If your school requires children to do a school overnight program, here are some tips to help your child stay safe.
(Photo by Warby)
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 when your child has food allergies, it is critical.
When your child enters middle school and high school years, 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 child 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 child 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.
Is the 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?
1. Meet with your school’s Principal and your child’s teacher.
Discuss your child’s food allergy, any symptoms that occur if your child is exposed 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 are aware of the food allergy and know how to handle it.
2. Discuss the itinerary.
How long are the kids traveling for? Will the kids be staying at the same location, or at 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. (I will say that I have had airlines lose my special food request. And yes, once my gluten-free meal was actually given to another passenger, so plan to pack gluten-free foods just in case.) Carrying some gluten-free food will also keep your child from getting hungry if there are any unexpected flight delays.
3. Where will students 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.
If the kids will be eating in restaurants, your job got a little harder. You need to get a copy of the restaurant list way before the trip takes place. 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 will need to alert the waitstaff in every restaurant the class goes to. If your child does not feel comfortable discussing his food allergy in a restaurant due to embarrassment or peer pressure, you can have your child give 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 to 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.
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 in case 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 return trip home.
Make sure 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. A good example of how different locations can vary is Walden West, a popular school overnight site, located here in the Bay Area. My daughter went to their Saratoga location for science camp. 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. My son went to science camp at their Cupertino 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 with 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 all of us can learn from your child’s experience.
For more articles on cross-contamination and how to stay safe, check out my Favorite Links page.