Updated for 2017! 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 list. If there are any we’ve missed, simply leave a comment below!
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. As a consequence, they suit dairy-free, egg-free, meat-free, and often even kosher needs. These camps tend to emphasize wholesome kid-friendly cuisine, social responsibility, and many even grow some o their 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 camps and celiac-friendly options are listed first, followed by the vegan-friendly camps. And be sure to register soon! Many of these camps have already opened their registration for summer, and 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” sleep away 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’s a 5-day, sleep away 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. And they even go beyond the top eight allergens, avoiding dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, gluten, soy, and sesame.
Their cooks prepare most of the food from scratch, using fresh ingredients. All of 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 is on hand for 24 hours a day throughout the camp session. All this, and the kids get to enjoy a beautiful Oregon camp setting, too!
Location: Lebanon, OH; Big Bear City, CA; Williamstown, NJ; Mount Washington, MA
Camp TAG is back! These 5-day food allergy camps for kids ages 4-12 are now run by FAACT, but their mission holds true. They were created as a safe place specifically for children with food allergies, eosinophilic disorders, asthma, and non-allergic siblings. Teens, ages 13+, can serve as volunteer counselors and receive about 35-40 community service hours for the week.They describe it as a “bonding and empowering” 5-day camp for kids and their parents with “95% fun and 5% educational” activities. For safety, each camp has full-time nurses on staff, and the curriculum was designed and reviewed by FAACT’s Medical Advisory Board. For 2017, Camp TAG has 4 locations across the U.S, but they may add more.
Location: Cape Cod, MA
This is a is a co-ed, overnight camp with long sessions that range from 2 to 7 weeks for kids ages 7-15. And they actually contacted us to share their allergy-friendly policies:
We are a peanut, tree nut and sesame-free camp located on Cape Cod, MA. We easily accommodate other food allergies as well including, dairy, egg, soy and wheat.
Location: Lakeville, CT
Viewer Mary emailed this recommendation:
This post for food allergy camps prompted me to finally bite the bullet and contact the summer camp director at the YMCA camp where my older two non allergic children are going this summer. It is a sleep away camp (with day camp as well) in the Berkshires in Lakeville, CT and also happens to be the place where I met my husband. It is an incredibly special, positive place and I have been so afraid to find out whether my youngest could ever go.
I heard back from the camp director tonight with a wonderful response letting me know that the camp has been entirely nut free since 2009 (!!!!!). And they do not allow any products with nuts or risk of cross contamination into camp!!! I’m so happy that my kiddo will have this option but also wanted to share in case anyone is looking for a nut safe camp that happens to be about the most special place on earth.
The handbook at Camp Sloane also states:
We can accommodate most food allergies, and encourage parents to contact camp if their camper has special dietary needs.
The Center for Courageous Kids
Location: Scottsville, KY
The Center for Courageous Kids® is designed specifically for children living with medical challenges who cannot attend a traditional camp. As a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, they are dedicated to uplifting children living with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. Their 168-acre campus includes a Medical Center and helipad, Equestrian Center, Bowling Alley, Indoor Swimming Complex, Gymnasium with Climbing Wall, Lodges, Dining Hall and Theater, and more.
They used to offer a weekend sleep away retreat for severe food allergies and a camp for Celiac disease, but we didn’t note these on their schedule for this year. However, they have special weekends for kids and their families (parents attend too!) with autism and various other conditions. Plus, 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. They also accommodate the health and safety of other food allergies and special diets when given notice.
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
This information was sent to us 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 full time to ensure the health and safety of all of our campers and staff. NJY has several camps that offer a variety of options for attendance from one week to full summer. There are also family weekends in which the whole family can come and enjoy playing outside!!
Location: Rye, NY
My friend Cheryl sent us this recommendation:
I had an amazing experience with a chef who totally ‘got it’ for my son, at Challenge Camp in Westchester County. If you want to be filled with hope that chefs like that exist, I recently shared it on freedible. The camp supported the chef (who has worked at the camp for years) in her amazing approach. And when I say supported, I mean that she was authorized to order top-8 free blueberry pops for the WHOLE camp because it was the only option that worked for both my son AND several campers with celiac disease. Frankly, that’s impressive!
According to the camp’s website:
If your child has a food allergy(s) or concerns please let us know and Chef Carrie will ensure that a meal consistent with your child’s dietary restrictions is available. Challenge Camp is a Nut Free camp, and can accommodate most dietary requirements. Our caterer will work directly with concerned parents to ensure we can meet your camper’s needs.
Camp Celiac – Rhode Island
Location: N. Scituate, RI
As the name implies, this is a sleep away camp catering specifically to kids with Celiac disease. Therefore their entire menu is gluten-free, and they can accommodate lactose-free needs. 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 gluten-free meals a day while offering traditional camp activities. Their activities include things like a 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. Since the GF/CF diet is fairly common among gluten-free kids, they can most likely accommodate dairy-free campers. But check with their staff to confirm.
Children’s Medical Center Food Allergy
Location: Gainesville, TX
The Children’s Medical Center for Food Allergy hosts Camp Sweeney for campers ages 7-15. They’re encouraged to 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: Rocky Mountain, MO
This is a kosher camp that offers activities like sailing, water-skiing, wake boarding, ropes courses and videography alongside education on Jewish traditions. And in terms of food, they are quite accommodating:
We serve our campers three well-balanced meals (and snacks!) each day with plenty of options to accommodate all of our campers’ tastes and dietary needs. All food is prepared on site. Even our bread is baked in our kitchen daily.
Camp Sabra is Kosher under the guidance of Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis, and peanut, tree nut and sesame seed free. For other allergies, please contact the Camp Sabra staff. If your child has special dietary needs, our Camp Director will gladly work with you to ensure that they are met. If possible, we will accommodate any allergy request we can.
Location: Encino, CA
Otherwise known as “Vegan Camp,” these day and overnight camps offer experiences 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 happy campers from all over the world. I found the following information on their 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.
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. Fortunately, that does mean that dairy-free and egg-free campers can usually 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 focuses on local and organic food, and the menus are vegetarian. They have an abundance of vegan offerings (dairy-free and egg-free), and also have gluten-free options for every meal. Their kitchens are “nut aware”, meaning they do not serve any peanuts or tree nuts, but contact them to discuss potential cross-contamination issues.
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 mostly vegetarian (meat options are available on request, with several dairy-free and vegan choices. 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 accommodate 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.
Food Allergy Camps We Hope Come Back
Camp Ye bik’ehgo (Tempe, AZ) – In 2016, they were enjoying their 5th annual camp, but we’ve yet to see an update or website for 2017. 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.
AFAA Camp (Mound, MN) – Unfortunately, in 2016, the AFAA Camp was cancelled, and we aren’t sure if it will be returning. This 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. It also normalizes food allergies among a group of peers.