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Food Allergies and Camps – Tips for Getting Your Confidence Flowing
Tips for Getting Your Camp Confidence Flowing
Three years ago my oldest daughter was going away for a five day camp with school. I was sick to my stomach. How could I let this dairy-free, tree nut free kid go away? How did I ease my worries? I made many calls to the camp Director, nurse, and kitchen staff. I needed to know the practices and procedures in place before I could somewhat, confidently sent her off for a week.
As I prep to send my younger food allergy son off to his first five day camp this fall, I find myself back to worrying again. He has more allergies and some are life threatening. How do I prep myself? The same as I did before. Start making phone calls and having discussions. There are some great resources out there which can give you much more detailed guidelines, but here are some of my basic ideas to get your ‘camp confidence’ flowing.
There are camps available which are focused on being ‘allergy-friendly’ from the start. Both Camp Tag and Camp Blue Spruce pride themselves on creating enjoyable and safe camps for your kids with food allergies. However, depending on what your needs are and where you live, you may find others options closer to home which may be possible for your freedom desiring campers. As more and more people manage food allergies, more and more camps are doing their part to create safe environments for our kids.
Talk to the Director
Notify Director by email and personal phone – Call ahead to discuss your child’s individual needs and see how willing they are to make accommodations. How ‘allergy friendly’ is their camp? How do they handle food allergies? Do they have an open door policy for kids to go and speak to someone if they have any concerns, worries, or experience any kind of bullying?
Emergency Action Plan – Do they have one in place for their staff? How do kids know who to contact in case of an emergency?
Closest medical center – Where may this be?
Your initial communication with the Director will help you to decide whether this camp will even be an option for your loved one.
Talk to the Nursing Staff
Training – Are the staff and counselors trained on:
a) Using your individual auto-injector – REMEMBER, just because YOU know how to use YOUR brand of auto-injector doesn’t mean that everyone else does.
b) Food Allergies – Understanding the differences in reactions (hives, itching versus anaphylaxis) and how to treat them.
c) Food allergies vs intolerances – Understanding the differences between the two. This may seem basic, but my daughter did have an issue with this at her very first camp. Here is the story I wrote sharing her first camp experience and how she graciously handled someone who had bad information, Lactose intolerance Vs. Milk Allergy – How My Camper is Educating Adults One Grown Up at a Time.
Medication Policy – Will staff carry medications and/or auto-injectors with them at all times? Does your child need to self-carry?
Talk to the Kitchen Director
THE DINING HALL IS THE MOST WORRISOME PLACE AT CAMP for our food allergy kids.
Is this kitchen ‘FREE’ of certain foods? Maybe this camp is vegetarian, vegan, peanut-free, and/or tree nut free.
Specialty cooks – Do they have them? Does the staff understand the implications of cross contamination?
What are they willing to do to make the dining hall LESS STRESSFUL? Can food allergy kids meet staff at the beginning of the week? How do they handle notifying kitchen help when they are in the dining hall? Can they bring their own food? Where would it be stored? Can they get it themselves? Who do the kids contact if they’re concerned about something they’ve been served? Are ingredients available so that the campers can read them at any time?
If YOU have the slightest inclination that the kitchen staff will not work well with your food allergy needs, then YOUR child won’t either.
FINALLY… BRING TREATS!! This is my fun way of educating and sharing with any camp and staff that we want to WORK WITH THEM!!
S’more night? No problem… we have our own chocolate.
Trail mix options? No problem.. we bring our own and enough to share a bit with the staff.
Need bread for sandwiches? We bring our own.
No peanut butter alternatives? No worries… Can you guess what we will be sending off to camp to share with the kitchen staff??
Communication, as always is the key. Find out what special events they may be having and make sure you can provide your own alternatives. Maybe send a snack box with their name on it FILLED with goodies. This small gesture lets your kids and the staff know that you are working with them to create a SAFE, ENJOYABLE camping experience for everyone!
Daniella Knell, is the owner of Smart Allergy~Friendly Education. As a mom of 2 having 6 of the top 8 food allergens, she has been public speaking for 12 years in efforts to raise allergy awareness within her Boise community and nationally. If you’re lucky, she’ll be your flight attendant on Delta Air Lines advocating for your NUT-FREE needs! Follow her at: www.smartallergyfriendlyeducation.com, Facebook, Linked In or Twitter