Last week I dropped my kids off at summer camp.
They’re still too young for sleep-away camp, but it was all day every day for a week, which meant 10 total meals (snacks and lunches) outside of my control. As a food allergy parent, that reality is daunting—especially since counselors are usually pretty young, and may not be equipped to manage food allergies or recognize symptoms.
If you’re reading this blog, you likely live these fears daily (I’m with you!). However, I’ve always tried to apply my mother’s wisdom of giving children “roots and wings”: roots to ground them but room to spread their wings.
With this in mind, I’ve created a list of my top tips when sending your kids to summer camp.
Tip 1: Open the line of communication early. Reach out to the camp director shortly after enrolling your food-allergic child. They might tell you to wait until closer to the camp dates to discuss, but at least you’ve alerted them of your child’s food allergy and can start working towards a plan for keeping them safe!
Tip 2: Have a clear plan for food. Can your child eat the food or not? Know this for each day they attend camp ahead of time and plan accordingly. Always send an extra safe snack or two so if plans change (snack days are switched on you), they’re covered. It also helps to review the food plan each day at drop off with their counselor. This helps to keep your child’s allergy top of mind! If it’s an overnight camp, a meeting with the cafeteria/food manager may be appropriate.
Tip 3: Schedule a medication meeting. In an ideal world, you’d have the opportunity to meet with the camp counselor/nurse ahead of time to discuss your child’s allergies, review their emergency action plan, and show them how to administer and store emergency medications if necessary. Unfortunately that’s not always doable. If it’s not, I like to arrive 15 minutes early so I can snag the counselor before the day gets busy. This way I can show them the medications, talk about proper storage and use, and make sure they’ve gotten a crash course at minimum.
Tip 4: Designate a camp buddy. Often times my children will attend camp with other friends (which makes the experience that much sweeter!). If this is the case, designate a friend that your child can lean on for help advocating. This friend could be the one to announce there’s peanut butter in the room and for your child to steer clear, or to know what reaction symptoms look like in case of an emergency. Camp is always better with a buddy!
Tip 5: Teach your child to advocate for themselves. One of the silver linings with food allergies is that it’s a great opportunity for parents to teach children the importance of self-advocating. Each time I drop her off somewhere new I get to coach her on the questions she should ask, and encourage her to always speak up if something doesn’t seem right.
Tip 6: Know where to go in case of an emergency. This is a pretty easy one to check off if your camp is in town, but if you’re traveling for camp, this is extremely important! It’s also smart to call the hospital or medical facility ahead of time to ensure they accept your insurance.
Ready for a bonus tip?
There are several camps across the United States that are either designed for children with food allergies or welcome campers with food allergies. You can find two great lists for these camps here from FARE and here from Spokin.
Wishing you all a sweet, adventure-filled summer!
– Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team