Dealing With Dietary Needs At Camp
Eight Tips to Keep Your Kids Safe
If you have little ones, with summer around the corner and school being nearly out for the year, it’s time to start planning how to keep those energetic kids busy. You might be putting final touches on plans for family vacations, day tripping, play dates and summer camp.
If you are the parent or caregiver of a child with special dietary needs (which, if you do have children is more likely than not), feelings around these kinds of plans can seem far from exciting and closer to worrisome—particularly if your child is going to overnight camp. But don’t fret. There are some things you can do that will ease your mind while your child is away from home this summer, even if it’s at day camp or a play date.
When I was a child, special dietary needs were not accommodated at camps. My parents had the unfortunate experience of having to jump through hoops to be heard. This is not surprising, since back then as a celiac I was a rare bird—statistically one in four thousand. The times have (thankfully) changed. Today many summer camps take special care and consideration when it comes to accommodating the needs of our children. There are also more and more camps that completely cater to various dietary needs.
You are your child’s advocate, so keep that in mind when dealing with the people your child will spend their summer days with. Don’t be afraid to voice your questions and concerns. You have that right! Here are a few things to consider that will help you prepare for a summer camp experience that can be an exciting and enjoyable time for both your child and yourself.
1. Get a medical alert bracelet for your child. Children with medical conditions and/or special dietary restrictions can wear a medical alert bracelet at school and all year round, including and especially in the summer months when daily routines and care providers change. Have your child’s medical condition and/or dietary restrictions clearly engraved on the bracelet (e.g., celiac, gluten intolerant). Inform your child’s counselors and supervisory staff about the bracelet.
2. Request a letter. A letter can be sent to the families of all campers at the beginning of each new session, letting them know about your child’s dietary needs. This is especially important for children who have anaphylaxis.
3. Connect with the camp cook. Just like when you are dining out at a restaurant or someone else’s home, the cook/chef is the most important person you want to communicate with. As the direct source for your child’s food, you will want to ask him/her all the appropriate questions—about ingredients they use, how cross contamination is dealt with, and how well versed they are with respect to your child’s diet. More often than not, the cook/chef will be pleased to address your concerns and even learn from you. Many camps offer allergen-friendly food and products. For example, Allergic Solution (a Canadian based, allergen-friendly food manufacturer) provides camps and other establishments with baked goods free of all the top food allergens.
4. Use a restaurant card. Laminate and attach a restaurant card to your child’s lunchbox zipper and/or backpack zipper. Consider posting it in the kitchen and/or dining room if your child is at overnight camp. Restaurant cards summarize what your child can and cannot 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.
5. 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. If your child carries an EpiPen®, make mention of it.
6. Practice story time. Encourage your child to share his/her story with their peers and others at camp. Teach your child to be proud of who they are.
7. Communicate with your child’s bus driver. I recently found out that my son’s school bus driver has been giving out candy at the end of the day. You just never know.
8. Discourage your child from sharing snacks. Talk to your child regularly about the potential problems of sharing snacks with others. If there is a vending machine or tuck shop in the building of your child’s camp, discuss which specific snacks could make him/her sick.
9. Remember to remind on a regular basis! Remind your child, camp staff, the bus driver, etc. about your child’s needs. After all, camps have no problem reminding us to pay their bill!