Yes your celiac child can go to summer camp! Read on for where they can go and have a great time without getting sick!
Few things are more fun for kids than going to summer camp! I have such fun memories of going to our church camp every summer in high school and having a blast. My family goes to a church camp every summer and we always make such fun memories!
If your child has celiac disease, gluten intolerance or a wheat allergy, you might not even be considering sending them to a summer camp. You are probably thinking, “How can they be safe there?” I’ve got some great options for you so that you can make sure your kids don’t miss out on this great experience!
Option 1: Send them to a Celiac Camp!
Summer camps like Camp Celiac are completely gluten-free so no worries at all about safe food for your child!
My blogger friend Amy (The Family Chef) started sending her son to Camp Celiac (in California) when he was 10 years old and he’s going back every year now! She says, “The great thing is that he gets the camp experience and I don’t have to worry about the food!”
My blogger friend Priyanka (Anti-Wheat Girl) grew up attending Camp Celiac in Rhode Island. She wanted to share her camp experience with all of you: “The camp had an entirely dedicated gluten free kitchen with campers getting 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. When I first started going to camp, it was exciting because we were able to try tons of different gluten free products that were not necessarily available where I lived. Additionally and most importantly, I was able to put this new and scary diagnosis aside and just be a kid for a week. We were all able to enjoy a week of just being kids and doing things that all regular kids do at camp: swimming, hiking, passing notes after lights out, and playing pranks! For the first time since diagnosis, my life wasn’t revolving around what I had to eat. I had such great experience and kept going back until I was 16 for a few reasons. First, because I made friendships with people that could relate to everything that I was going through on a level that no one else that I knew could. Second, because it was a much needed escape from being the “weird” and different girl at school and with my friend group. Everyone at Camp Celiac knew what it felt like to be made fun of and we all became a strong support system for each other. Finally, camp gave me the ability to grow up and gain self confidence on my own. I used to feel like Celiac Disease was holding me back and causing me to fear every thing about daily life. When I went to camp, that fear was taken away and I could finally be myself and grow up. Camp Celiac was such a profoundly important experience for me that I went back a few years later to volunteer as a counselor in training and have been going every year since to give back and help other kids have the same liberating experience that I did. I would strongly recommend for every parent to send their child to Celiac Camp and to volunteer if they’re able to! You will be pleasantly surprised by the changes you see in your child after going to camp.”
My friend Margaret (MI Gluten-free Gal) volunteers at the YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin Gluten-free Overnight Camp week every year. All of the foods are prepared with dedicated pans and utensils and in a dedicated gluten-free cafeteria for the week. They are also careful in accommodating other allergens. Read more about the camp here on Margaret’s blog post. You can see more information about the camp at their Facebook page here. Margaret is always looking for adult volunteers to help in the kitchen here too!
Gluten-free & More has rounded up a list of gluten-free camps. While many linked to are last year’s camps, you should be able to navigate to their current camps from the links provided.
Option 2: Send them to a regular camp that can accommodate.
More and more camps are learning to accommodate all of the different allergies that are common now, and many have gone through specialized training. If you have a favorite church camp or scout camp that you want to send your kids to, just ask to speak to their kitchen supervisor and camp nurse to see if they can meet your child’s needs safely.
My blogger friend Sandi (Fearless Dining) sends her gluten-free kids to a few different summer camps each year that can accommodate her children safely. She says that “Camp Tawonga in Yosemite is very allergy aware. The first year I put the staff through the ringer about cross contamination.” She spoke with both the office staff and kitchen staff at Camp Tawonga to ensure safe meals. Her daughter also attends an overnight volleyball camp at Santa Clara University, where their cafeteria labels all gluten-free foods and is very allergy aware. The volleyball assistant coach helped her get in touch with the kitchen staff there. Sandi sends along energy bars and snacks for during workouts and late night munchies.
NJY Camps has added a dedicated GIG certified gluten-free kitchen to their camp so that anyone with celiac disease can participate in any of their camps. This is so awesome!
Option 3: Send them to a regular camp, bringing all of their own meals.
While this is the least inclusive of the options, this is the way to go when there is a very specific camp your child wants to attend and you just don’t feel the camp can safely accommodate.
When my friend Melody sends her daughter Emma (allergies to wheat, dairy, nuts, and more) to church camp with her friends, she sends along all of her meals and snacks. She also makes sure the camp cook and nurse know the allergies. Melody shared her tips with us: “I sent her meals in little bowls with labels and reheating instructions. The cook gave me a section of the fridge and a spot on a shelf for her snacks.”
When I personally attend family camp each summer at a church camp in the mountains, this is what I do and is a method you could consider for your child: I make ahead all of my meals, put in containers with labels and my name on everything. I prearrange with the kitchen staff so they know I’ll be bringing all of my own meals and request a spot in the fridge and use of the microwave while I’m there. This has worked out really well as this gives them advance notice of the situation and they always have a spot already cleared for me when I get there. I do not go in the kitchen during their crazy meal prep time before mealtime, but I’ll wait to go get mine once everyone is in line being served. Another benefit of this approach is that no one is offended when I’m not eating the meals prepared. The meals I bring in individual portions that reheat well: slow cooker pulled pork, gluten-free sweet chicken with rice, gluten-free chicken broccoli rice casserole, and twice baked potatoes. I also pack a container of spring salad mix and a bottle of my favorite salad dressing so I can make salads to go along with any of those meals. For breakfast, I bring homemade gluten-free vanilla almond granola, gluten-free muffins, or my favorite homemade gluten-free triple berry coffee cake. I would say that my method would work far better for those of you that have older kids and that wouldn’t feel uncomfortable having different food than other people.
I hope all of these tips make you feel more comfortable considering sending your child to a summer camp. The fun experiences that they have there will never be forgotten! If your child has attended a camp safely with celiac or food allergies, leave a comment and let me know!