"May I watch it again?" Nathan asks for the tenth time after watching the YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin Gluten Free Kids Camp video.
Nathan has never been to summer camp. I've never been comfortable letting him even sleep over at a friend's house because of dietary restrictions, much less letting him go to a sleep-away camp where who knows who's preparing the food. Cross contamination is a huge risk for kids with celiac disease and food allergies, so this mama bear has done everything in her power to keep her little one safe.
Last summer, Nathan attended a church day camp and I packed his lunch and snacks each day. I went out of my way to make sure what I packed for him was the same as what was on the menu for the "regular kids." But every day he came home sad because he couldn't eat all the gluten-filled snacks that everyone could eat. He felt excluded and it truly broke my heart. After posting Unhappy Camper (click to read it), MI Gluten Free Gal, a fellow gluten-free blogger and celiac disease awareness advocate, let me know about the Gluten Free Michigan Kids Camp and told me that they could really use some help in the kitchen, so I showed Nathan the online video to see if he would be interested in attending.
"Mom, that looks awesome," he exclaimed as he watched kids on zip lines, climbing towers, horses, paddle boards and making s'mores. "Can we stay all summer?"
So, I volunteered to help in the kitchen this summer and registered Nathan to attend! He is so excited. This will be the first time he gets to be a "regular kid" and participate in all the cool activities, as well as eat the same foods that everyone else is eating because everyone there must eat gluten free. By working in the kitchen, I will see every ingredient label and make sure not only Nathan, but every camper, will have safe, gluten-free meals.
I am thrilled that Nathan and other kids with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity will have the opportunity to have fun without worrying about every bite of food. But camps like these don't happen without awesome people like you!
How can you help make a kid like Nathan have a safe, fun week at summer camp?
Volunteer to help in the kitchen. If you would give a day or two (or six), we could really use your help! You don't even have to live in Michigan. I'm actually taking a week of vacation and traveling from Mississippi to volunteer in the kitchen. Please contact me if you're interested in getting more information about serving in this capacity.
Donate gluten-free and allergy-friendly foods. Everyone knows that gluten-free foods cost more than gluten-filled foods. To offset the cost and make this an awesome experience for campers, we are seeking companies that offer products that are free of gluten. There will be campers with additional dietary restrictions that we are working hard to accommodate, so Top 8 free products are most needed. Many wonderful companies have already partnered with the Michigan Gluten Free Kids Camp to make this happen, but we plan to serve snacks three times per day, so we need lots of snacks. Campers range in age from 8-17. I'm finding that tween and teen boys (and girls) really eat a lot! If you own or work for a company or have a contact with a company that may be willing to donate some safe and delicious snacks for our campers, please contact me for details. All donations are tax deductible.
Sponsor a child to go to camp. The families of many campers are above the income level for camp scholarships, but they have extra expenses from an expensive diet and health issues arising from celiac disease. If you can help in any way it would be greatly appreciated. Donations may be sent to the Michigan Capital Celiac/DH Group, PO Box 23222, Lansing, MI 48909.
I am thankful to the amazing people who make this camp happen for kids like Nathan. From the camp coordinator, to the kitchen volunteers, to the companies and individuals that donate money and safe food for campers, everyone is valuable to the team that puts this whole thing together. I hope giving my time to make sure campers have safe meals and snacks by volunteering in the kitchen will make a difference in the lives of these kiddos. I hope you will join me!
Please share this post with everyone you know that may be willing to help! THANK YOU!
Nathan's Note: I can't wait for camp, I will most likely come home weighing 20 lbs more than when I left.
I live in a gluten-free food desert. While my home state of Mississippi in the deep-fried south is well known for its cuisine, none of it is gluten free. Just google it. You will see that there is not a single dedicated gluten-free restaurant in the whole state. Not one. It usually doesn't bother me, but it is depressing sometimes. I cook 99 percent of my family's meals at home to avoid cross contamination and ignorance (many people living in the state that leads in obesity, diabetes and hypertension believe that gluten is a nutrient that one cannot live without). I don't mind cooking, but sometimes it would be nice if I could just pick up something to eat on the way home from work or go out to eat once in a while--especially later this month.
I'm scheduled to have minor surgery in a couple of weeks and my amazing friends and coworkers have been so kind to offer to bring dinner or send gift cards for my husband to pick up dinner on his way home from work. While I greatly appreciate the kind gestures, I politely declined and let them know I was planning to cooking in advance to accommodate dietary restrictions in our home. There isn't a single restaurant in our area that I feel is safe, and my well-meaning friends don't have gluten-free kitchens.
We can't eat out and our friends can't bring dinner, but we still have to eat. What's a busy working mom to do? Meal prep! I always do meal prep on Sundays to make weeknights easier, but this Sunday and next, I will be doubling, tripling and quadrupling recipes to freeze to make preparing dinner for the rest of the month so easy that even my kids will be able to do it. Luckily, they are old enough to help by reheating chili, soups, casseroles, and even cooking pasta.
Laundry is a different issue.
Maybe my friends who offered to help will be willing to assist with laundry while I recover.
What are your favorite kid friendly gluten-free meals to make ahead and freeze?
Nathan's note: I did not do that to the towel.