By Lynda Smith Hoggan

Camping! Just the word evokes many feelings. If you already love it, you might fondly remember trips of the past - recreation with friends and family, or quiet time communing with nature. If you're new to it, you might be excited about the mysterious forest or vast ocean vistas you'll see. One thing we can all share is the image of convivial meals enjoyed by a crackling campfire! But what will we eat?

A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that we should be rethinking our diets. While the grilled hotdog or hamburger of old can still be enjoyed once in awhile, they should no longer make up most of our meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has utilized data from university research to update their original Food Guide Pyramid. The new information is featured on a web site,, and includes personalized dietary recommendations that will extend our lives and promote good health habits in our children. And in a nation of heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, the need for this information has never been more serious: According to the Harvard School of Medicine, the changes suggested by the new Pyramid can reduce our risk of these now common diseases by 30-90% (depending on heredity and other factors).


In short, the Pyramid is designed to show the kinds and amounts of foods we should eat. The larger colored ‘slice’ to the left indicates the foods we need most - whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, cereal and pasta, which provide long-lasting energy and help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Next are the vegetables and fruits with their vitamins, fiber, and colorful, cancer-preventive phytochemicals. Proteins make up the smallest ‘slice’, and these should focus more on dried beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy products and less on high-cholesterol, animal-based foods. Other links within the site recommend using plant oils (such as olive oil) instead of saturated fats (like butter) and trans fats (hydrogenated oils, like most margarines), as well as reducing the amount of processed sugar consumed in drinks, desserts, etc.

The California State Parks Healthy Foods Initiative is committed to help our visitors with making these changes. Whenever possible, native California-grown foods, organically-grown, and reduced-fat foods are recommended. The following pages give tips for how to prepare and cook some of these foods in a camp-out setting. Think of it as an adventure in eating as well as an adventure in camping!

And don't forget that the stairs at the far left of the Pyramid remind us of the need for most of us to be more physically active. Let's get out of our camp chairs and hike, swim, mountain bike, walk the dog, or just throw frisbee - and work up a healthy appetite!

Author’s bio: Lynda Smith Hoggan is a Professor of Public Health in the Biological Sciences Department at Mount San Antonio College, Walnut, California.