Guide To Summer Camps Without Food Coloring

Happy Independence Day, America!  Is it hot enough for ya?!  I’m glad this freak heat wave supposedly ends today, ’cause England’s lookin’ real good right about now…

As parents cool off with cocktails and try not to think about the utility bills, children head off to exercise some independence of their own at summer camps…  

Summer camps are a 150-year old tradition in America.  Every year, more than 10 million children attend a camp.  Which means that at least 10 million parents worry whether their kid will come back enriched, unconvinced, or injured.  

As the social director and all around dietitian for a dye-allergic child, I end up planning everything…but I have to stress over more than snake bites…and the phrase “lake accident” takes on a whole new meaning (as in, the “lake” classification of food dyes).  The thought of others managing my dye-sensitive kid’s food causes me concern.  So I’ve gathered a few tips to help dye-free parents send off their camper with confidence.

Communicate Your Dye-free Plan

Meet all the camp directors and counselors who will be responsible for your child, in person.

Call this an allergy.

Give each adult who’s responsible for your kid a copy of your allergy action plan, with a photo of your child attached to it.

Give camp counselors instructions for using the remedies you provide such as an Epi-Pen, dye-free Benadryl, or the half teaspoon baking soda remedy (mix half a teaspoon into honey, water, applesauce, or juice). Provide your pediatrician’s phone number.  Specify in your plan:  NO food except from parent, NO food incentives (candy), and NO skin contact (face paint, hand stamps, temporary tattoos, lotions, ointments, hand sanitizer) unless parent provides it.

Contact the mess hall or kitchen manager long before camp starts to get a copy of their menu.  

Ask kitchen staff for a space in their refrigerator to store your kid’s fresh foods, and some space in their freezer for easy frozen meals.

Ask for a space in their pantry storage for dry goods like cereal, crackers, cookies, etc.

Pack Your Dye-Free Camper’s Food

If you cannot verify the ingredients in all camp foods, it may be easier to just pack all of your kid’s foods.  Ask your child for input into the shopping process. Let them choose whether or not they want to try to replicate the camp menu each day, or just do their own thing food-wise.

Place fresh and frozen meals into a cooler along with several frozen bottled waters.  If your child eats dairy, try annatto-free cheeses and yogurts (freeze water bottles and yogurts to use as an ice alternative during initial transport).  Hard freeze stuff that will be used the second day or later.  

Put small portions of freezer meals in matching reheatable containers, and label each with your child’s name and planned date of use (some painter’s or masking tape may serve as a decent temporary label).

Place a conspicuous note on top of cold foods inside the cooler, sealed in a waterproof ziploc bag, with your name and number in it.

Keep a box of dry foods like cereal, crackers, fruit leathers, granola bars, etc. for your child in the camp pantry.  Check trail mix for dyed candies, or make your own mix.  Pack your child’s favorite condiments, salad dressings, dips, s’mores ingredients, and drink packets (try these dye-free versions of what my scout leader father called “bug juice”: Hanson’s, Flavrz, TrueLemon, Emergen-C Kids, or Trader Joe’s).  Some parents even include bread from home, jelly/jam, and syrup. 

Search Pinterest recipes to throw in some delicious surprises for your camper, too.

Equip Your Dye-Free Camper

Food isn’t the only concern for a dye-sensitive kid.  We have to watch out for petroleum-based personal care products a well.  This means you may want to pack your kid’s bug repellant, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, soaps, deodorant, and shampoo, etc.  Try a recipe for homemade sunscreen without additives.  Or make your own natural bug repellant.  Older kids can help and you can lay some science on them at the same time!

Consider getting a medical alert bracelet from Medic Alert, Allerbling, Lauren’s Hope, or RoadID.  Allergy alert labels can be ordered online.  This can help others take your child’s dye intolerance more seriously, and provides your emergency contact information.

Let a shirt speak for your child when no one else can!  I’m thrilled to provide my first food dye allergy AWARENESS T-SHIRT, designed to let the adults in your child’s life know that food coloring is off limits.  These are great for visits to grandparents’ houses too.  Get yours for 20% off during the one week pre-sale from today through July 10th.  And keep an eye out for a giveaway!

Equip her mentally, too –

Tell your child to never trade or accept foods and drinks from a friend.

Role play with your child to practice how they’ll read labels, how they can identify a reaction, how they’ll deal with reactions, and how they’ll deal with friends offering them food.

Teach your child to notify an adult immediately if they think they’ve eaten something with dye in it, or if they’re feeling symptoms. Urge them to never go off anywhere alone.

For more detailed information, see the Guide For Managing Allergies At Camp, published by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.

And after you’ve talked up this sweaty tradition to your kids and gotten them off to a character-building good start, set down your (all-natural) margarita and take one of those quiet moments to declare your own independence from food coloring manufacturers.  Send tweets to your favorite companies asking when they’ll #DitchTheDyes.

I’ll leave you with a festive little reward for all of your hard work and planning…Many versions of the patriotic popsicle have made their way around the web lately.  I like this popsicle recipe from Natural Girl Diary because it’s all natural and dye-free.



2 Responses to “Guide To Summer Camps Without Food Coloring”
  1. We have been dye free for 3 years! My eldest son would get asthma and eczema from food dye! He has a true allergy and it is soooo hard to explain to people. He is ok with his own food but no tattoos and sometimes different art projects are tough for a 5 year old. Thanks for all the info! I love the sunscreen and bug repelent projects! We will be doing those! I had a different one I was about to post too….but LOVE it!

    • Indie Mama says:

      True allergy for many kids – YES! And you’re right, it is hard to explain to people, and you can just see their eyes glaze over sometimes…I love it when I meet a kindred spirit who is at least open to learning more about the affects of dyes.

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