Updated for 2015! Sending a child to camp for the first time can be a scary proposition for any parent, let alone the parent of a little one (or teen!) with special needs. Fortunately, there are now enough food allergy camps, gluten-free camps, and even vegan camps to warrant this pretty lengthy listing (which we update annually!).
Children with food allergies, intolerances, or diet-related conditions like Celiac disease require special care in the camp kitchens, dining halls, and anywhere food is involved. Several of the camps listed below have emerged with programs specifically designed to create a safe environment for free-from tots.
In addition to Celiac aware and food allergy camps, there are now many camps that also offer, or focus on, vegan food (dairy-free, egg-free, meat-free). These camps tend to emphasize wholesome kid-friendly cuisine, social responsibility, and many even grow quite a bit of the food on site.
See the listings below for more information on the various summer camp programs that cater to kids with special diet needs (the food allergy / celiac friendly ones are listed first, followed by the camps offering vegan options), and be sure to register soon! Many camps have already opened their registration for the coming summer, and some camp rosters can fill up quickly …
Location: Berkshire Mountains, MA
Wow, I wish camp looked like this when I was a kid (see photo above). For the full blown summer experience, Camp Emerson looks like the place.
Though it is a somewhat “traditional” sleepaway camp (if by traditional you mean tennis, waterskiing, and martial arts classes are par for the course), Camp Emerson is described as “The Food Allergy Specialist”. They support dairy, nut, wheat, soy, egg and fish allergies, and gluten free foods are always available. They even have a full time Registered Dietitian who works with each food allergy family to prepare their child’s own menu for camp. You can see their very detailed Food Allergy Brochure for more details.
Camp Blue Spruce
Location: Banks, OR
Camp Blue Spruce is a “worry-free camp for kids with food allergies” – according to their website and information provided. It is a 5-day, sleepaway camp for kids ages 10-14 that promises all of the traditional camping activities, such as hiking, campfires, swimming, field games, and arts & crafts. But unlike “ordinary” camps, Blue Spruce only cooks up meals and snacks that are free of the top allergenic foods, including: dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, gluten and sesame.
Their cooks prepare most of the food from scratch, using fresh ingredients. All the manufactured products at Camp Blue Spruce are carefully vetted and will mostly come from allergen-aware companies. Plus, a professional team of medical staff will be on hand – 24 hours a day throughout the camp session. All this, and a beautiful Oregon camp setting, too!
Location: Big Bear City, CA and Williamstown, NJ
It’s back! Camp Tag, now run by FAACT, was created as a safe place specifically for children with food allergies and eosinophilic disorders and their siblings. They describe it as a “bonding and empowering” week-long day camp for kids and their parents with “95% fun and 5% educational” activities. Kids are divided into two activity groups (ages 4-8 and ages 9-12), there are two full-time nurses on staff, and the curriculum was designed and reviewed by FAACT’s Medical Advisory Board.
Camp Ye bik’ehgo
Location: Tempe, AZ
Ye bik’ehgo (pronounced yeh-bee-kheeh-goo) is the Native American Apache word for RESPONSIBLE. This is a 3-day half-day summer day camp for kids with food allergies, and their friends & siblings. They mix typical day camp activities with lessons emphasizing things like self confidence and how to deal with bullies. The camp has on-site medical professional to handle medication and food allergy action plans, no more than 1:6 adult:child ratio, adult and child training regarding signs of allergic reaction and anaphylaxis, and more.
The Center for Courageous Kids
Location: Scottsville, KY
The Center for Courageous Kids® is designed specifically for the child living with medical challenges who could not attend a traditional camp. A 501(c)(3) not for profit organization, we are dedicated to uplifting children living with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. Our campus includes our Medical Center and helipad, Equestrian Center, Bowling Alley, Indoor Swimming Complex, Gymnasium and Climbing Wall, Lodges, Dining Hall and Theater….and so much MORE. But it’s the amazing children and their wonderful families who fill these 168 acres with the sounds of laughter, singing and silliness.
They used to offer a weekend sleepaway retreat for severe food allergies, but we didn’t note that on their schedule for this year. However, they have special weekends for kids (and their families – yes parents attend too!) with autism, Celiac disease, and various other conditions, and their application form for all camps includes providing information about food allergies.
The YWCA / AAIA Outdoor Education Center
Location: Edmonton, AB
In partnership with Alberta Allergy Information Association, the YWCA center used to host one sleepaway camp a year for children with severe food allergies. Unfortunately, that specific camp was discontinued, but for all of their camps they still reportedly run a nut aware facility. Their kitchen does not use any products that have nuts and “we avoid food suppliers who list that their products may contain any nuts.” As a result, they have many children who are anaphylactic to nuts attend their summer camp and have a great experience.
Location: Eagle River, WI
This is a Jewish sleepaway camp, and according to an article I read on camps for food allergies, they are nut-free. This isn’t stated directly on their website, so I would contact them directly to clarify. They are probably able to accomodate other food allergy issues, particularly milk, since some camp attendees may keep strictly kosher. Again, contact them directly to find out.
Location: Milford, PA
Directly from the camp: “Located in the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, NJY Camps are able to work with almost every food allergy and food allergy combination. With a dedicated GIG (Gluten Intolerance Group) certified kosher kitchen, NJY Camps offers children the opportunity to go to camp with their non-allergic friends. Meals are matched to the main kitchen menu and campers eat at their bunk tables with their friends. The kitchen is supervised by a celiac mom and every staff member, whether food service staff, bunk staff or head staff, is trained in working with campers with food intolerances. There is a full medical staff including eight nurses and three doctors on staff fulltime to ensure the health and safety of all of our campers and staff. NJY has four camps that offer a variety of options for attendance from one week to full summer (see their website for dates). They also offer family weekends in which the whole family can come and enjoy playing outside!!”
