” I have a problem with my child,” said an anxious mother over the phone. “She is allergic to soy and can’t eat sandwiches so she needs to be able to use the microwave at summer camp this year.”
“M’am… we don’t HAVE a microwave. It’s camp. The only electricity is in the bathrooms,” said the women on the other end of the line. When the woman again insisted that soy was in everything and her child could only eat preheated foods she prepared for her, the camp counsellor politely reminded the women that there were plenty of soy free options as well as the invention of a wonderful thing known as a thermos for keeping foods hot, though she said so in less poignant terms.
The woman on the other end of the phone became more and more insistent that this was unfair and unjustly targeted her allergic-to-soy daughter as the camp counsellor told the woman that she fully understood, having a son who was allergic to peanuts and being allergic to dairy as well. No amount of cajoling or consoling seemed to appease the woman as the counsellor exasperatedly turned to her fellow coworkers and said… “you know, I have been dealing with allergies to foods my whole life and fully understand the difficulties, especially when eating out and at parties, but there are thousands of allergen friendly foods on the market and it is not THAT hard to pack your child an allergy free lunch for camp.
She’s right. While some allergic reactions are mild, like an itchy redness or mild irritation, some can be life threatening, while others bring on hives, swelling of lymph nodes, constriction of the airway and anaphylactic shock which can lead to death. It is a serious matter, but it doesn’t have to keep your child out of camp or summer outdoor activities unless of course the child is allergic to the sun, and even then, there are indoor camps where the child can be accommodated.
The most common allergic food reactions are to dairy, soy and peanuts, followed by eggs, wheat and fish. Many more children have contact dermatitis to high acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus. If you want to avoid allergic reactions to foods and create safe lunches which can travel well on long trips, outings or endure the rigors of summer camp, the first thing you need to do, as a parent or caregiver is to make a list of safe foods your child will eat. The second thing you need to do is familiarize yourself with allergy friendly alternatives to foods they may not be able to eat like milk and wheat. There are many alternatives to cow’s milk, including nut milks, coconut milk, soy milk, hemp milk and even oat and rice milk. Breads can also be made from millet, barley, oats, nut meal, potatoes, rice, corn and a whole list of other non-allergenic ingredients and while some of these alternatives take a little getting used to, they offer the same food choices as normal kids, but without fear of an allergic reaction.
Below are ten food ideas for packing all-day lunches that are safe for most children with allergies. Be aware that there are also plenty of lunch containers designed to keep foods hot and cold over a six hour time period, so if you pack your child off to camp at 6 a.m., by the time they eat lunch at noon, no microwave or freezer should be necessary to keep the food safe for consumption.
1. Apples – whole or cut into slices, berries, pears, peaches or canned fruit. Easy to peel tangerines. For soft skinned fruit, protect in a plastic container or wrap well in a cloth, which can also be used for wiping up the dripping juice!
2. Veggies and veggie sticks cut into easy to eat bite size pieces with an allergy free salad dressing or hummus dip.
3. Rice cakes, including rice krispy treats made with non-dairy butter
4. Packaged snacks like Veggie Sticks, corn chips, tortilla chips and even potato chips… just check for the type oil used and whether they are processed on shared equipment if the child is highly allergic.
5. Seed butters – an alternative to nut butter made from sunflower or sesame seeds. If your child is also allergic to wheat, you can use gluten free bread to make sandwiches or use it as a spread for veggies and fruits and rice cakes or wheat free crackers.
6. Homemade soups or stews made with safe ingredients, with or without meat. Keep warm in a glass lined thermos. Many ready-to-eat pop top soups can be eaten at room temperature or set the can in the sun or on a dark surface in the sun and it will heat itself within the hour. Just make sure if it sits in the open, no one else takes it or thinks it is trash and throws it away!
7. Protein bars are also good choices. There are a number that are dairy and gluten free and provide energy for all day activities. You can also make your own at home using dried fruit or even fresh fruit and oats.
8. Salads with fresh greens. Make sure you separate any liquid ingredients and use cherry tomatoes whole rather than cut tomatoes or replace veggies with fruit, like apples and strawberries. Keep liquid ingredients in separate containers and mix at lunch so the salad does not go soggy. Meat, cheese and egg, if your child tolerates them, can be wrapped in aluminum foil and packed in an insulated bag with a small bottle of frozen water, then as the ice melts in the bottle, the child will have ice water as a bonus!
9. Mixed nut and fruit or sesame seed sticks (gluten free) are good choices for kids who do not have nut allergies. Dried fruit is also a good choice, but again, read the entire ingredients list to make sure no oils or gluten have been added… the same goes for some condiments as well. Stick to brands you know are allergen free.
10. Condiments can make or break the meal. Dried herbs on a salad or sprinkled over bland chips can make them come alive. Nutritional yeast flakes are also a good alternative to add taste. Pop top cans of fruit, tube yoghurt that needs no refrigeration, even meats from MREs work well as does pasta made from non-wheat sources. If your child likes pasta, canned meats or tuna with mayonnaise, you can purchase pouches of tuna and use mayonnaise packets if your child is not allergic to egg.
There are thousands of allergy friendly prepackaged meals and treats on the market and if they are too pricey, consider all-natural foods. Pack them in small plastic containers to keep them from getting crushed and bruised. Take part of Saturday or Sunday to plan a menu with your child. Let them pick out items they like and put together a meal for each day. It can be a fun and educational experiment that will help them eat healthier and safer later in life as well.
If your only excuse for not sending your child to camp is that they will not have a microwave to heat up meals, then your child is missing out on a great experience. Kids don’t really need hot meals for lunch and there are plenty of ways to keep foods cool and warm from breakfast to lunch time. you might have to do a little research to go meatless, dairy free or gluten and nut free, but once you have the basic ingredients and a list of extras to make the meal fun, you are good to go.
To liven up a dull meal, use cookie cutters to cut fruit in unique bite size pieces or do the same with allergen free bread. If you have really young children, remind them not to share their food with others or take food from others if it may set off an allergic reaction. Browse the food aisles of your local grocery store or specialty health foods and you will find plenty of ideas that will satisfy your child’s appetite and nutritional needs – No microwave required!!!
Check out Pinterest for tons of summer camp friendly foods as well or http://cookitallergyfree.com/blog/2011/08/printable-list-of-50-allergy-friendly-lunchbox-ideas/