Kids at a camp in central Iowa this week have been given the traditional order to eat their vegetables — but they are also tending, picking, washing and preparing the veggies too. Iowa State University researcher, Ruth Litchfield, is one of the designers of the “Immersion in Wellness Camp.”

“They live eat and breathe wellness for the entire week that they are at camp. They are not just learning a lesson and then they go home and do their same old thing. They’re living it right there at camp,” Litchfield explains. “And so, in the immersion and wellness they’re learning about gardening. So they are learning where food comes from, they’re helping to harvest in the garden, they’re helping to pull weeds in the garden.”

Once they learn where the food is grown and how it is harvested, they then find out the best way to prepare it. “How to make sure they’re properly washing it, how do they dice it, how do they do various different kinds of cuts. How do they prepare that produce that they’re pulling out of the garden,” Litchfield says.

Campers make their own salsa, whole wheat pizza dough along with fruit and veggie smoothies and other items. The idea is an all-around knowledge of their food will make the nine to 13-year-olds more aware of the importance of a healthy diet. That information is combined with the physical activity of the camp to give them an all around experience of a healthy lifestyle.

Litchfield says they want the kids to retain and share the things they learn at the camp, so they are given a take-home kit that includes all kinds of help. “They’re getting color coded cutting boards — color coded for the various types of food that you would use a cutting board for in food safety practices,” Litchfields says.

“They’re also being sent home with a nice paring knife to help prepare produce. They’re being sent home with thermometers for both their refrigerator, and to make sure they are cooking their meat to the appropriate temperature. They’re getting a vegetable brush, they’re getting a cookbook.”

Litchfield is an associate professor of food science and human nutrition at ISU. She believes the kids will go away from the camp with the skills to help themselves and others.

“Knowing where your food came from and developing that skill that I can produce my own food and healthy food snack rally has an impact,” Litchfield says. Campers completed surveys before the camp and will do so again at the end, and six months after camp, so researchers can assess changes in nutrition knowledge, preferences and lifestyle.