What’s in the Mess Hall: Summer Camps Open Their Doors to Kids With Food Allergies

For most families, sending their kids off to summer camp is a welcomed oasis. A glorious week in the heat of the season when kids can run free and parents can relax. It’s a quintessential part of American childhood, complete with s’mores, hot dogs, and endless trail mix.  But for children with food allergies, summer camp can be challenging, if not dangerous. For those who have life-threatening allergies, it’s often an impossibility.

Today, we’re highlighting two summer camps that make it possible for kids who have severe food allergies to enjoy the same experiences as kids who do not have food allergies. Through careful meal planning and snacks sourced from allergen-free companies like Cybele’s Free to Eat, these summer camps are paving the way for carefree summer experiences.

There are numerous summer camps in the United States who offer programs that cater to specific food allergies, such as gluten-intolerances or nut allergies. However, not all offer comprehensive programs that are safe for children with a spectrum of allergies, including dairy, eggs, tree-nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, wheat/gluten, soy and sesame.

Camp Blue Spruce and Camp TAG are two unique summer camps that are noteworthy for their dedication to providing safe, fun, and educational experiences to children and young adults with virtually any food allergy. While similar, the two camps offer different experiences.

Camp Blue Spruce is nestled on the beautiful coast of Oregon and provides a week of sleepaway camp for kids and teens. Inspired by her own son’s inability to attend a traditional summer camp due to his severe food allergies, Louise Tippens founded Camp Blue Spruce and found that interest in the camp quickly spread; the camp now hosts children from all across the country.

Camp Blue Spruce campers ham it up.

Camp Blue Spruce campers ham it up on a gorgeous day.

Camp Blue Spruce is unique among allergy-friendly summer camps, as it provides all meals and snacks to campers, all of which are free from the top 9 allergens. Ensuring no food is brought from home provides a degree of safety and to parents a sigh of relief. One Blue Spruce camp parent says, “I know it will be a life changing experience for my son.   A week to be just like everyone else.  To fit in.  To realize it’s ok to touch things and eat in the cafeteria and not watch and smell for peanut butter.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart … that this is even an option for our son and others.”  

A tasty allergen-free pizza is served up at Camp Blue Spruce!

A tasty allergen-free pizza is served up at Camp Blue Spruce!

Most importantly, Camp Blue Spruce has cultivated a special community among campers who have food allergies, where they can be themselves. Along with their friends and siblings, campers can learn about their own allergies and how to best navigate their lives outside of camp. In Louise’s words, “at camp they don’t have to worry or explain themselves, these kids can just be themselves. That is the real gift!”

Originally founded by Eleanor Garrow-Holding in New Jersey, Camp TAG is a camp for children with food allergies and other eosinophilic disorders. Originally named after the founder’s children and their shared experiences with food allergies, Camp TAG now signifies “The Allergy Gang” and offers a week of day camp with a slightly different style. With two locations, one in California and the other in New Jersey, the camp plans to expand to at least two more spots by next year. At Camp TAG, campers are allowed to bring in their own food and snacks, in addition to the food that is served at camp. But strict rules apply and each camper must abide by careful guidelines to not put other campers at risk. This system has worked well for the camp, and families are truly passionate about their child’s experiences, “…it was AMAZING!!!! It was the most inspiring, empowering experience we’ve ever been able to provide [our daughter] with. It was the first … program we have ever sent [our daughter] to that we didn’t have to even worry about the food situation, and for [her] younger brother, it was a good opportunity to teach food allergy awareness and safety.”

Camp TAG campers are all smiles after an educational session

Camp TAG campers are all smiles after an educational session!

Camp TAG Founder Eleanor Garrow describes the importance of the first week of camp, “It’s a bonding week for the entire family. Each year is like a family reunion.” Camp TAG really focuses on developing fun, educational sessions about “managing food allergies, recognizing signs and symptoms, dining out and ordering, and more.” And for some parent’s Camp TAG is lifechanging.  “Thank you to Eleanor Garrow-Holding and all the volunteers at Camp TAG for making my son’s dream of going to camp come true!!”

The Camp TAG community.

The Camp TAG community.

Both Camp Blue Spruce and Camp TAG strive to empower campers and their families, equipping them with tools to understand their own allergies, advocate for themselves, and educate others. Families and campers rave about their experiences, and we hope that contributions of our Free to Eat cookies will be enjoyed by campers for many years to come!

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