Staff Snax

Last year at camp, I felt like we were having a great summer!  I still think we were, but there was one thing that I missed.  I always try to survey my staff at certain points during the summer (usually anonymously) to see what is on their minds and give us feedback as the administrative team.  So, when I distributed a staff survey about halfway through the season, I realized the error of my ways: Our staff overwhelmingly said that they needed more snacks!!

Hence, the blog post.  Sometimes, the way to your staff members' hearts is through their stomachs.  Here are some marvelous ideas for economical and delicious snacks you can prepare or have prepared for your staff to boost morale and keep things going for the rest of the summer!

Category 1: Things you can do with a commercial kitchen!

I had a revelation last summer shortly after the survey results returned: We have a commercial kitchen at our disposal!  Just before the YMCA got serious about getting healthy, our previous director had ordered up not one but two Frymaster deep fryers!  Now, we don't use them too much anymore.  But lo and behold, what an amazing opportunity to fry up some restaurant-style snacks!

This time around, we created a gourmet tater tot bar.  We fried up a couple of boxes of tots, and then set out a buffet of various toppings (ketchup, bacon crumbles, hot sauce, cheddar cheese, sour cream, ranch dressing and even Vegemite from our Australian sailing instructor).  This definitely wasn't the healthiest of all staff snacks (I can still feel the grease swishing around in my mouth), but it was scrumptious and a great bonding activity to see what creations the staff could make.  Better yet, more than 90% of the supplies we needed for this staff snack were already on hand in the kitchen.

Counselors begin to make their tater tot creations!

Other ideas for commercial kitchen use for staff snacks:

  • Deep fry-day (obviously on a Friday) -- make a custom batter and fry up some yummy vegetables, pickles and maybe even an Oreo or two.  Shout-out to the one and only Flora Hay for this idea.
  • Remember everything is more fun when it's jumbo-sized and shared!  How about the world's largest pancake using your iron griddle or a giant Rice Krispie Treat using one of those hotel pans made for lasagne?

NOTE: Keeping your kitchen staff happy and healthy is your #1 job.  

I always find it sad when I go to camps and even the director is scared to go into the kitchen so as not to upset the head cook. If you are going to use the camp kitchen for a staff snack, remember these friendly tips: 

  • Give the chef PLENTY of warning (I'm talking at least a week to start) and ask before taking anything that you did not purchase yourself.
  • Leave the kitchen cleaner than how you found it and make sure everything is put back in the exact same place.
  • Invite the kitchen staff to participate in the fun part (eating) your staff snack, but if it's too late and they have to go to bed, leave a special treat for them in the morning (high quality coffee is a great choice)

Category 2: Homemade Munchies

The rotation of camp foods can start to wear on staff about 4 to 5 weeks into the summer when meals start to be repeated.  This is normal and not a bad thing--just a fact of camp life.  Thus, a taste of something uniquely homemade can be a wonderful treat for our camp staff.  Ideas:

  • You are bound to have a staff member on your team who loves to cook or bake.  Can you free up some time for that person to sneak into the kitchen and make a homemade treat for the rest of the staff?  Usually the ingredients needed are on hand and a small budgetary allowance will make up for the rest.  Last year, I had a talented pastry chef on staff, Sarah Zimmerman, who made us all homemade key lime pie one night.  Yum.  Kate Tucker Fahlsing (what's up Kate, I know you read these!), another clever staff member, also had a great idea.  She took campers on a day trip to a local cherry farm and picked loads of cherries.  After everyone had their fill, Kate made the staff homemade cherry pie, following her mom's secret recipe.  We added in some vanilla ice cream and whew!  What a night.
  • There are also some really easy things that you can cook on your own.  A favorite of mine is "Puppy Chow".  Careful!  It is chock-full of peanut butter.  But it's delicious and easy to make.
  • Chocolate Chip cookies are always a crowd-pleaser.  Make it even more delicious by serving with vanilla ice cream in a "make-your-own-ice-cream-sandwich bar".

