Going to camp with allergies can be extremely difficult. Growing up, my parents never let me enroll in those sleepaway camps that all my peers were raving about because of distance from hospitals or just lack of allergy-friendly food options. Many of you reading this with allergies probably know exactly what I’m talking about--- that feeling when camp just isn’t an option for the summer unless it’s a day camp where you’re stocked up on your own food and your parents can drop something off on occasion. That was essentially what I did when I was younger, but this summer was my first time ever attending a sleepaway camp that was six weeks long.
The camp I attended this summer wasn’t really a camp, but an academic program for students in North Carolina hoping to intensively study a subject they love. I went to the NC Governor’s School as a Social Science student, meaning I took classes on topics from philosophy to economic growth to global politics to psychology. I had a fantastic time, but my allergies definitely posed some barriers.
The first thing I did at camp to help myself out was talk to the dining hall staff about my allergies to see if they could personally make me some food for dinner. They decided to make me grilled chicken and vegetables, which I was excited about until I found out they would be serving this meal to me every day. Hoping for some variety, I started eating basic foods such as hamburgers and hot dogs, which I’m comfortable with at home. This worked out particularly well (despite the amount of weight I ended up gaining) because hamburgers were something I always knew I could have. However, I saw vegan cookies on the menu in the camp dining hall, and I was eager to know if I could possibly eat these.
Then, I discovered the dining hall online menu. It had an allergy filter, so I could select my allergens, and the foods I could eat would show up. This was incredibly helpful because the foods at my dining hall didn’t have any ingredients labeled, and the only things I could see were “dairy-free” or “gluten-free.” I then found out that I could have all the vegan cookies! This was super exciting, and then I was able to have dessert, as well as more options than I had originally thought because I now had access to this new menu.
I do wish there were more allergy-friendly options and more labeling at my camp’s dining hall. Still, other than that, I’m very satisfied with how my eating experience went and how I navigated the challenges.
For everyone reading this considering going to camp, my biggest advice is just to ask questions! If there’s an online menu, that’s even better, but whenever you’re in doubt, you can email the chef beforehand and talk to them in the back of the kitchen to see if they can prepare something for you. I have seven different food allergies, and if I could successfully make it out of six weeks without my own food from home, I know you can too!