Overnight Camp & Food Allergies

Updated on January 30, 2013
K.C. asks from Irvine, CA
13 answers

Has anyone sent their child to overnight camp (5-10 nights or more) if the child has significant food allergies. How accommodating was the camp and did you feel confident that your child would have plenty of safe, tasty food to eat? My son is allergic to dairy, eggs, and nuts. While I feel pretty confident that a camp could easily manage a nut allergy, I worry about the dairy and eggs. He is well aware of his allergies and knows not to eat foods where the ingredients obviously contain dairy or eggs, but there are many times that he can't be sure (for example: a hot dog or hot dog bun). So how have you handled it?

I'm hopeful that his allergies won't prevent him from having this experience, but worried at the same time.

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So What Happened?

Thank you all so much for the thoughtful and helpful replies! I feel much more hopeful that I can send him away to camp and he can have an amazing experience.

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answers from New York on

Paul Newman created camps for children with life threatening illnesses. These kids have central lines that go directky I to their hearts and receive all nutrients thru the IV. Some are in the middle of chemo. These kids are amazing given what some of the children deal with. They go for two weeks. I think if you talk to camp, they could definitely deal with it since it seems like every kid is allergic to something these days.

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answers from Los Angeles on

My daughter has anaphylaxis to peanuts. She's been attending overnight camp since she was 7 years old, sometimes for up to a month (and to Girl Scout camps, which she loved!). When she was 16, she traveled with a youth program to Israel, and at 17 she traveled by herself to Paris to study abroad. We have never had a problem at any of the camps or programs she attended. If the camp is accredited, they will take your camper's physical needs very seriously and will have appropriate dietary and health staff available. The only down side was that some camps were so concerned about the nut allergy, they made her eat in a separate clean area by herself with a counselor (the GS camps were especially careful about this). She missed being with the other kids for meals, but it was such a small portion of the day, and she knew it was for her safety, so it didn't matter much to her.

The only problem we ever had occurred on the Israel trip, where she had an accidental exposure when they stayed overnight in a Bedouin camp. The staff had made sure that her entire group was peanut free for the entire trip, but other groups weren't. The Bedouin's had served a dessert made with peanuts the night before to the other groups, and as near as she could guess, breakfast pastries served the next morning were probably served on the same platters that the dessert had been on the night before. So, out came the epipen, and she and her counselor took a cab (fastest way in the middle of the desert!) to the nearest ER. By the time they left the ER, the counselor was physically and emotionally exhausted, but my DH was raring to go and asked to go shopping! That's m'girl! :-)

Anyway, try not to worry too much. Speak to the camp director and health staff about your son's needs and the importance of knowing exactly what's in every food he eats. Let them know that they will absolutely have to check every label and make some alterations, if necessary. Food allergies are perceived to be on the rise (only partly true -- more people think they have allergies, but testing proves otherwise), so more public institutions are becoming more and more cautious about dealing with dietary needs. I always looked at it this way -- my child had to be ready to live in the real world by the time she left for college, which was two years ago. My job was to help her learn how to do that as safely as possible before she left the nest, which meant taking small baby-steps in independence throughout her childhood. That ranged from crossing the street by herself to crossing an ocean. For anyone who has the means an opportunity, I think resident camps offer valuable opportunities to learn and practice independence skills.

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answers from New York on

I was a one time sleep away summer camp counselor. We had kids with all sorts of sensitivities and medical concerns. The director, and medical staff would share information with the staff at the start of each session, depending on the nature of the concern.

I had a kid who had a known allergy to cold water, another who had dairy allergies, and one who had nut allergies.

All fared well, and went to camp without incident, and left happy.

Good luck to you and yours,
F. B.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

This is a tough one. My daughter has an anaphylactic nut allergy. My hubby and I are kicking around the same question. My daughter wants to go to an overnight GS camp. A number of her friends are going and talking about a lot. My plan is to talk extensively with the person who runs the camp and see what they have to say. If she does go, I want to make sure I can on bring her food for the week just to ensure she does not ingest something with nuts. Also, I am going to see what her doctor says. I hope it works out for our kids because camp can be such a great experience.

