Last year I wrote a simple short blog post about food allergies at camp. But it’s always nice to review things and stay up to date. So I thought I’d share some fresh thoughts on food allergies at camp and how we deal with them.
We can do it!
First, put your mind to ease because Camp Alleghany is prepared to handle any food allergy, food sensitivity, and even to some degree, any food preferences that a camper may have. By preference, of course, we don’t mean the picky eater who confidently proclaims that she only likes, “chicken nuggets, ice cream and soda.” 🙂 Rather, we mean something like vegetarian or vegan. That we can work with!
So if this is your family’s or your daughter’s eating style please, do let us know and we’ll make sure she has all the choices she needs for satisfying, tasty, and filling meals!
Because some food allergy situations are very serious even when the food in question is not consumed, we have a separate food preparation area for food allergies, and a specific kitchen staff person designated as the person in charge of cooking for the food allergies. Her name is Ms. Shelia and she is on top of it as if each of these girls were her very own! We also have Rachel, who shadows Ms. Sheila, making two staff members who are specifically focused entirely on making sure those with food allergies are well taken care of.
Our new head chef, Marc, is committed to ensuring that we have plenty of food on hand that campers with allergies can eat with happiness and pleasure; there are lots of gluten free substitutes, peanut-, dairy-, and soy-free foods, vegetarian options, (and other food allergies not listed here but communicated to us by parents. ) This is to ensure food safety.
But what about food culture?
Marc also said he’ll make his best effort to match whatever the rest of camp is eating with a similar meal for campers with allergies, only absent the allergens in question. For example, if camp is being served a grilled cheese, someone with Celiac will get a gluten-free grilled cheese. This means everyone is getting the same thing, lessening the emphasis on food differences.
One reason we do it this way is that there is a range of sensitivity about food allergies among campers.
Some campers are very open about their food allergies and don’t mind talking about it. But others still feel self conscious about it, which we understand and are sensitive to. We try to make our efforts as discreet as possible so as to not make anyone feel like they are standing out.
We have our own behind-the-scenes ways of being discreet, which our kitchen and Hoper staff are thoroughly trained in. The tables in the Dining Hall are discreetly color-coded, and the Head Hopper will always know where our food allergy campers are sitting. This way the Hoppers know to bring out the special meals to those tables, without having to awkwardly ask “anyone here need a different meal?”
Team work for food safety
In addition to the above measures, our medical staff eats every meal with us, always, just in case of ANY medical emergency or need. But by being there in a general sense, they are able to immediately respond to any food allergy reactions. Our nurse carries a bag that contains an epi-pen and other useful medical supplies that could be needed in the Dining Hall.
Having food allergies is never easy for the sufferer. And finding foods that are tasty and satisfying is a never-ending quest. That’s why we like to make little special efforts whenever possible. So if in advance, in coordination with Camp Alleghany, a parent wants to send food for her camper with allergies — for example if their daughter has a favorite gluten-free cupcake mix, or dairy-free cookies for milk and cookies, etc. — we can make this work.
I do want to emphasize that this is not required at all because WE have those allergy-friendly food options on hand and happily make them for our campers. But if the camper or parent feels more comfortable knowing that one of her “favorites” is in the kitchen, our staff will definitely prepare that food for that camper. We want everyone to know that we are able to accommodate all food allergies and sensitivities.
A note about our “tasting” policy
While we always require our campers to be willing to just take a “taste portion” of unfamiliar or less-than-favorite food, we NEVER do this in the cases of documented allergies (if the fast portion contains an allergen), preferences such as vegetarianism (if the taste portion contains meat or other animal products the eater is avoiding), or abstaining from certain food for religious reasons (if the taste portion contains an item being avoided). Otherwise we do still stick to our “Taste or Serving” rule in the hopes that picky eaters hopefully will come home not as picky! But safety, dietary preferences, and religious needs always take precedence first.
I hope this helps flesh out our approach to handling allergies at camp. But if you have questions, do feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to help you or to refer you to someone at camp with whom you can share your concerns.