Chips and cookies versus fruits and veggies ̶ it’s a decision dilemma kids face every day; and far too often, it is the chips and cookies that win out. The C.H.A.M.P. camp at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center aims to change that.


C.H.A.M.P. stands for Children's Healthy Activity and Meal Planning. The annual summer camp hosted by Department of Nutritional Sciences at the OU College of Allied Health teaches 5th, 6th and 7th graders from the community about the importance of making healthy choices, food safety and kitchen skills.


“Our goal is for the kids to walk away knowing that cooking healthy is easy and you can do it with the common ingredients found in most homes,” said Brian dela Cruz, M.S., R.D./L.D., instructor and clinical coordinator for the Department of Nutritional Sciences.


Camp coaches, who are master's program students and interns training to be registered dietitians at the college, design a variety of activities.


“The whole reason I wanted to become a dietitian was to help families learn to make healthier food choices and be able to pass those on to their loved ones,” said C.H.A.M.P. coach Heidi Steenberger, who is training to become a dietitian.


At the camp, participants learn about a variety of health and nutrition topics ̶ everything from proper food etiquette to basic nutrition to the importance of exercise.


“This year, we included lessons on packing healthy lunches, choosing healthy items from restaurant menus, and we even took them to the Braum’s Family farm so they could see how milk was produced,” Cruz said. “We also do a physical activity every morning and afternoon to encourage exercise for the kids.”


The menu for the camp itself includes healthy lunches, which the kids help prepare, as well as healthy snacks.


“We show them that it is just as easy to cut up fruit as it is to grab a bag of chips,” Cruz said.


The hope is that by giving the kids a chance to engage in a week filled with a variety of health-focused activities, they will be more likely to maintain a healthy diet afterward and possibly even pass their new found knowledge on to their family and friends.


“I learned what foods were healthy and which were not,” said 11-year-old MacKynzie Smith. “It will probably change the way I choose my foods and eat from now on.”


“The food is always delicious and we have a blast making it,” said camper Sydney Hester, 12. “I can’t wait to use what I have learned at home!”