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answers from Eugene on

Talk to the person in charge of food to go over the menu ahead of time. Then see if your son can meet with a staff person in the kitchen each day during non busy hours to check ingredients and labels.

Most camp kitchens have enough food/leftovers to heat up a safe meal if the regular menu turns out to be allergenic. I've also found that, no matter how carefully they plan, something inevitably gets overlooked. If an allergic reaction would ruin your son's camp out, then he needs to double check everything.

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answers from Miami on

I agree with the contact the camp first and see how knowledgeable the staff and cook seem to be. Then Id make list of items that are a definite no and pack some snacks. I'd go check in at the camp 3 days in and see how the snacks are holding out.

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answers from Fargo on

My daughter is gluten and dairy free. She eats what she knows she can eat, other wise i sent food for her. There was a fridge she could use and i had plenty of bars and snacks in her room.



answers from Philadelphia on

I have the same worries. My daughter is allergic to nuts.

Although a lot of camps are accommodating, and I've even heard of "nut-free" camps, I still wouldn't send her far away to an overnight camp. Like you said, SHE knows not to eat stuff and will ask if something has nuts, but what if a counselor is unaware that almond powder is used in the cookie batter and thinks it's "nut-free" just because there aren't chunks of nuts in it and tells her it's safe to eat? She could die from this kind of mistake. So I won't send her far away to an overnight camp.

Luckily, we have an alternative. One of the universities down the road has an overnight camp. She attended the "day camp" for it last year and loved it and is begging to do the overnight one this year (for one week only). It's about 5 minutes from our house and 5 minutes from the hospital. So we're considering letting her do the overnight camp there just for the experience, but with the added safety net of us (and the hospital) being pretty close by.

But sending her to a camp hundreds of miles away in the middle of the wilderness? No, I won't even consider that now. Perhaps when she's older...



answers from Washington DC on

My son has a nut and pears allergy. I would be nervous sending him to an overnight camp where I or a family member wasn't present. Is there a day camp that she can participate in?



answers from Los Angeles on

My son's best friend has all the same allergies. His mom was on the phone many times with the camp, talked with the camp director, the camp chef, the unit-head and his counselors. Everyone was educated on how to make sure this kid had a great summer. Mom even sent food up to the kitchen staff so they could make him breakfasts, sandwiches and desserts with food he was familiar with and successful with. He ate at the buffet what he could eat and at the beginning of each meal he went to the window for those with special diets (many other campers and staff members also went there), got his food and went back to sit with his cabinmates. He had an amazing summer. The best answer is: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

What an important gift you are giving him, experiencing summer camp. Good for you for supporting him to learn how to incorporate his special diet into his reality and his life and letting him live and grow and thrive. Camp is so important to a child's development and is so much fun.



answers from Columbus on

If I were you, I'd pre-pack all of his meals in tupperware and just have them heat the food up for him. People that don't have to live with allergies don't know enough about label reading and cross-contamination to safely serve and prepare food. Sad but true.

Talk to the food prep staff at the camp and ask them what their plan is for keeping your son safe. How do they prevent cross-contamination in their kitchen? Do they know how to read labels and contact manufacturers if there is no nut cross-contamination statement on baked goods, for example?

If they're like, "huh?", then I'd go with the tupperware plan. If they have a clue, then I'd ask to get a menu and to see all the labels for all the food, and make sure to call food manufacturers if needed to get more information.


answers from Milwaukee on

can you call the camp and talk to the head cook. explain to them your concerns and see what they can do!!



answers from Oklahoma City on

I guess this would have to be decided by the sort of camp it is. Is it primitive? Cabins with a central kitchen with staff that would be cooking? Help yourself buffet of boxed or pre-packaged items?

That is needed information.

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