Going to Summer Camp When You Have Food Allergies


Summer is a week away and children are getting ready to go to camp.  Whether this is your first time sending your child to camp or you are a pro, preparing for camp when you have food allergies may take some time.  Here are my top tips when getting your child with food allergies ready for camp.

Choose an appropriate camp. Fortunately, there are a lot of allergy-friendly camps on the east coast where we are located.  I listed the names of popular allergy-friendly camps throughout the United States below.  When choosing the right camp for your child, here are some questions to keep in mind.

  • Who is the medical professional on staff? And who takes over if this person is absent?
  • Do they have your child’s allergens in their facility?
  • If your child is eating at camp and allergens are present, what is their process for controlling cross contamination?
  • How far is the camp from a hospital in case epinephrine has to be used?
  • Will the campers be off campus at all? If so, who will be carrying the epinephrine?  And make sure there is always a way for the adult in charge to communicate with emergency personnel in case of a reaction.

Make sure the camp knows about your child and their specific allergens. If your child will be eating at camp, it’s not enough to write your child’s allergens on an intake form when you sign up, especially if they are severe and multiple.  You need to have a conversation with staff prior to camp starting.  The kitchen staff, counselors, lifeguards, volunteers all need to be able to identify your child and know the signs and symptoms of a reaction.  They also need to be able to administer epinephrine if a reaction occurs and know where the epinephrine is located.  Giving the camp your Emergency Care Plan is key to everyone being on the same page.  This information is not something you want to wait until the last minute to discuss because they may need to make changes to accommodate your child.

Understand the meal plans available. Is the camp you are thinking about going to “allergy-friendly”?  Meaning, do they have options for children with food allergies?  Are they willing to make safe meals for your child?  Is there a high risk of cross contamination?  If this is sleep away camp, these questions are even more important.  If it is day camp, you most likely would have the option to send your child with their own meals and snacks.  Some parents prefer this, while others feel they have paid for the entire experience and expect their child to be fed along with the other children, which is completely understandable.  This is why a conversation needs to be had early on before camp begins and really before you even commit to a camp.

Educate your child. Along with all camp personnel understanding their responsibilities, your child needs to understand the rules as well.

  • No sharing food with other campers.
  • No eating unknown ingredients.
  • Double check every food label even if you have eaten it before. If the child is very young, then they need to ask a counselor to double check the ingredients.
  • Have your child know that they need to seek help if they aren’t feeling right, even if they aren’t sure if they are having a reaction. They should never go alone to the bathroom or some place by themselves if they think they are having a reaction.  They need to tell someone, preferably an adult.
  • Your child also needs to be aware of the location of their epinephrine and if they are old enough, how to administer in case of an emergency along with the signs and symptoms of a reaction.

Other items to keep in mind are always check expiration dates on epinephrine, especially if your child is at sleep away camp.  The camp needs to have an adequate supply, possibly in different locations so they don’t have to go far in order to retrieve.  Epinephrine also needs to be kept at room temperature (68-77 degrees F).  In the summer, temperatures definitely can reach a lot higher than 77 degrees.  Epinephrine should not be exposed to extremes – too hot or cold – for long periods of time.  If the auto-injector is left out in the sun, the epinephrine may become degraded and no longer reliable.  There are storage items you can purchase, such as Frio that can help with temperature regulation.

Finally, the camp should be able to include your child in all activities. The outdoor activities shouldn’t be a problem, but any activities involving food need to be discussed.  Where will your child sit when eating meals and snacks?  Will they eat at a separate table?  If so, they need to have friends with them, so they are not isolated.  Or do you prefer them to eat with everyone and maybe have the seat at the end of the table not directly next to someone with their allergen?  These are all questions that are personal to the family and need to be thought out and discussed with the camp.

Here is a list of allergy-friendly camps that you can look into to see if they are a good fit for your childs needs.  After researching all of the below, it makes me want to go back to camp!

The bottom line is that we want all children to enjoy their time at camp, be safe and create wonderful memories!  Good luck and enjoy your summer!

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