This comic perfectly articulates what has been a running theme in my head and I have not been able to voice it so succinctly.
Ah the good old school camp. As parents of kids with intolerances, allergies and/or behavioural challenges doesn’t it just make you want to run screaming?
You’ll either get a laugh out of this latest one or be horrified that they can feed children this kind of sh…stuff. I was both. The good thing was they provided examples of the food which is more than I have had in the past. But more about this later.
School camps are just the next level of parenting for allergy kids after the nice old days of Birthday party catering when you just had to supply a cupcake and maybe some other treats. Each camp it always starts out the same.
Me: How is the camp going to cater for the many intolerances my daughter has?
Teacher: The camp’s catering staff are experts at catering to any allergy. Just make sure you list it on the sheet.
Me: Some of her allergies are a bit obscure. Could I have a look at the menu just to see if there are any substitutes I need to send with her?
Teacher: They have assured us they can cater for allergies. I don’t have / can’t provide you with a copy of the menu. She’ll be fine. You cannot send food. None of the students are allowed to bring food.
Me: *submit form detailing intolerances*
Teacher: What are sulphites?
Me: Could I please have the contact details of the camp?
Teacher: We cannot give them to you. If every parent called because their children didn’t like something it would make it too difficult. (I seriously got this answer once!)
Me: *Googles and calls camp* *Repeat conversation*
Camp: We are experts in catering for allergies.
Me: What kind of milks do you have?
Camp: Trim, Lactose free and soy
Me: My daughter is intolerant to dairy and allergic to soy.
Camp: Maybe you should send some with her.
Me: *Bangs head on wall!*
So now I’m a lot more proactive. I start with the camp and immediately ask for the types of milk before I go any further. Once I point this out they will usually provide me with a menu and I do my best to replicate it.
Back to the horrifying ration pack for my daughter’s latest camp. This is my triumphant effort to replicate it.
It is not perfect or necessarily healthier by any means but it does cater for the main allergens of wheat and dairy. I could have made it healthier by packaging up our cereal and reducing the sugar by replacing things like the drinking chocolate, fruit bars, peanut butter etc (as my friend had to with a fructose malabsorbing son) but at 12 years old we are getting into social acceptance territory.
Not eating the same food as everyone else is very socially isolating. I’ve been there for the last 10 years and it is not a common consideration when catering for people with intolerances. You imagine serving a kid fruit while all their friends are eating chocolate cake around them! Adults can cope with this but kids find it very hard.
So I have included things that normally wouldn’t be allowed in our house. It is a fine line between dietary restrictions for their own good and teaching them to deal with being different, tempered with social inclusion. Hence picking my battles.
Sugar isn’t great for her particularly in these amounts but it is something that causes consequences I can generally live with for the three days after she comes home. My fructose malabsorbing daughter on the other hand would be in meltdown territory during the camp. The anxiety and meltdowns would cause her to miss out on all the personal growth activities these camps provide in turn causing social isolation. Again pick your battles.
I replicated the entire pack as I did not want her to have excuses to even enter the supply tent as the temptation would be too overwhelming. That said I can pretty much guarantee contraband will be consumed but I’ve done my best.
The next bit is probably overkill but crazy people like me get a kick out of organisation. I divided it into individual bags for each day. Problem was all my extra large ziplock bags had been used so had to leave out the meals but you get the general idea. Next step would be to make it more environmentally friendly by not using ziplock bags but hey give me a break – I’m doing this while starting Radiation therapy at the same time 😉
So my advice for school camps:-
- Open and honest communication with the school.
- Talk directly to the kitchen staff at the camp.
- Team up with parents of other allergy kids. This is where strength in numbers really helps.
- Ask for the food component of the camp costs to be removed from the invoice if you are supplying your own food.
My passion is to shine a light on food intolerances and allergies and make life that bit easier for parent, kids and all those concerned. If we all speak out together we might bring about the change that is required for the majority of society to think more about what they are consuming and not make us feel like social pariahs.
If you liked this article, share it within your circle so we can make a difference. I’d also love to hear about your experiences below.
Big thanks to my friend K as this was a joint effort. Strength in numbers people!