As a mother of 3 young children, summer is wonderfully busy as I entertain the kids with activities to keep them happy and busy while school is out. Organized day camps are great if you can afford it, but I like the idea of less structure during the summer where our time is not so scheduled and we can come and go as we please.
DIY (do-it-yourself) “day camps” are a fun alternative, where you create a camp for the day and invite friends to join in on the fun. To extend the camp experience, join forces with another family (or two) and each choose a day to swap children.
Entertain (and feed!) the kiddos in this idea for a vegan cooking camp. It has all of the things kids love: interactivity, food, and fun. While you are cooking, you are educating others about the benefits of plant-based eating (and sharing the deliciousness) in a fun, casual way.
Follow these steps to throw your own fabulous vegan summer camp, including kid friendly recipes, cooking skills, food games, and gardening activities.
1. Gather resources and create a “lesson plan”
When it comes to little ones, you need a plan! There are many cooking resources for kids available to help you get ideas to create structure for a day camp. My favorites are:
Some ideas for activities include:
Depending on the age and experience of your children, you could demonstrate and teach how to hull strawberries, whisk batter, knead dough, slice mango, peel potatoes, or make avocado art.
As you teach the skill, give them a recipe to allow them to practice and show off what they are learning, such as fruit kabobs for strawberry hulling or making melon balls.
Select recipes to cook that will demonstrate the flavor and ease of plant-based cooking (and eating!). Wraps and salads are great options because they are easy to make for little hands, and also allow you to share tons of ideas for fillings and changing up the recipes.
A fun interactive element to the day is a hands-on garden demonstration. Give each child a small terracotta or peat pot. Choose something such as herbs or edible flowers to plant that tie into a recipe you are making later that day.
Lunch can be a great time to teach kids social etiquette and brush up on those table manners! It is also a great opportunity to talk about the vegan lifestyle and share it with those who may be less familiar with it. Create some conversation starters or prompts to get the table conversation going, such as:
If you could be any animal, what would it be and why?
If you could only eat 3 foods the rest of your life, what would they be?
If you could have dinner with any animal, what would it be and why?
If you could have any animal as a companion, what would it be and why?
Kids love games. They are a fun way to break up some of the cooking activities and change the pace. Create your own food related crossword puzzle, word search, or BINGO game card. Create interactive food fun with peas for BINGO markers, and carrot and cucumber slices for paired up games of tic tac toe. Look online or in the resources listed above for more food game ideas.
After lunch, the kids (and you) will be ready for some down time. A movie is a great way to slow things down. Select a food related movie to tie into the day’s theme and continue the cooking education! The choices for movies are only limited by your imagination. Some ideas include:
You could also screen an episode or two from the offerings on Food Network, including:
- Cupcake Wars (don’t miss the episode with vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli!)
- Top Chef
- Master Chef Jr.
2. Be prepared
Once you have an agenda, set the preparations for your day camp in motion. Let parents know the plan ahead of time and ask them to send their kids with an apron. Use discount stores to affordably purchase (or borrow) enough whisks, mixing bowls, cutting boards, and other tools for all of the kids (or pairs) so that they don’t become frustrated while waiting around to get into the action, and you are not running around washing things as you are trying to facilitate the day.
Set up workspaces outside if possible, such as a couple of 6 ft. tables that can easily be wiped down in between recipes. You want to allow kids to be able to spread out and have easy access to the ingredients and tools. Keeping it outside also makes clean up simpler (and your house cleaner).
3. Buddy up
If you are hosting kids of varying ages, it is a good idea to group everyone in pairs where older kids can help younger kids so that everyone is able to make each of the recipes.
4. Select simple and kid friendly recipes
The day should be as fun and energizing for you, as it is the kids, so do not pick laborious recipes that will require hours of time in the kitchen prepping and cleaning up before and after the camp is over. Pick recipes that you are familiar with and feel comfortable teaching. Choose less mess recipes that require little or no prep.
Also, select meals that allow the kids to customize to their own liking such as salads, bowls, and wraps. Prepare cooked ingredients such as grains ahead of time so it is available easily when it is time to assemble the dishes. Avoid recipes that require blenders or other equipment where pairs will have to wait to take turns. Instead, use recipes that can be made using one or two tools like a bowl or a whisk, such as the ones below.
Hull strawberries and scoop melon balls from watermelon. Cut up bite sized pieces of apples and pineapple, and skewer onto sticks along with grapes. Serve alongside almond butter or non-dairy yogurt.
Guacamole with veggie dippers
Scoop out the fruit of 4-6 small avocados into a bowl. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lime and season with salt. Mash together until smooth. Serve alongside cucumber slices, bell pepper strips, carrot sticks, and endive leaves.
Make-your-own vegan bowls
Layer greens (kale, romaine, spinach, or arugula) into a bowl. Place a scoop of grains (quinoa, brown rice, millet) in the middle and scatter over the greens. Top with vegetables (tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, broccoli). Drizzle with dressing and/or hummus. Sprinkle with chopped nuts or seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, almond).
Whisk together 4 tablespoons olive oil and 2-3 tablespoon lemon juice (or more if kids want). Stir in 1 teaspoon of desired fresh herbs (rosemary, tarragon, sage, oregano, thyme). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Romaine or collard green wrap
Set out romaine and collard green leaves and hummus. Spread hummus onto a leaf and top with assorted vegetables (shredded carrots and cabbage, olives, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers), and nuts or seeds. Roll from one edge of the leaf to the other, or eat as an open faced “taco.”
We all love gifts, and what’s a party without a favor? Send the kids home with a packet of the vegan summer camp recipes, the conversation starters from your “table talk,” and games from the day to remember the fun and re-create it at home with their families.
To make, create a cover and type up the recipes in your favorite word processing program. You can make it as creative or simple as you want. Staple together or bind with brads and ribbon.
Other fun DIY vegan summer camp ideas and themes that support kind living:
- Animal Rescue: Visit an animal sanctuary. Read books/share stories about animal rescues.
- Volunteer: Make blankets for rescued kittens and pups. Visit an animal shelter and play with the animals or take them for a walk.
- Garden: Visit a local farm to harvest produce or plant in planter boxes/home garden. Teach about butterflies and create a feeder.
- Fashion: Create tees and scarves reusing old t-shirts and clothes.