On April 12, 2011, parents came to TheMotherhood to exchange ideas, suggestions and experiences with sending kids with food allergies to camp, sleepovers or playdates.
The class was sponsored by ConAgra Foods and led by Lori Sandler, founder of Divvies Bakery and author of The Divvies Bakery Cookbook. Joining her as hosts were Renee Flax (American Camp Association), Sandy Rubenstein (Camp Wingate*Kirkland), Abby Shapiro (Camp Source Network) and Jenny Kales (Nut-Free Mom), who all have experience handling food allergies in situations when children are away from home.
“I think we can all agree that knowledge is power!” said host Renee Flax, American Camp Association. “Especially when we are talking about such a sensitive topic as the health and well being of our children.”
“It is so important to know who will be taking care of the children,” said host Lori Sandler. “Make sure whoever is in charge knows about your child’s food allergies and emergency procedures. The goal is for their physical, emotional, and social needs to be taken care of 100%, so they can focus on having fun!”
“Creating a culture of communication within your extended ‘communities’ is essential,” added co-host Ariella Rogge, Sanborn Ranch Camps. “Don’t be afraid to share, share, share!”
“Be sure you and your child trust your child’s friend’s parents to take excellent care of your child,” Lori cautioned. “Do they take food allergies seriously? Will they take good care of your child – physically and emotionally?”
“As the mother of a child with severe allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, it is my job to help make play dates as easy as possible for the other parents,” noted host Jenny Kales, Nut-Free Mom. “I find it helps to get to know them before an official ‘playdate’ at their home.”
Part of educating others is finding a way to “convey allergy needs without ‘scaring’ the other parents,” Jenny added. “For example, when discussing my daughter’s allergy needs at a sleepover, I go for an informative but calm approach. This seems to help! Many are afraid of food allergies, but once you explain simple ways to avoid reactions, it seems to help ease anxiety.”
“I tell all caregivers (playdate moms, teachers, babysitters) to feel free to call me with any and all questions,” said co-host Jill Mindlin, parent advocate. “I always tell them there are no stupid questions. I find it helps reduce their stress level and mine!”
“Going to camp is a life experience like no other where kids can learn independence, confidence and sense of self,” said host Sandy Rubenstein, Camp Wingate*Kirkland. “Having a food allergy should not be an obstacle to this rewarding experience.”
Added host Abby Shapiro, Camp Source Network, “As someone who speaks with so many parents each year about overnight camps for their children, it is amazing how many parents have concerns about this issue. We are finding that the number of kids with food allergies is increasing every year!”
Consider these questions and tips from host Lori Sandler when deciding where to send your child with food allergies for sleepaway camp.
– COMMUNICATION is key! Know the camp’s policy regarding food and food allergies.
– The camp owners/directors must view the relationship with camper and family as a partnership!
– You must understand and feel comfortable with the camp’s philosophy and procedures.
– Ask yourself: If your child did not have food allergies, would he/she still choose this camp/activity?
– How close is the camp to an ambulance or hospital?
– Are all medications up to date? Will they be kept in a cool place (especially EpiPens)?
– What are emergency procedures for trip destinations? Know where the trip destinations will be.
– Art projects and activities should be safe and free of allergens! (As participant Jessica Cohen pointed out, “Most parents don’t realize that PlayDough is made with wheat. We use Crayola Model Magic instead. It’s one time use so it’s kind of pricey but a good alternative.”)
– Find out if the camp allows candy and care packages containing food. If so, are they required to be allergen-free? Are the packages opened and screened before final delivery?
– Ask if the camp’s model is such that everyone eats the same foods; or do campers with food allergies eat separate foods?
– As you prepare to speak with camp directors about your child’s food allergies, consider bringing along some recipe ideas for meal plans to meet your child’s allergy needs. (Although not focused specifically on allergen-free recipes, websites such as ReadySetEat.com offer a wide variety of quick and easy recipe ideas using safe ingredients, made up of ingredients the camp kitchen will likely always have on-hand if any day’s menu is off limits for your camper.)
Co-host Jill Mindlin had this advice to add:
“When choosing a camp, do your research. Ask your network of families of children with food allergies where they have had successful experiences. Consider working with a camp consultant. Once you have narrowed down your list, go visit some camps. Meet with the director as well as the chef and ‘food allergy coordinator’ (if the camp has one). Tour the kitchen and inquire about food allergy protocol, food prep, storage and cleaning procedures. As in choosing any caregiver, make sure you are comfortable with the people you meet and that you believe they will take food allergies seriously and take good care of your child. Ask how they currently handle campers with food allergies and find out if you can speak with some of the families. Ask if they could send a letter home to campers in your child’s bunk explaining about food allergies and the policies in place.”
