Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Meeting the Nutrition Needs of Children at Summer Camp

Meeting the Nutrition Needs of Children at Summer Camp

Are your kids going to summer camp? 

Parents’ concerns when sending their kids to camp (day or sleep away) are universal.

We want them to be safe, we want them to meet new friends, we want them to learn new skills, we want them to be free from boredom during the summer, and we want them to eat the food.

Unfortunately, some kids with special food needs can’t – and maybe shouldn’t – eat some of the food served to them at some summer camps.

It is true that some camps are ready to address concerns about the menu of special campers because dietitians help prepare the menus. 

The camp that your special child wants to attend may need you to advocate and educate them to be sure they get enough nutrition and are safe so that they can have a great time!

Campers With Special Food Needs

This year many camps may be faced with campers who have special food needs.

Perhaps it is your camper!

There are many types of challenges facing summer camps that entail not only food but perhaps even other modifications or meal strategies.

Most of these challenges are not difficult for camps to overcome to meet children’s needs with good planning and staff training. Parents can help educate camps about the needs of their children.

Needing special foods or modifications should not restrict any child from attending camp if they are medically able.

Does your child have food allergies, difficulty with certain food textures, need adaptive feeding devices or even assistance with eating, or have a medical condition such as diabetes that may need something different to eat than the other children?

What Camps Should Do

Is your selected camp prepared to face the challenges for special needs? 

Let’s review a few common challenges and what parents and camps can do to meet our childrens’ needs.

Food Allergies

Food allergies are abnormal physical responses to foods causing a variety of symptoms such as difficulty breathing, rash, hives, swelling of the tongue or lungs, low blood pressure or vomiting.

Allergic reactions in children can occur from a variety of different foods including milk, eggs, nuts/tree nuts, shellfish, fish, wheat, soy or other items.

Food allergies, which can be potentially deadly, affect 1 in every 13 children under 18 years of age in the U.S. This number continues to grow.

A food intolerance is different than an allergy. An intolerance is not life threatening. When a food irritates your stomach or your body can’t properly digest it, that’s an intolerance.

It can cause physical symptoms such as gas, bloating, heartburn, headaches or other physical symptoms.

The best way to treat allergies is through prevention and avoidance of the specific food or ingredient.

Some kids with nut allergies are highly affected if any nut or nut dust is present so extra care should be taken with foods on the menu if a child has a severe nut allergy.

Your camp menu should be flexible enough to eliminate foods that cause allergies for the affected child while still meeting his or her nutritional needs.

Medical Needs

Some children may have medical needs that will require some menu consideration in order to keep their condition under control during the summer camp experience.

Medical conditions such as diabetes require special meal planning so that no complications develop, such as hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia.

A dietitian can provide advice on all medical conditions requiring meal planning changes. A camp can consult with a dietitian or the family in order to adequately and safely meet a diabetic child’s nutritional needs.

Any medical conditions should be communicated with the camp early so that they can plan accordingly for every child.

Texture Changes and Feeding Assistance

Texture modifications may need to be made for children who have any difficulty with chewing or swallowing for whatever reason.

Different consistencies, such as ground or cut up foods, can be provided by a well trained staff.

A dietitian can assist your child’s camp when planning meals for any camper who needs a pureed diet, thickened liquids, or a change in texture consistency within the planned meal.

Adaptive devices for feeding may be requested by some campers to make meal time safe for them.

A cup with a handle or lid, a special spoon or dish or any other device is readily available and can make their camping experience unforgettable.

Parents can supply the required equipment, if needed, to ensure their child has exactly what they need to prevent choking or aspiration during summer camp.

Plan for Safety

Proper planning by your camp program can provide all children with a fabulous and safe summer camp experience. 

Communication between families, staff, and health professionals is key. 

Different is special! Each camper deserves the opportunity to enjoy summer camp with planning and accommodations that are easy to do!

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