Navigating summer camps with celiac disease

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Attending summer camp with celiac disease may be an exciting but nerve-racking experience for your child. Learn how you can help your child stick to the strict gluten-free diet while they are at camp.

Key points

  • Choose a camp setting that best fits your child's health needs, self-advocacy skills and comfort level.
  • Contact camp staff as soon as possible to discuss your child's celiac disease diagnosis and the strict gluten-free diet.
  • Before your child attends summer camp, talk to your child about the importance of maintaining a strict gluten-free diet while at camp.

Please note that this resource is meant to provide suggestions and tips for you and your family before your child attends camp. It is up to parents or caregivers to evaluate the risk of their child attending camps, select the most appropriate camp setting for their child, inform camp staff about their child's diagnosis of celiac disease and support their child in safely attending camp.

Summer camps are a great opportunity for your child to engage in activities they enjoy and make new friends. Before choosing a summer camp for your child to attend, it is important to think about your child's health needs, self-advocacy skills and comfort level with managing their strict gluten-free diet. Some camp settings may be more appropriate for your child than others.

Types of camps

Dedicated gluten-free camps

Dedicated gluten-free camps offer campers of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to enjoy a camp experience with other children living with celiac disease in a gluten-free environment. Some dedicated gluten-free camps are overnight. Through the support of camp counsellors, administrators and a health-care team, campers can enjoy the programming of traditional summer camp while having their celiac disease needs met through meals and snacks prepared in a dedicated gluten-free kitchen facility.

Dedicated gluten-free camps may be best for children who are still learning how to manage their diagnosis of celiac disease and treatment of the gluten-free diet or who are hoping to make friends with children who are also living with celiac disease.

Day camps

Day camps are an ideal alternative to overnight camps, especially for a child who may be newly diagnosed with celiac disease and is not comfortable with being away from home and having to navigate camp-prepared meals or activities. Day camps also give you the opportunity to make sure your child has gluten-free options by packing lunches and snacks.

Overnight camps

With food allergies becoming more common in children, may summer camps have become more aware of the importance of meeting their campers' special dietary needs.

Overnight camp settings may be ideal for children who are comfortable with explaining their diagnosis of celiac disease and are becoming more confident with managing the strict gluten-free diet. It may also provide them with a good opportunity to build their self-advocacy skills if the overnight camp serves both gluten-free and gluten-containing foods.

Preparing the camp staff

No matter what type of camp your child attends, it is important to contact camp staff as soon as possible to discuss your child's celiac disease diagnosis and strict gluten-free diet. Speaking to camp staff gives you the opportunity to share any important medical information and have your questions answered. Some things you may want to discuss with the camp staff include:

  • Food and non-food sources of gluten, and the importance of avoiding gluten cross contact. You may want to provide this information in a written document or direct staff to watch the Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free Diet modules in AboutKidsHealth's Celiac disease learning hub.
  • Experience of foodservice staff at the camp. If your child is attending an overnight camp, you should ask about what gluten-free meals and snacks will be supplied and how they will be prepared. You should also ask how familiar the camp chef and foodservice staff are with preparing and serving food for individuals living with celiac disease who follow a strict gluten-free diet.
  • Ask if you can provide extra gluten-free snacks or traditional gluten-free camp foods, such as gluten-free graham crackers or hot dogs, so that your child does not miss out on any camp activities.
  • Inform staff who they should contact if your child is exposed to gluten and what accommodations should be provided, such as unrestricted access to the camp bathrooms and rest.

Preparing your child

Whether this is your child's first time going off to camp or they are a seasoned camper, it is important to talk to them about the importance of maintaining a strict gluten-free diet while away at camp. You may want to spend time answering any questions that your child may have before heading off to camp and making sure they know who to contact if they feel sick and what gluten-free options and supports they will receive. It may be helpful to role play scenarios that may happen at camp, such as peer pressure from other campers to try gluten-containing foods or accidentally being served foods from camp staff that contain gluten.

Summer camp may be a new experience for you and your family. Preparing your child and their camp in advance can help your child have a successful camp experience.

Last updated: July 14th 2023