Category 3: Regular-Meal Upgrades

Now, if your steps keeping your kitchen staff happy and healthy are working like a charm, they can also really help with the homemade munchies endeavor.  If they are motivated to do so (and usually are if they feel supported by the non-kitchen staff and get plenty of "thanks!" on a daily basis from campers and counselors alike), provide them with the resources (budgetary, staffing-wise or otherwise) to amp up some of the classics on a periodic basis.  Here are some simple things that they can do to add an extra-special touch to regular meals:

  • Grilled cheese day?  Make some extra staff ones with tomatoes, non-American cheeses or on wheat bread.  Figure out a subtle way that the staff can pick up a special grilled cheese.
  • Same with eggs--make a few omelettes with special ingredients such as veggies, ham, etc.  The special touch of a custom omelette can really boost a counselor's energy that day!
  • On the grill...having another cookout?  If the kitchen staff can throw on some marinated chicken or brats or what have you, what would have been another boring burger can become extraordinary!
  • Pizza night!  Again, the campers are largely going to go for cheese and pepperoni.  Have some pizzas at the main buffet line of a different variety: mixed veggies, BBQ chicken, pesto (except careful, that can have nuts, too!), and make sure the counselors know where to find them.  This can be a delicious treat!
  • The salad bar can be an oasis for counselors.  Add in extra-special hearty salad items on a rotating basis, such as hummus, feta cheese, black beans, quinoa, hard boiled eggs, etc.  Or, even better, have an awesome salad bar all of the time like the one I got to experience during my trip earlier this summer to YMCA Camp Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha in Traverse City (see photo below).

Category 4: Healthy Choices

At a certain point in the summer, I would notice that many of the camp staff were craving something new...not greasy snacks, but healthy ones!  The campers were still going for the camp classics, but the staff were rushing for the salad bar and the non-sugary cereals.  Beyond amping up the salad bar, here are a few ideas for healthy choices you can incorporate into regular meals for the staff:

  • Purchase a few health-food cereals such as low-fat granola, Kashi cereals, etc., and put them in the normal rotation.  The staff will notice and will appreciate it!
  • Figure out what fruits and vegetables are in season around your camp and order from a local market.  When I was a counselor, our head cook would always order a bunch of Michigan peaches in early August.  They were to die for!
  • Steel cut oats in the morning served with yogurt is always a nice touch--even better yet, add in some homemade granola (Check out Molly Belhaj's special recipe here)
  • Bring a blender to a staff meeting and let your counselors create their own fruit and yogurt smoothies.
  • Make sure you have a selection of whole-wheat bread and other whole grain products available for all.

Category 5: The Easy Stuff

This is just going to be a list of things that I have done in the past for staff snacks/treats that have been successful.  No comment on whether or not they are healthy or not (most are not).

  • Buy a ton of Totino's pizza rolls and heat them up in the oven (same concept with Bagel Bites)
  • Spread tortilla chips and cheddar cheese out on a tray, heat in the oven to make a jumbo-sized nachos (additional toppings optional)
  • In a pinch?  Try rootbeer floats.  In a pinch in Michigan?  Try Boston coolers!
  • Yes, they will ruin your food budget if you order them for the entire camp.  But, my friend Stuart says they are the only reason he liked his first year as a camper and came back the following summer.  What are they?  CHOCO TACOS.  Do it.  Not just for the staff, but for everyone
  • Do you have an alum who calls up and wants to do something nice for camp?  Wants to make a donation but is not so sure what to do?  Talk them into funding an order of pizza for your camp staff.  
  • Back to hot sauce here.  Have a sampling of hot sauces that the counselors can access for their meals (try Tabasco, Frank's, Cholula, Sriracha, any local varieties-we like Clancy's Fancy)
  • Provide high-quality coffee and tea one day instead of the generic food service stuff.  Your staff will thank you.  Or, on a hot day, brew some coffee and then chill it so the staff can have iced coffee drinks.
  • Check with your local party rental store.  Last year we were able to rent a sno-cone machine for the 4th of July and it was fun and inexpensive.  
  • Sun Chips.  Need I say more, Hannah Deschaine?

Concluding Words

Plan ahead.  Be friends with the kitchen staff.  Always serve snacks.  Use your imagination.  A well-fed and well-nourished staff is a happy staff, and happy staff make for happy campers!

PS--I'd love to hear some of your favorite ideas for staff snax!  Please add them into the comments!