If your school requires children to do a school overnight school trip program, here is an important survival guide to help you prepare and keep your gluten free child safe on their trip. It is hard for parents to let our allergy kids go on these school trips...but these memories will last a lifetime, and a safe trip is completely possible!
Eating Gluten Free On School Trips
The subject of this article is something every parent of a gluten free child will face at some time in their lives. As a parent, it is our job to keep our children safe, and it is critical when your child has food allergies.
When your child enters middle and high school, their class may have an overnight field trip. In 6th grade, my children's school sent the kids to a week of science camp. Some schools send their children to Washington D.C. for a week in 8th grade. Usually, parents are not allowed to accompany their children once they get past elementary school, so how do we monitor the foods our children eat while on these trips?
Usually, parents are not allowed to accompany their children once they get past elementary school, so how do we monitor the foods our children eat while on these trips?
This subject has just come up for one of my readers, and it is a very real concern, even if your child is good at managing their food allergy.
The first step to protecting your child with food allergies is to be proactive."Sandi, Fearless Dining
Is overnight at a summer camp location, or is the school going to a city where kids stay in a hotel? Will they take a bus or fly?
Top 5 Tips For Gluten Free School Travel:
1. Meet with your school's Principal and your child's teacher.
Discuss your child's food allergy, any symptoms of exposure to the allergen, and the precautions your child will need. If your child has an anaphylaxis reaction, you should ensure that your child carries an epi-pen with them everywhere on the trip.
It is also important to talk to the chaperones who will be on the trip with your child, so they know how to handle the food allergy.
Give your school, teachers, and chaperones this handy gluten reaction info sheet I found at Gluten Free School.
2. Discuss the itinerary.
How long are the kids traveling for? Will the kids stay at the same location or several different locations?
Are the kids taking a bus to the location or flying? If the kids have to fly to their field trip location, it is important that your child brings gluten free foods to eat on the flight. If the airline provides a meal, you can request a gluten free meal when making the reservation.
Carrying some gluten free food will also keep your child from getting hungry if there are any unexpected flight delays.
3. Ask where students will eat.
If your kids are flying to a destination for their overnight field trip, now is the time to find out where the kids will eat. Will they stay at a summer camp type of location, a college dorm, or a hotel? Will your child be eating in a cafeteria setting? Contact the camp or dorm to find out how the cafeteria handles cooking with food allergies and cross-contamination. You can read some questions to ask in my safe dining tips article.
Your job gets a little harder if the kids are eating in restaurants. You need to get a copy of the restaurant list before the trip. You must contact the restaurants on the list and ask how they handle food allergies and cross-contamination. Talk directly to the restaurant manager.
The safe dining tips link above will help you ask the restaurant the right questions. Your child must alert the wait staff in every restaurant the class goes to. Suppose your child does not feel comfortable discussing his food allergy in a restaurant due to embarrassment or peer pressure. In that case, you can have your child give the waitstaff this free customizable food allergen card to hand to the waitstaff.
If a restaurant on the list cannot handle your child's food allergies safely, you must alert your school in advance so the school can choose a different restaurant.
Don't wait until the last minute to request this from the school. The school needs time to plan out details and make reservations for large parties, so contact restaurants as soon as you find out about the school trip.
4. Ask how snacks are handled?
If your child is like mine, they eat all of the time. Use the Find Me Gluten Free app to locate a grocery store that is close to the hotel so your child can get gluten free snacks to replenish his/her food supplies if needed. Another option is to mail a gluten free care package to the hotel ahead of time so your child will have snacks if they eat the snacks they packed. This is a good way to ensure they have what they will need for the return trip.
5. Don't forget the food for the return trip home.
Ensure your child has gluten free foods to take for the return trip home.
From my experience, I can tell you overnight field trips vary greatly, even if the camp is owned by the same parent company but has different locations. Walden West, a popular school overnight site in the Bay Area, is a good example of how different locations can vary.
You never know what you will get from the camp or overnight trip planners.
My daughter went away to a science camp in middle school. This location had nothing for children with food allergies. I had to pack all of my daughter's food. It had to be labeled and separated by day/meal in plastic containers. They cooked her food separately, but I still don't know if they did a good job managing cross-contamination.
In contrast, my son went to a science camp at a different location. The difference between these two locations was like night and day. The Cupertino location had tons of gluten free options, food was prepared separately from regular foods, and the kitchen staff was well trained. They even had a dedicated gluten free toaster.
There is no perfect solution when your gluten free child needs to go on an overnight school trip. I hope this article has offered some advice to help you get started by preparing your child for this adventure.
Has your gluten free child been on an overnight school trip? Please share some advice in the comments so we can learn from your child's experience.
For more articles on cross-contamination and how to stay safe, Check out my Gluten Free Living tips and trick page. It has a lot of great resources for living and dining gluten free!
This article was updated from an older March 2014 post with updated information.
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