Allergy Friendly Camps
There are specific, allergy-friendly camp options available for your child.
“It is important to get a clear understanding of what the camp’s policies are,” said host Abby Shapiro, Camp Source Network. “Some camps are nut-free, which means that they do not allow any nuts or nut oils to be used at the camp whatsoever. The campers are also told about the camp policy so they know that they are not allowed to purchase or have any nut products at the camp.”
One such camp is Camp Wingate*Kirkland. “When we decided to become a nut-free environment at Camp W*K, it was to create a safe place where children didn’t have to be defined by their allergies,” said host Sandy Rubenstein. “We wanted to take all of the pressure away from them so that they could focus on the fun.”
For kids with non-nut allergies, “One thing you can do with your camp directors is request a copy of the summer menu – then you can see when the trouble spots might be – and be able to craft something specific for your child,” suggested co-host Ariella Rogge, Sanborn Ranch Camps.
Going a step further, “there are many camps that hire a parent as a staff member and then the child comes to camp as well,” said host Renee Flax, American Camp Association. “You can go to www.acampjob4u.org and research camps that would suit your needs.”
Co-host Eleanor Garrow, founder of Camp TAG (The Allergy Gang), also chimed in. “I’m very excited to bring this program to all families affected by food allergies and anaphylaxis – and for siblings, as well. I have one with FA’s and one without, and I want them to enjoy this experience together. Siblings are just as affected and are great advocates for their siblings with FA’s – it is important for them to also meet other siblings like them. AND, it’s important for our children with FA’s to meet other children who share the same conditions so they know they ARE NOT alone!”
As with sending your child to camp, communication is key when it comes to sleepovers and afternoon playdates.
Co-host Jen Rabulan-Bertram, Next Kid Thing, suggested providing “recommendations for ‘safe’ food brands. This would be a good thing to know for host families of playdates” or sleepovers.
“Emailing a list of acceptable items works well,” added co-host Jo-Lynne Shane, Musings of a Housewife. “People like to know what they CAN have, not what they can’t.”
Host Lori Sandler provided several examples: “Hunt’s brand 100% Natural Ketchup contains only 5 simple ingredients: tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt and other seasonings, with no high fructose corn syrup, artificial ingredients or preservatives. Also consider Orville Redenbacher’s Kettle Korn, which is free of dairy! Of course, read and re-read labels every time!”
“Teach your kids to politely refuse foods when at other people’s homes if they are not sure about it,” added host Jenny Kales, Nut-Free Mom. “This is a great life skill as well as a needed food allergy skill.”
Jenny also added, “For sleepovers, I provide the breakfast food. There is just too much risk of cross-contact otherwise. Believe me, the hosting parents won’t mind a ‘breakfast delivery.’ Even sending a safe cereal is a good plan.”
– Whether on a play date or a sleepover, send along some of your child’s favorite snacks. These snacks may become his friends’ favorites, too!
– Always be reachable by phone…make sure your phone is charged, and turned on, and with you.
– Have your child practice how to approach an adult for help. Discuss not only what to say, but how to say it!
For playdates that last just a few hours, food and snacks might not be as necessary as they are with longer periods away from home at camp or sleepovers.
“Since so many events are focused on food, which highlights the differences, it would be good to have playdates that focus on other activities,” noted co-host Nirasha Jaganath, Mommy Niri.
For those playdates that might include food, “I have thought about the possibility of feeding my son before any potential playdate and then packing some snacks with him,” said co-host Caryn Bailey, Rockin’ Mama.
“That’s what we always do before going anywhere, even shopping,” agreed participant Hope M. Hill. “I try to plan our day around when we can eat because she has multiple FA’s. Then I can provide snacks when needed.”
“If your kids are very young, I find it helps to stay at the play date. In fact, many parents will prefer this,” noted host Jenny Kales, Nut-Free Mom. “Once the other family is knowledgeable and comfortable about food allergies, you can consider leaving your young child for short periods.”
“My daughter’s friends’ parents are all pretty understanding about her allergy now,” agreed Jodi Grundig, Mom’s Favorite Stuff. “But I always ask what snacks will be provided at playdates.”
“What I do, before birthday parties or playdates, is speak with the host and ask them what they will be offering so I can provide a similar snack or make a cupcake/cake for my daughter so she can eat safely,” said participant Adriana.
You can also “make laminated cards outlining the things your child cannot have to hand to parents for playdates and such,” suggested co-host Jo-Lynne Shane, Musings of a Housewife. She provided a link to the following template for such a card: http://www.foodallergy.org/files/chefcardtemplate.pdf
Participant Tina also suggested getting a bracelet for your child to wear. “It is so easy for others to forget about food allergies because they can’t see it,” she said, but in her daughter’s case, “the bracelet does seem to help so far.”
