Adventures at Summer Camp, Chapter 1

Originally posted 6/10/17


It's been a while, I know. It's been a crazy couple of weeks. I arrived for training for my summer job as Special Diets Intern on Memorial Day. I say "training", but really, I was thrown straight into the kitchen and we just dove right in.

My job is to prepare the "special diets"-- meals for the campers and staff who are gluten-free, lactose intolerant, diabetic, etc. I also need to be aware of the ingredients in all of the different dishes we serve, and know which ones I'll need to prepare alternatives for. At meal times, they come to my serving window and I serve them--with a smile (:

I've got a wide-range of special diets to make, and I've been doing my best to make just one alternative meal that everyone can eat. I've been preparing gluten free, dairy free, soy free meals consistently, with a couple of random allergies (bell peppers, cinnamon, mangoes, to name a few) that I have to keep an eye on. It's been an exercise in creativity to think of things to serve them that fit with the "theme" of the regular meal while still fulfilling all of their dietary needs.

The special diets change week to week, as the campers do. I'm a part of the camp "check-in" process, so when the parents and caregivers are bringing their campers, they come to my table and I write down any special diets they have and get specifics, so I know what I need to watch out for when I prepare meals. Since True Friends is an organization that primarily serves campers with physical and intellectual disabilities, I also sometimes have to prepare pureed meals for campers who cannot have solid foods.

I have to admit, my first week or so here, I was pretty miserable. This job was not what I was expecting it to be. I have a lot more independence and a lot less supervision than I was anticipating, and very little commercial kitchen or special diet preparation experience. It was a lot of stress and long hours, and it can be a lonely job--I'm the only intern at my camp location, and I don't have as much interaction with other staff and campers as the counselors do.

But a few days ago, I finally felt like something "clicked" with this job--I finally feel like this is where I'm supposed to be for the summer. I've gotten to know the staff at my camp, I'm getting into a routine and rhythm with my work, and I feel so much more joyful. I think that my "aha" moment was probably when one of the campers last week stopped by my window to chat with me right before lunch one day. He told me "I wish I had a special diet. Your food always looks so good, and you're so friendly". My heart melted, of course, and I thanked him and offered him a gluten-free, soy-free, vegan cranberry coconut cookie.