Read Between The Labels

Requests for “special” diets at camp cannot be wished away, since approximately one in every 13 children has a food allergy. As diversity in camp communities continues to increase, many camps will encounter religious or lifestyle choices that may also inform food choices. Food is one of the most personal ways to extend hospitality to campers and guests. Putting systems in place to accommodate a variety of diets can open doors to new people and provide a safe and welcoming place at the camp table.

Reasons For Special Requests

Many requests are medical in nature, such as for food allergies, food intolerances, or part of disease management. For those who do not live with allergies, it may be difficult to empathize. Eight common allergens account for 90 percent of food allergies. By facing menu challenges with only eight ingredients in mind, the staff’s task of medical accommodation becomes more approachable. By eliminating fish, shellfish, and tree nuts from kitchens, there are five ingredients to consider when safely accommodating campers with allergies. Soy, wheat, milk, and eggs are common ingredients in prepared foods, so vigilant attention to ingredient lists becomes an important step in food-allergy management. Peanuts and gluten (a protein from wheat, barley, and other grains) are undoubtedly the most challenging items to consider.

Some requests, however, represent a much broader shift in food preferences. Some camps may be asked to provide vegetarian or vegan choices, to eliminate items for religious beliefs, or to

When accommodating dietary requests, it is important not to make a camper feel different or like he or she is a burden to staff members.  © Can Stock Photo Inc. / stillfx

When accommodating dietary requests, it is important not to make a camper feel different or like he or she is a burden to staff members.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / stillfx

accommodate requests for extremely picky eaters. Some families are choosing a more organic diet while others are committed to a gluten-free, casein-free one for non-medical reasons. What about guests with weight-loss goals who may request limited carbohydrates? These choices, while not potentially life-threatening, like allergies, are also important considerations in “rolling out the red carpet” of hospitality.

Tools For Success

Whether a special request has just arrived or you have been proactively planning to meet potential needs, consideration must be given in determining whether you can truly accommodate a dietary need. Start with the kitchen facilities: Can you provide separate prep areas that will never be contaminated by other areas? If not, you may need to completely eliminate allergen foods from the camp menu. Are you ready to be peanut-free? Similarly, most camps are not set up to have a separate kosher kitchen; it is all or nothing here.

Specialized diets require vigilance and flexibility on the part of the kitchen staff. Is the kitchen manager experienced in individualizing menus? A staff that finds this a bother can cause serious health problems, or in the case of preferences, a customer-service nightmare. Kitchen staff must be educated on how to prepare truly vegetarian dishes that meet dietary needs.

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