Find bracelets at: American Medical ID, Medic Alert, StatKids.com
Growing Comfortable – Not Complacent
“If you are a stay at home mom, you can take that time to become involved with playgroups, schools or camps along with your child so that when you are ready to let go, you have seen how they handle situations, and sometimes even laid the groundwork for you eventually to feel safe to let them enjoy time away,” said co-host Aly AllerDine.
For managing food allergies away from home, Aly also suggested, “Carry the doctor’s instructions along with the Epi-Pen and Benadryl so there are no mistakes. I think there should be one with the child and one with the nurse (if you are so lucky to have one at your school) or in the office. There needs to be one nearby at all times, NOT locked up, and all staff should be trained to use it when they learn First Aid.”
Participant Sandi Kornblum agreed, “I keep a medicine measuring cup in with the Benadryl in my son’s bag to make it easy for everyone. I also write the dosage right on the Benadryl bottle with a sharpie marker. I make it was easy as possible in the event someone may have to attend to him in an emergency.”
But with both your child and others, “Emphasize that your child is not fragile or unlike other kids in most ways – they just can’t eat certain things,” said host Jenny Kales, Nut-Free Mom. “Your child’s confidence is so important to the success of social interactions.”
Black Bean Pasta Bowl (can also be made with other kinds of beans and gluten-free pasta): http://www.readyseteat.com/recipes-Black-Bean-Pasta-Bowl-5258.html
Chicken and Black Bean Chili (can also be made with different kinds of beans or no beans at all): http://www.readyseteat.com/recipes-Chicken-and-Black-Bean-Chili-5189.html
Smoky Beef and Rice Skillet: http://www.readyseteat.com/recipes-Smoky-Beef-and-Rice-Skillet-5247.html
Recipe database: http://www.KidsWithFoodAllergies.org
Divvies Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Perfect for after a sleepover! You can even make these ahead because they freeze well. Just let them sit out overnight before serving.
Remember: Playing with your food is allowed! Feel free to adjust ingredients so they meet your needs for taste and safety, and be sure to check labels before using any ingredients!
2 cups unbleached flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup rice milk (soy milk or any other milk will work fine)
6 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
4 tablespoons Fleischmann’s unsalted margarine (no dairy!), melted
2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 cup Divvies™ Semisweet Chocolate Chips*
1 tablespoon unsalted margarine (no dairy) for cooking the pancakes
– Pre-heat a griddle over medium-high heat while preparing pancake batter.
– In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
– In a separate bowl, stir the rice milk, brown sugar, granulated white sugar, melted Fleischmann’s Margarine, vinegar, vanilla, and lemon zest until smooth.
– Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients until almost smooth; there may be some lumps.
– Lightly “butter” the griddle. You may need to reduce the heat slightly.
– Gently drop the batter by heaping tablespoons, and cook until the bottoms are slightly golden in color and bubbles are forming on the surface.
– Add a few chocolate chips to each pancake; flip, and cook for about 1 minute more on the other side.
– Repeat, using up all the batter and chocolate chips. Sprinkle the pancakes with confectioners sugar and serve with maple syrup.
More pancakes than you need? Cut the recipe in half or just freeze what you don’t need.
*Find Divvies chocolate chips online at http://www.divvies.com/store/commerce.cgi?search=action&category=CDNY
For questions about camps that are nut-free, call Abby Shapiro at Camp Source Network: 888-985-2267
For questions about sending kids to camp, email Sandy Rubenstein, Camp Wingate*Kirkland (a nut-free, allergy-friendly camp): firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit them online, www.campwk.com
For additional questions, contact Ariella Rogge, Sanborn Ranch Camps: 719-748-3341 or email@example.com
Find camps promoting themselves as nut-aware: www.campparents.org
Find camps accredited by the American Camp Association (which have nurses on staff and Epi-Pens on hand): www.campwizard.org
Find an allergy support group: http://www.foodallergy.org/section/support-groups
A big thanks to our hosts and co-hosts for leading this enlightening class!
Lori Sandler, Divvies
Sandy Rubenstein, Camp Wingate*Kirkland
Renee Flax, American Camp Association
Caryn Bailey, Rockin’ Mama
Eleanor Garrow, FoodAllergy.org
Jodi Grundig, Mom’s Favorite Stuff
Nirasha Jaganath, Mommy Niri
Jenny Kales, Nut-Free Mom
Jill Mindlin, parent advocate
Jen Rabulan-Bertram, Next Kid Thing
Ariella Rogge, Sanborn Ranch Camps
Jo-Lynne Shane, Musings of a Housewife
Abby Shapiro, Camp Source Network
See the original Talk here: http://www.themotherhood.com/talk/show/id/62179