4 Common Dietary Restrictions: Stay Informed for Arriving Campers

If you’re in charge of planning a summer camp menu, you might be overwhelmed by the thought of how you’ll account for common dietary restrictions while still serving delicious food that all kids will actually want to eat. No worries! Knowledge is power! Below we’ll explain the WHYs and HOWs of four common dietary restrictions. That way, you’ll not only be informed but also get excited about serving hungry kids this summer.

Understanding dietary restrictions

These days, more and more kids must adhere to dietary restrictions. However, the rationale behind these changes to a typical kid’s diet is varied. Change is difficult, but as we increase in understanding, we often find that we are more open to change. In fact, a few simple substitutions can go a long way to making each child feel included and understood.

The gluten free diet: truth versus stereotype

In recent years, “gluten free” has become a buzzword, inciting irritation and misunderstanding in cooks and chefs alike. This is mainly due to the stereotype that following a gluten free diet is a choice based on hip food trends. However, those who choose to cut out gluten may be doing so medical reasons ranging from minor digestion issues to a serious autoimmune disease called celiac disease.  

What is gluten anyway?

Gluten is a group of proteins (prolamins and glutelins) responsible for the elasticity of dough. These proteins are found in cereal grains, specifically in wheat. Those who are intolerant or sensitive to gluten must avoid an extensive list of foods. This makes a dietary restriction for gluten quite difficult to manage.

Those with celiac disease must adhere to a completely gluten-free diet or risk short and long term health issues. Some symptoms of celiac disease are diarrhea, gas, fatigue, and bloating- just to name a few. In those with celiac disease, continued consumption of gluten can lead to serious medical issues such as multiple sclerosis.

Reasons to adhere to a gluten-free diet

Celiac disease, however, is not the only reason that some have made the switch to a gluten-free diet. In fact, people with gluten sensitivity (not to be confused with celiac disease) experience diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive issues. However, they may be able to consume gluten in small quantities, whereas people with celiac disease cannot consume any amount of gluten.

Parents can also request a gluten-free diet if their child has a wheat allergy. However, gluten is actually found in much more than wheat. To clear up confusion, food service workers should be sure to check all labels for wheat. They should also become familiar with what food items contain gluten (like rye, barley, couscous, and even soy sauce). A wheat allergy is serious business, and those with this allergy should always carry an epi-pen in case of exposure.

Lastly, many adhere to a gluten-free diet in order to improve symptoms of other ailments or disorders such as inflammation, arthritis, respiratory irritation, thyroid disease, or even autism. While this reasoning is quite controversial and studies aren’t conclusive, many have reported relief from their symptoms. Understandably, those who have noticed market improvement or those desperate for relief may choose to pursue a gluten-free diet.

How to accommodate the gluten-free diet

You may be surprised at how easy (and maybe even fun) it is to accommodate gluten-free dietary restrictions. A little bit of foreknowledge and planning can go a long way! First, you can try to include vegetables, protein sources, and grains that do not contain gluten. Remember, not all grains contain gluten, so if you can substitute gluten-free grains, the rest of your job is easy. Also, by avoiding gluten altogether, you don’t have to worry about cross-contamination. After all, even a few crumbs containing gluten can cause serious reactions in campers with gluten intolerance or sensitivity.

You can also consider serving gluten-free dishes alongside dishes with gluten, although you’d need to be sure that two foods do not come into contact with one another. You’d also want to indicate clearly what food is gluten-free and which is not. If this option makes you feel uncomfortable, by all means, avoid gluten altogether.

Vegetarian and vegan dietary restrictions

Another common challenge for the summer camp cook is accommodating kids who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. First, let’s talk about the difference between these two common diet options. Then, we can provide fun and healthy options for kids with these restrictions.

Although the rationale behind vegan and vegetarian diets may seem to share some similarities, people who make the choice to cut meat or animal products out of their diets do so for diverse reasons. Furthermore, vegans and vegetarians can face criticism for this choice due to lack of knowledge and understanding. Like those who follow a gluten-free diet, vegetarians and vegans are often sized up with stereotypes about their dietary rationale. Instead of making assumptions, let’s discuss the facts about these dietary restrictions. That way, you can foster a culture of love and acceptance at camp this summer.

Why cut out meat?

Put simply, a vegetarian diet is one that does not contain meat. While some vegetarians may avoid certain types of meat but still consume others, other vegetarians avoid meat and fish altogether. A vegetarian may limit or avoid meat for ethical, environmental, personal, or medical reasons.

Specifically, vegetarians may be concerned about the potentially inhumane treatment and slaughter of animals of any kind. They may also be concerned about increased use and damage of land for animal agriculture. Lastly, personal taste or medical issues involving meat consumption could cause people to make the switch to a vegetarian diet.

Since the rationale behind this diet choice is so varied, it’s a good idea to make sure you communicate clearly with summer camp parents and kids so that you can be sure to provide accommodations for vegetarians.

The Vegan Diet: what is it?

A vegan is one who does not consume any animal products. Veganism is not limited to the avoidance of meat (like a vegetarian diet). Instead, it is a strict form of vegetarian diet that adheres to avoidance of any product derived from animals. This includes eggs, dairy products like milk or cheese, and even products that include animal-derived ingredients such as some kinds of pasta or breads.

Why are so many making the switch to vegan?

