With summer upon us, you might have camp on your mind. And if your child (or a child you care about) is gluten free, you might be concerned about your child’s meals. Luckily, today camps take special care and consideration when it comes to accommodating children’s needs, including food. Communication is key. Not only are parents their children’s advocates—parents need to teach their children how to be their own self-advocates. Here are some tips to help you protect your gluten-free child this summer. Many of these tips are also applicable to school, travel, parties and other social gatherings.
Schedule a meeting
Schedule an in-person meeting (if possible) with the supervising staff (before each session starts) to discuss your child’s dietary needs. Be clear about what your child can and can’t tolerate, as well as the short-term and long-term consequences of consuming those foods. Bring information to educate the staff. A note from your child’s doctor may be helpful as well. Let the staff know you take your child’s needs very seriously.
Connect with the cook
The cook is the most important person to communicate with. As the direct source of your child’s food, you’ll want to ask questions about ingredients they use, how cross contamination is dealt with, and how well versed they are about your child’s diet. More often than not, the cook will be pleased to address your concerns and learn from you. Many camps offer allergy-friendly foods.
Touch base with the bus driver
One of my son’s bus drivers gave out candy at the end of the day. You just never know.
Get a medical alert bracelet
Children with medical conditions and / or dietary restrictions can wear a medical alert bracelet. Have your child’s dietary restrictions clearly engraved on the bracelet (e.g., celiac, gluten intolerant). Inform your child’s counsellors and supervisory staff about the bracelet.
Request a letter
A letter can be sent to the families of all campers at the beginning of each new camp session, informing them about your child’s dietary needs. This is especially important for children who have anaphylaxis.
Use a restaurant card
Laminate and attach a restaurant card to your child’s lunchbox zipper and backpack zipper. Consider posting it in the kitchen or dining room if your child is at overnight camp. Restaurant cards summarize what your child can and can’t eat. They provide basic information about your child’s dietary needs and function as a reminder to others. You can create your own or get one from the Canadian Celiac Association.
Make the news
Contribute a blurb to the camp newsletter (online and in print) about your child’s special dietary needs and any related conditions, like celiac disease.
Discourage your child from sharing snacks
Speak with your child about what can go wrong when sharing snacks with others. If there is a vending machine or tuck shop in the camp building, discuss which specific snacks could make your child sick.
About the Author: Living with celiac disease, Lisa Cantkier is a writer and educator focused on nutrition and health.