There’s No Such Thing As A Special Diet

Cooking “nuggets” five different ways for one camp meal can be a challenge–especially when the spoon from one batch can’t touch the spoon from another batch. With the growth of food allergies and special diets, camp food supervisors may go crazy. With a little creativity, Camp For All–a special-needs camp in Texas–has simplified the process, and the campers, camp staff and food-services staff all are benefiting.

Feeding everybody correctly can be a challenge

The growing number of special diets that need to be provided at camps today is a result of food allergies, food intolerance, diets by choice or combinations of all three. A food allergy occurs when the immune system reacts negatively to a certain food. According to The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, 12-million Americans (1 in 25) have food allergies, and reactions can be deadly. While food intolerance results in a less severe reaction, it too has a negative impact on health and well-being. Peanuts, all nuts, gluten, casein, gluten combined with casein, PKU, soy, low-calorie, high-calorie, fish, ketogenic, red dyes, sprinkles, sugar, diet sugar and citrus are only a few of the challenges for campers. In addition, there are diets people choose, including vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians, those who eat no red meats, and “flexatarians”–primarily vegetarian, but they sometimes eat meat.

So, how does a camp kitchen juggle it all? Cindy Adamcik, food-services supervisor at Camp For All, emphasizes that it is important to start with the right philosophy. For example, there is no such thing as a “special” diet. Whether someone has food allergies or intolerances or is making a life choice, “[T]hat’s how they need or want to eat, so that’s how they will be served. Period.” Adamcik’s goal is to provide campers the foods they need so they won’t feel different from their peers. If breakfast calls for pancakes, everyone is served pancakes; they may be made differently, but every variation is just as tasty. The camp’s food philosophy also extends to staff members, who need to be in top form every day.

Here are some additional tips on working with special diets:

1. Maintain good communication with parents or caregivers, dieticians and medical staff. Sterling Leija, the camp’s guest-services manager, contacts parents prior to each session to find out exactly what food challenges incoming campers may have. According to Leija, “You need to ask, ask, ask, and then ask again.” Not only are parents surprised by the ability of the camp to provide the right foods for their child, but the trust in the care of the child increases proportionately.

Heather Saavedra is a dietician for Camp Phever at Camp For All–a camp for children challenged by Phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder in which the body can’t process part of a protein called phenylalanine (Phe). Saavedra says that “effective communication between the kitchen supervisor and dietitian is essential.” She and Adamcik work closely together prior to camp, and at camp, resulting in some special foods prepared from scratch and many prepared ahead of time.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Outside Flavor
  2. Is A Dining Service Right For Your Camp?
  3. Fuel For Thought
  4. Recipe Resources
  5. Retreat With The SMERF Market
  • Columns & Features
  • Departments
  • Writers