Gluten-free fun in the great outdoors
With summer around the corner, parents’ thoughts turn to summer camp. Families with food allergies and celiac disease should start their research and selection process early and plan ahead to make sure camp is both a fun and a safe experience for their child.
“Finding the right camp for your child with allergies can seem daunting, depending on the seriousness of symptoms,” says allergist Bryan Martin, DO, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “The good news is that more camps understand what’s involved with keeping a child with allergies safe and they’re making sure they have the right protections in place.”
Start researching appropriate camps online, keeping in mind that a local day camp might be the best option.
“It’s important to be specific about your child’s needs and to search for a camp that’s a good fit,” Martin says.
How to Choose
Once you’ve identified a camp that looks like it fits your child’s needs, get in touch with the camp director or the camp’s medical contact for important specifics. Be clear about your child’s condition. It may take several email messages and phone calls to get all the information you need to make your decision. Start with questions like these:
-Does the camp have a food-allergy policy? What’s been done in the past to accommodate children with dietary needs?
-Who handles health care on site? What are their credentials? Is the position staffed 24 hours a day?
-Are staff members thoroughly trained to handle medical emergencies, such as severe allergic reactions? What’s the rate of staff turn-over? Who can administer epinephrine? Where are medicines kept?
-How does the camp communicate special dietary needs to its staff and kitchen? How are children’s dietary needs met, monitored and kept confidential?
-What precautions are taken in the kitchen to ensure safety and avoid cross contamination?
-Can your child bring food from home? Where and how is it stored?
-How far is the camp from a medical treatment facility? Are local ambulances equipped with epinephrine?
-Do campers leave the campsite? If so, what precautions are taken on outings?
To minimize risk and maximize fun, parents and campers should expect to work closely with the camp director and staff.
How to Prepare
After you’ve selected the best camp for your child, it’s time to pull together an information packet. Include an up-to-date photo of your child, an emergency medical plan, any related medical documentation and a list of prescribed medications. The medical plan should cover symptoms that may occur due to accidental exposure, as well as treatment. It should also contain a description of your child’s medical condition and dietary needs, including information about food allergens or the gluten-free diet. Make sure all medical forms are signed, that medication dosages are appropriate for current height and weight, and that medication expiration dates aren’t a problem.
Then prepare your child in an age-appropriate way. Inform her that at camp, just like in day-to-day life, she should never trade food with others or eat items with unknown ingredients. Remind him to be proactive, to ask to see ingredient labels and to seek help should he experience a mild reaction. If your child has a life-threatening allergy, she should know how to self-administer epinephrine.
The right summer camp can be a wonderful experience where your child can make good friends and create lifelong memories. With proper preparation, it can also encourage the start of some healthy independence.
“Going off to camp,” says Martin, “can give kids the opportunity to spread their wings.”
Contributor Cindy Gordon (vegetarianmamma.com) is a food-allergy mom.