Like vegetarianism, people are drawn to veganism for a number of reasons. One reason is the various health benefits of this plant-based diet, which scientific studies have confirmed in recent years. It may be that some “try out” the diet to get relief from chronic health issues such as inflammation or problems with digestion and then end up adopting a vegan lifestyle because of the way these diet changes make them feel. Vegans have reported other health benefits such as increased energy, decrease in body mass index, lower blood sugar levels, improved kidney function, lower cancer rates, lower risk of heart disease, and pain relief from arthritis.

Others choose veganism because they want to live a more eco-friendly, environmentally conscious life. Yes, environmental ethics can certainly be a rationale for making the switch to veganism. In fact, more and more people have begun to recognize that their food choices can affect the environment. Specifically, vegans may be concerned about the negative effects that animal agriculture has on our land and water supply and the inhumane treatment of the animals from birth to death.

Lastly, some vegans say they chose to cut out all animal products for moral reasons. Not only are they concerned with the inhumane treatment of animals as a result of animal agriculture, but they also have moral qualms about the killing of animals for human consumption.

With such strict limitations, how can you accommodate a vegan diet?

In order to accommodate vegetarian or vegan campers, you’ll want to ask questions about their exact dietary restrictions. Sometimes well-meaning assumptions can be wrong; therefore, it’s important to know exactly what the kids can or cannot eat so that you don’t plan a meal that they can’t enjoy. Once you’ve got that down, familiarize yourself with vegetarian and vegan meal options. Try to search for options that can be made in large quantities without too much fuss. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to go back to the basics that nature offers. Plus, your campers probably won’t even realize they’re eating vegetarian or vegan unless you tell them!

The truth about lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance, not to be confused with a dairy allergy, is the inability to fully digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. This intolerance can develop during childhood after an illness involving the small intestine. In rare cases, it can even be present at birth. Symptoms of lactose intolerance are diarrhea, gas, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and bloating about thirty minutes to two hours after the consumption of these drinks or foods.

Fortunately, lactose intolerance is not serious or life-threatening, but it’s still quite uncomfortable for those who suffer from it. However, don’t worry. You’ll never have to tell your lactose intolerant campers to lay off the milk when it’s cookie time. Luckily, there are plenty of lactose-free options that they can enjoy.

How can I accommodate lactose intolerance on my summer camp menu?

With a little bit of planning and an open mind, you’ll be able to provide foods and drinks for a lactose intolerant camper. When planning your menu, you’ll first need to decide whether you will provide lactose-free dairy products in place of regular milk and cheeses or whether you will avoid dairy altogether and provide altogether different food options.

You may plan on serving dairy products because they seem unavoidable, like cheese. If so, consider choosing those that are naturally low-lactose or lactose-free like muenster, cheddar, brie, swiss, or parmesan. That way, lactose intolerant campers can enjoy the meal without feeling singled out.

Keep in mind…

Don’t forget that lactose is not just present in milk and cheese but also in butter and ice cream. If you’re planning on serving them, try to provide a lactose-free alternative to butter and a fruit pop instead of ice cream. It might be tough to cover all these bases, but the smile on your campers’ faces will be worth it!

And here’s another tip: lactose can be found in small amounts in foods that you probably wouldn’t expect such as soups, candy, breakfast cereal cookies, deli meats, and margarine. To find out if a food contains lactose, you’ll have to be thorough when reading labels. Stay on the lookout not only for milk and lactose but also for whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids, and nonfat dry milk powder.

Lactose where you’d least expect

Surprisingly, lactose is actually present in medications as well. Some over-the-counter medicines that you might distribute at camp, like those for gas or bloating, may contain lactose. Even though it’s only present in small amounts, don’t risk it. It’s still important to make sure that you’re not accidentally causing a second issue when trying to fix the first.

If the medicine label does not indicate the inactive ingredients, or even if you just want to be extra sure that the medicine is safe, you can go straight to Google and search for the medicine brand and its active and inactive ingredients. If you’re still not comfortable, you can always avoid providing the medicine. Or, you can plan ahead by allowing parents to leave special medication options with camp directors or the camp nurse. No matter what you decide, make sure that the potential for lactose exposure through medicine is communicated to any camp worker who handles medication.

What about the financial cost of making these changes?

A 2013 study revealed that a healthy diet costs $1.50/day more than a diet filled with processed foods and refined grains. This means that eating a diet filled with nutritious fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and quality meats is actually not as expensive as we might have originally thought. However, multiply $1.50 per day by the number of kids you serve this summer, and you may wonder how in the world you could make this happen!

When it comes to cost, perspective changes everything. Yes, the cost is higher, but what about the cost of poor nutrition? Healthy food is what will best fuel our summer campers. Knowing their health is at stake, we must figure out how to make it work.

Consider this: you could be transparent with parents and explain to them that in exchange for a minimal price increase per camper’s tuition, you will be able to provide a fresh, healthy menu. Explain to them that you are trying to provide for the whole child. This necessary change to tuition would help you reach that goal. You may be surprised how well this goes over.

In addition, you can spend some time researching a few less inexpensive healthy foods (and the ones that take longer to expire) and incorporate those. A few smart tweaks in the summer camp diet are doable without breaking the bank. However, you’ll have to plan ahead to make it happen.

When diet needs change, so must we!

We know that you want to provide fun, healthy food for your summer campers. And, yes, it might seem tough to accommodate all of these varying situations. However, since dietary restrictions are here to stay, it’s important to make sure that we change our menus to reflect that. It’s all in the name of safety. And, don’t forget, we’ll be here to guide you every step of the way! Want More? Click this link if you’re interested in learning more about Healthy Camp Diets