Creating a Safe Camp Experience for Your Child with Food Allergies
As a parent of a teen with food allergies, I find the thought of sending him to camp rather daunting. My thoughts go directly to food fights, teen counselors who are there for all the wrong reasons, kids running wild, and kissing! Of course, these wild thoughts are courtesy of the countless summer camp movies I have watched and not based on reality. I hope.
Sending any child to camp is nerve-wracking enough; add food allergies to the mix, and it only increases the anxieties. No matter what kind of camp you send your child to—band camp, Girl Scout or Boy Scout camp, half-day or full-day or sleep-away—doing research, asking questions, and preparing your child are the keys to a safe and fun experience.
When searching for the perfect camp, start by asking for recommendations from friends, family, and your local support group. A recommendation from a fellow allergy parent is worth its weight in gold!
Things to look for when seeking the perfect summer camp:
• Location: How close is the camp to an ER?
• Is there a full-time nurse or food allergy coordinator on site?
• Does the camp’s website have a written food allergy/medical plan?
• Is there a sample daily menu to review?
• How do they cater to those with special needs, be it dietary or physical?
Once your choices have been narrowed down, it’s time to get to the real work: talking with the director and nurse—and, if you’re looking at a full-day or sleep-away camp, the chef. You’ll want to make sure to ask the following questions:
• How have they handled food allergies in the past?
• Does the camp take field trips?
• Does the nurse go on field trips?
• Who, besides the nurse, is trained to know the signs of anaphylaxis and administer epinephrine?
• Where will the epinephrine be kept?
• Are children allowed to self-carry, or will a counselor carry the epinephrine?
• Is the kitchen staff trained in cross-contamination and safe food preparation?
• What safe options does the chef have to ensure all children are included in special meals or treats (like s’mores)?
• Is food allowed in the bunk areas?
• What about crafts? How do they ensure the crafts are safe for all campers?
• Will they follow your child’s existing food allergy action plan, or will they create a new one with you?
Preparing Your Child for Camp
You have done your research and asked the right questions. All that’s left is to prepare your child to stay safe and have fun. Easier said than done, right?
It will take a team effort for your child to stay safe while at camp, and your child is the key player. He or she needs to be aware of their surroundings, must be empowered to ask questions and advocate for themselves.
Here are a few key things your child should know:
• the camp nurse and chef
• where the infirmary is
• who to see if he or she is not feeling safe or is having an allergic reaction.
• if campers are not allowed to self-carry, where the epinephrine is kept.
• how to handle snacks in the bunks
If the camp is close by, I would suggest visiting beforehand to ensure your child is comfortable with the layout. This allows you both to meet the staff and have a better understanding of how meals are prepared and handled.
Saying goodbye can often be the most difficult part of this process. Remember, you have done your research, asked all the right questions and received the right responses. You have armed your child with the necessary tools to stay safe and have packed all he or she needs to feel comfortable. Now, say goodbye with confidence and let the summer fun begin!
If you google “sending a child with food allergy to camp” you’ll get over 1,000,000 articles, blogs and other resources. Here are a few of my favorites from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) and the New England Chapter of Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFANE):
• FARE’s Guidelines to Managing Food Allergies at Camp were created for parents, campers, and camp directors.
• Aren’t sure what questions you should be asking the camp director? AAFANE has the perfect list: Managing Food Allergies at Overnight Camps.
• Be sure to print this form out and bring several copies with a current color photograph of your child attached: Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan.