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Coping with Food Allergies during the festive season

Date: Sunday, 20 December 2015. -  
Food at camp

The holidays are about togetherness, making everyone feel special and loved. So often, if you are a child or adult with food allergies or dietary restrictions, you feel rejected and excluded.

I read story after story of the parents who made special cupcakes for school parties and who stayed up to prepare snacks that their child could bring to share. They cry with joy when a relative or friend remembers their child’s food allergy and makes safe food. I wonder why this is still such a rarity and not the norm.

If we care about someone and want them to be welcome in our home, then we need to understand their needs and make them feel comfortable and safe. It’s not hard. You start by asking;

“Does anyone have any food allergies; restrictions or foods I should have?”
“What do I need to know so you can be part of everything?”

If you aren’t knowledgeable about their food allergy, ask them to explain it to you and to help you prepare for their visit. Then do everything in your power to make it right.

  • Clean out your home of all potential allergens.
  • Check the soaps in your guest room (they can contain allergens).
  • Have the person with allergies or parent check things with you if they live nearby or give you a list of what to look for.
  • Ask questions. Ask more questions.
  • Remember that genuine restrictions are different than preferences. For many, these are life-threatening conditions.
  • Save the labels for everything you use. The only safe way to know about a food is to read the ingredients. Many allergens are hidden as something else.
  • Use disposable pans when cooking.
  • Refrain from using the toaster which can harbour food dust.
  • Prepare a menu that EVERYONE can eat. That would be the ultimate way to make your guest with food allergies see how important they are to you.
  • Tell the other guests that you are “peanut free” or serving GF menu and ask that they be respectful as well and not bring anything in that is unsafe.

Instead of children’s parties and family gatherings being stressful events, they will be fully inclusive. And isn’t that what you and everyone wants?

Sue Lein is director at Camp Emerson and has been supporting kids with Food Allergies (FA) for over 20 years and understands the struggles and the feeling of being left out. She herself is allergic to eggs. Sue has seen how many kids (and adults) with food allergies won’t eat anything at a party out of fear. Hands in their pockets, they pretend that they’re not hungry and that it’s all okay. Rebecca Kim, a camp parent, says “We feel so isolated. We don’t want to impose on our hosts or to be overbearing. Even when people are open-minded they make assumptions about what is safe or not without real education. There’s a lot to understand.” It hinders relationships for my children and us as a family.”

Everyone is focused on making accommodations and while this is good, it could be even better.

At Camp Emerson we have been moving towards making our menu as inclusive as possible. Our camp is peanut, treenut, sesame and shellfish free. Last summer Sue, the dietetic staff and chefs spent 5 hours discussing and researching ice cream that would be safe for all. In the past we served several different ice creams on “make your own sundae nights”. One the campers with no allergies. Another that was safe for the peanut and treenut allergy children. And several others that were dairy free, soy free, dye free and so on. My goal this summer is to have one frozen treat that will work for everyone (or as close as I can come). This is what true inclusion is about. Starting with the children with food allergies and serving the same food to everyone.

In 2013 Camp Emerson announced the expansion of their food allergy program to include a team of full-time specially-trained dietitians, a separate kitchen area to prevent cross-contamination during food preparation, service, and storage, dedicated full-time allergy certified chefs, and gluten-free food preparation, storage, and cooking areas. The food service team is supported by a 24/7 medical staff who are experts in food allergy protocols. (We had many of these pieces in place before 2013. Does it matter?)

Camp Emerson has long been considered the food allergy specialist among summer camps. Families have told Sue that their child couldn’t go to camp because he/she had food allergies. This expansion of their already extensive program took place to meet the growing needs of school-age children with food allergies.

Camp Emerson is proud to be at the forefront in empowering and supporting children with food allergies to live independently and safely while experiencing all of the joys of the summer camp experience.

There are currently still some places left on either the 2, 4 or 6 week session for this summer. For booking and more information click here

Or for more information, please contact me, Sue here



Emersonians have come from 39 different countries