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Healthy Ingredients for a Great American Campout

success story tent photoA "Great American Campout," a nationwide program hosted by the National Wildlife Federation, was held at Detroit's Milliken State Park as part of the Detroit River Days. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hosted hands-on experiences in archery, fishing, camping and wildlife education to help urban residents better understand their natural resources. Foster children and their families were invited to the overnight campout with the help of the Michigan Department of Human Services and Wayne County Department of Human Services staff. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development provided a healthy outdoor meal, complete with local celebrity chef John Prepolec, (Chef Johnny Prep) who donated his time and expertise to the event to show how to make healthy recipes. For MDARD, this effort was part of their Pure MI FIT initiative, collaborating to increase healthy eating and physical activity opportunities for young children and their families. This was an effort to reduce obesity in Michigan, part of the statewide Michigan Health and Wellness 4 x 4 Plan effort.

Demonstrations of healthy recipes at the campout allowed participants to learn how to prepare and try new foods. Because the caregivers are most likely the ones responsible for purchasing groceries for families, it was an added benefit to have the children and their caregivers try new foods together. This allowed for discussion of the foods, their tastes, how they were prepared, and why the food was healthy. Having the healthy food experience in a new, fun outdoor environment made it feel like an adventure rather than a lesson.

Despite blustery and wet weather, 50 family members and volunteers attended and took an opportunity to learn not only camping skills but that healthy eating can be a part of camping. The recipes included turkey hot dogs (white meat), whole grain buns, Jamaican black beans, Chef Prep's non-creamy Asian coleslaw, chocolate milk and water; and no campfire would be complete without the s'mores that were made later that evening.

The crowd was very involved in the cooking, and asked a lot of questions during the demonstration. One foster child requested to help Chef Johnny Prep. He wore an apron proudly, set up the table and had a great conversation with the chef about food. The chef discussed food preparation and food safety to the group. The group had high praise for the appearance and taste of the food, including some previously skeptical DNR staff.

The dinner could not have occurred without the donation of time from Chef Johnny Prep, food donated by Holiday Market in Royal Oak, bottled water from Ferndale's Mountain Valley Spring Water, and milk from the United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

"I had planned to just share my camping tips with a few kids in Detroit, but my wife and I found this to be the most fun camping we've had in a long time! Sharing our love of camping and outdoor cooking with families who were new to both and genuinely wanted to explore new things made it a personally rewarding experience for our family," said Jim Gallie, Ludington State Park Manager and campout volunteer. "I can't wait to do it again next year!"

The recipes and food safety tips developed and used for this event were also used at additional events at Michigan State Parks and other venues throughout the remainder of the summer and fall. Events that build on the partnerships created through this event are planned for 2014. To learn more about this event, contact Maia Turek with Michigan DNR at