When preparing food for a large group of people, the administration of a camp may find it difficult to adhere to the guidelines of special diets. Basic knowledge of the different food allergies and intolerances can help staff members understand how better to serve campers who may require additional attention. For example, Celiac Disease—once thought of as rare—affects as many as 1 in 133 people, or more than 2-million Americans, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Bringing awareness to this digestive disorder may help provide the best and safest experience for campers affected by it.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease, or Celiac Sprue, is an autoimmune disease in which gluten—a protein found in many foods—damages the villi that line the small intestine. These villi are responsible for absorbing many nutrients during digestion, including vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Symptoms often include abdominal cramping, bloating, and chronic diarrhea and/or constipation. Untreated or poorly managed, the disease can present long-term symptoms, such as anemia, weight loss, fatigue, and growth failure in children, due to low nutrient absorption. Symptoms are often similar to those of other digestive disorders, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
There is no cure for Celiac Disease; those with the disorder must eliminate gluten products from the diet. In children diagnosed at a young age, this may be easier than in older adults, who have eaten gluten-containing products throughout their lives.
It is important to realize that Celiac Disease differs from a food allergy. A food allergy, such as an allergy to wheat, often causes physical symptoms, such as difficulty in breathing, skin rash, and abdominal discomfort. The autoimmune nature of Celiac Disease differentiates it from an allergy, and results in damage to the small intestine.
What Exactly Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in certain grains. Cooking and processing will not eliminate gluten from that food. It is found in foods made with the following grains:
Wheat Rye Barley
Bulgur Semolina Triticale
Graham flour Spelt Farina
Most commonly consumed in baked goods, food items containing gluten include:
• Desserts (including cookies, brownies, cakes, and pies)
• Beer and other malted beverages
• Snack foods.
Grains that are naturally gluten-free include:
Rice Corn Quinoa
Soy Sorghum Tapioca
Hominy Millet Arrowroot
Grains such as buckwheat and oats are thought to be gluten-free; however, various factors may affect the gluten content.
Not only do the above foods often contain gluten, but foods without grains as a main ingredient may also include gluten. Foods requiring fillers and thickeners contain “modified food starch,” which may include wheat. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns those with Celiac Disease to be aware of processed meats, dressings and prepared sauces, soups, seasoned snack foods, yogurt, hummus, dips, flavorings, and malted ingredients when preparing food.
As with all food allergies and intolerances, avoiding cross-contamination in food-preparation areas is important. Although certain foods like rice and corn are naturally gluten-free, they, if coming in contact with a utensil or cooking surface used for any foods containing gluten, may become contaminated. An example of
this is using a regular toaster for gluten-free bread rather than a dedicated separate toaster; imagine all of the gluten-filled crumbs left behind on a toaster at home! For this reason, food items meant for children with Celiac Disease or gluten-intolerance should be kept completely separate from regular foods. Food-preparation surfaces, equipment, and utensils should be kept separate as well to eliminate confusion or accidental contamination.
If gluten-free food products are not available, providing alternative snacks may prove difficult. It is important to think outside the box of traditional snacks to accommodate gluten-intolerant individuals. Some naturally gluten-free snack ideas include:
• Celery, peanut butter, and raisins (aka “ants on a log”)
• Vegetable sticks, such as carrots, cucumbers, and sweet bell peppers
• Whole fruits, such as apples, oranges, bananas, and grapes
• Air-popped popcorn
• Homemade trail mix (peanuts, dried fruit, M&Ms)
• Fruit Salad.
When preparing food for campers with Celiac Disease, review ingredient labels as a key tool in looking for hidden sources of gluten prior to serving. (See sidebar.)
Label Food, Not Campers
Some parents of campers with Celiac Disease may prefer to provide specific food items for their children. In this case, it is still important to keep and prepare these foods separately from those of the other campers. However, it is important to avoid singling out a camper during meal times. A child can occasionally become anxious about the differences, so avoid bringing attention to these. For this reason, the child should be able to eat his food in the same room and with the same type of dinnerware as his or her friends.
With conscious procedures, adjusting practices to accommodate campers with Celiac Disease does not need to be difficult. In familiarizing the staff with the circumstances of the disease, children can have a safe and fun experience at camp, the same as their peers.
Melissa Long is an Assistant Professor at Barton College in Wilson, N.C. Reach her firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara Kevern is a Registered Dietitian in Chicago, Ill.