choose when you’re eating.”

Another new partner this year was Mina Johnson-Glenberg, director of the Embodied Games for Learning Lab on ASU’s Tempe campus. She and doctorate student Hue Henry brought an interactive video game called “Alien Health” to camp. The game focuses on exercise and making healthy nutrition choices. After participating, campers were asked to provide feedback on how to improve the game.

The camp’s many partners were able to come together and create an experience that was beneficial for everyone involved.

“Camp CRAVE has been a great opportunity for us to partner with other organizations and engage children in the community,” said Michelle Miller, School of Nutrition & Health Promotion nutrition program coordinator and camp director. “This is an example of one way ASU’s nutrition department is using current grant funds to make an impact on the health of those in the Phoenix and surrounding areas. “

Cooking up something new

The end of every day at Camp CRAVE was spent cooking in ASU’s Kitchen Café. First campers would watch their counselors demonstrate how to make the day’s recipes on special viewing screens placed at each camper’s kitchen station. Then campers would make the recipes themselves, with counselors available for assistance. Basic session campers focused on mixing ingredients and some knife skills, while advanced campers were able, with help, to use the stove and oven.

“I would say my favorite part about the camp is the cooking part,” said Murphy. “I had a lot of kids last camp session say, ‘I made that last night for my mom!’  They take the recipes home and try them that night because they were so excited about it.”

When Camp CRAVE started last year, there were just 26 students in two sessions. This year, they expanded to 49 students among four sessions, two basic and two advanced. Miller says she does not plan on stopping there. She and Carol Johnston, associate director of the nutrition program, have applied for grants to take Camp CRAVE to areas where there is limited access to nutrition education and healthy food.

“I plan to look into funding opportunities to provide transportation to the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus for children and their parents or caretakers,” said Miller. “More children and their families could participate in a similar camp program if transportation and our urban location was no longer a challenge for them. After all, we have these wonderful facilities available, and this could be an alternative way to host more Camp CRAVE sessions throughout the year.”

Camp CRAVE has been met with initial success, including many returning campers between sessions, but the focus continues to be on providing children with quality nutrition education.

“There have been a handful of campers who have told me they want to be a chef when they grow up, which is rewarding to hear,” said Miller. “If we can inspire children to want to prepare flavorful and healthy food at home, we might be able to make a dent in obesity and other related health problems.”

ASU nutrition students and sponsors interested in participating in next year’s program, which will be held during the ASU student’s 2015 summer session, should contact Miller at

Written by: Kaly Nasiff