Camp Celiac – Rhode Island
Location: N. Scituate, RI
As the name implies, this is a sleepaway camp catering specifically to kids wit Celiac disease. Therefore their entire menu is gluten-free, and they can accomodate lactose-free needs (as many with Celiac are lactose intolerant). However, the camp no longer caters to other food allergies (including milk allergies) or sensitivities. It seems that was a bit too overwhelming for them. But if gluten- and lactose-free are your child’s needs, then they can handle it.
Camp Celiac – California
Location: Livermore, CA
Camp Celiac serves up three meals a day of gluten-free food while offering traditional camp activities (ropes course, rock climbing, ziplining, boating, swimming, archery, arts and crafts, skit night, and outdoor sports). As for other dietary needs, “There are dairy-free and nut-free alternatives at every meal and ingredient lists are posted for all menu items; campers sensitive to other foods need to review the lists for their additional dietary restrictions. Nuts and nut flours are used at Camp; we do not operate a nut-free facility.”
GIG Kid’s Camps – East and West
Website: www.campkanata.org (East) and www.campfireseattle.org (West)
Locations: Wake Forest, NC – Vashon Island, WA
Once a year, the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) descends on Camp Kanata in Wake Forest to professionally support children with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. And Camp Sealth on Vashon Island has two full sessions supported by GIG for gluten intolerant kids. For these camps, GIG dietitians work with volunteers to prepare meals in a separate kitchen to assure kids get nutritious gluten-free meals and snacks. We have been told that the GIG kitchen staff can accommodate most other food sensitivities with the gluten-free diet, and assume that dairy-free would be easily accomodated since so many children require a GF/CF diet.
Children’s Medical Center Food Allergy
Location: Gainesville, TX
At Camp Sweeney by the Children’s Medical Center for Food Allergy, campers, ages 7 to 15, have fun, increase their confidence, affirm their virtues and build lifelong friendships. At this camp, having a food allergy is just another part of life. The registered dietitian from the Children’s Food Allergy Center creates menus individually tailored to each camper’s need. The top eight allergens– milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish — are avoided completely at camp. Tasty and safe meals are prepared for the kids along with two snacks daily.
Location: Mound, MN
AFAA Camp provides a traditional camp experience, both overnight and day options, for children, who – because of their food allergies – might otherwise be unable to safely participate in a mainstream camp program.
AFAA Camp provides a safe camp experience for children with food allergies; food allergy & anaphylaxis education for children, their siblings and their parents; and leadership training for food allergic teenagers and young adults. The camp is unique in that it promotes improved self-care, self-image and independence for children with food allergies; and normalizes food allergies among a group of peers.
In addition, AFAA Camp reduces anxiety in parents; provides respite from social & medical stressors commonly involved in participating in group functions while managing life-threatening food allergies; and provides an opportunity for parents to network with each other to gain mutual emotional and social support. Campers interact with nature and gain appreciation of the environment in an experience that reduces the worry of food anaphylaxis.
Location: Encino, CA
Otherwise known as “Vegan Camp,” this experience for kids is 100% dairy-free, egg-free, and “animal cruelty-free.” Non-vegan kids are of course welcome to attend, and the camp draws campers from all over the world. I found the following information on the food, “The meals at Camp Exploration are often planned around a theme: garlic bread and spaghetti on Italian night, tacos piled high with vegan cheese and guacamole at the taco buffet, and even a roll-your-own-sushi dinner. Kids also enjoy campfire classics as well, including vegan franks and beans, chili, and s’mores made with amaranth crackers, organic chocolate, and vegan marshmallows.” Camp Exploration offers several day and overnight camps.
Locations: Molalla, OR – Ben Lomand, CA – High Falls, NY
Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp is for kids and teens ages 12-17. From their website, “YEA Camp focuses on helping campers develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence required to take inspired action on the issues that matter most to them. Our program inspires and develops youth leadership. In addition to the educational and cultural enrichment this process provides, campers will work with a supportive community of their peers, and will be mentored by nurturing and experienced counselors, with whom long-term friendships can be developed.”
YEA camp has an all-vegan food policy (even though most of the attendees are not vegan), so dairy-free and egg-free campers can fully enjoy the cuisine. Sample food includes French toast, pancakes, and vegan sausage for breakfast, and veggie-loaded stir fries and pizza parties for dinners.
Camp Common Ground
Location: Starksboro, VT
This unique camp is for kids of ALL ages! Yes, it is a family camp that welcomes wee little ones, teens, and adults. Expect a plethora of camp-style events in addition to some unique and relaxing activities, and of course, good food. The camp food focuses on local and organic, and the menus are all vegetarian. They have an abundance of vegan offerings (dairy-free, egg-free, etc.), and also have a special gluten-free camp.
Location: Richland Center, WI
This is a Quaker-based camp for youth of all ages that includes an emphasis on community service, cooperative decisions, and fun. This family run camp is vegetarian with several vegan / dairy-free / egg-free foods (meat options are by request). Many of the meals use produce from the camp garden and are made from scratch. They also reportedly cater to special diet requests, including food allergies.
Picking Other Celiac or Food Allergy Camps Near You
If the locations above aren’t accessible to your family this year, consider your options locally. Many summer camps, whether day or overnight, can accomodate food allergies, intolerances, and special diets. For helpful tips on how to safeguard your child while allowing them to enjoy the interactions of summer camp see the following articles: Preparing to Send Your Allergic Child to Camp and The Allergy-Friendly Camp Packing List.
Have another camp to share? Contact us.