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Allergies, Camper Health, and Foodservice @ Camp: An overview for parents

Foodservice at Camp

What comes to mind when you think about ‘camp food’? Hotdogs and marshmallows roasting over a fire? Burgers on the grill? Perhaps even brown mush on a standard-issue cafeteria tray? How do camp dining options reflect the growing number of food allergies in Children (up 50% in recent years) When looking at finding an appropriate camp for your child, it is important to know that the foodservice offerings reflect the allergen needs of your child. Does the Camp have a ServeSafe food allergen certified staff member to coordinate allergy needs and concerns?

Kid- Friendly

“Broccoli? Gross!” Sound familiar in your home? As many parents are aware, it can sometimes be difficult to get a child to try new things, and many campers struggle with sensory aversions to specific foods. However, camp should help campers take a culinary adventure and try new things by making food fun and positively reinforcing adventurous food options: even if it’s just a bite of something new! If you haven’t heard of the Rainbow Challenge, campers strive to get (and try!) more colorful foods on their plates to win the challenge. Having regular snack times to accommodate campers whose medications sometimes make it difficult to eat on a regular meal schedule is an important kid-friendly consideration.

Hydration

Between basketball, gaga, archery, outdoor skills, soccer, and hot summer days, it is important that the summer program you choose has a hydration plan. This acknowledges that staying hydrated is vital for our active campers to stay happy and healthy while enjoying their summer experience. In addition to water coolers, and water bottles while out and about at their activities, what procedures are in place to make sure that kids are property hydrated at each meal. This helps with both hydration for the sake of replacing fluids, but also because many of the medications that kids take work better. Check out this research published by the NIH.

Healthy

Research shows that additives in junk food have the potential to negatively impact our campers and can exacerbate pre-existing conditions, so it is important that Dining Hall staff are camp collaborators to provide numerous healthy and nutritious options for campers during the summer. Having available plums, apples, oranges, and even mangoes regularly available, along with the open salad and soup bar can help kids make better food choices. When combined with protein-rich entrees, every meal provides well balanced dining experience. Interested in a sample camp menu that models this? This sample menu provides a key variety of offerings at camp. Variety is important in every diet, as studies have shown. With deli, salad bar, buffet options, breakfast spread, fruit selections, and grill line, every camper can get a balanced and nutritious meal during their summer experience to set them up for success well beyond the walls of the dining hall.

Special Diets

Have a camper with vegan, vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free, dairy-free, allergy-specific, or other dietary restricted diet? Be sure to communicate this with the Camp Director, Dining Hall supervisor and medical staff before enrolling in a camp to make sure that they are realistically set up for your child to be successful. Can you bring special food to accommodate dietary needs? Are there allergen alerts for common food allergens posted with all menu items? Can your child find a variety of options that meet their needs at each meal, or will specialized dietary needs lead to limited and repetitive choices? A good camp dining hall is prepared to accommodate dietary needs for all campers.

–Brian Lux and Reema Dixon

Brian is the owner/director of Camp Sequoia whose work has been presented at the World Gifted Conference. He is a licensed K-12 gifted educator dedicated to the whole person growth and support of exceptional populations. Details about his program can be found at www.camp-sequoia.com or by phone at 610-771-0111. Reema Dixon is the associate director at Camp Sequoia and the ServSafe Allergen liaison for camp.