Last summer, I made the cardinal “mom of celiac kid in day camp” error. This was our first summer day camp experience. I filled out the forms and put in ‘celiac disease’ under the disease/health conditions section. I also wrote copious notes on the form about the need for gluten free foods and explained that, although the camp provides snacks, I would send in gluten free alternatives for them to have on hand (as well as a full lunch box for him each day). I mailed in the form and felt like my job was done. My husband dropped off our son on his first day and called me irate from the parking lot. Here’s what you need to know about my husband- he is the calm one. I am the one in the family who is in charge of histrionics. So I was immediately concerned. It turns out that neither the camp counselors nor the director was aware of the gluten free issue. When my husband handed over the bag of gluten free snacks, they merely looked at him strangely. When he used the words ‘celiac disease’, they gazed blankly at him. Not confidence inspiring to say the least. When the director asked my husband why we had not mentioned this on the form, my husband walked away and called me. Sigh. Well, after much effort on our parts, everything turned out fine. But I learned my lesson. And this year, I am happy to share with you the five rules of sending your gluten free child to summer day camp:
- Do not rely on the enrollment form. Fill it in, of course, but then make an appointment to meet with the Camp Director before camp starts. Explain the situation in full (including issues of contamination) and find out what his/her plan is to ensure that camp counselors are informed and on board. It can be helpful to provide written materials on celiac disease. A great resource is www.gluten.net
- Call or email the Camp Director the week before camp starts to check in to see if the counselors have any questions. See if you can get a list of snacks that will be served so you can bring gluten free alternatives on the first day.
- Make a personal connection with your child’s camp counselors on the first day. Let them know that they can call you at any time if they are unsure at all of foods your child can and cannot eat.
- Ask the camp counselors at the beginning of the week what food activities they have planned for the week – will there be cupcake baking, pizza making or a BBQ? You can bring in the gluten free supplies your child needs (ready made gluten free cupcakes, gluten free hotdogs and hotdog buns) if you know about it ahead of time.
- Show your appreciation for camp staff – thank them, bring them some extra gluten free cupcakes, give them small gifts, whatever feels appropriate to you.