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It’s summer--Time to head for diabetes camps

Jul 29, 2010

I’m on a late night flight, returning from a diabetes camp for children 7-17 years of age. It’s been a very intense week, and the 8th camp I have volunteered for in 6 years.

As a RD, CDE, my “assignment” is to plan all the camp meals, snacks, and food treatments for any low blood sugars that occur during the day or night. It’s always a challenge to do this with different views on food from 100 staff and volunteers.

We have to ask: How much junk food is ok (it’s just a week)? What is the balance between protein and carbohydrate? Are we meeting the nutritional needs of the child, or merely “feeding” to treat low blood sugars in response to active and/or over-insulinized children? What do we do with picky eaters? How do you plan meals around gluten free, allergies to peanuts (no peanut butter in the same room), pineapple, eggs, milk, soy and corn?

I cannot abandon my goal to provide healthy foods for children and to model the way we all should be eating. This approach is one I would use regardless of whether the child has diabetes or not, is slim or overweight. My training and my education revolve around the established and well documented guidelines to provide healthy foods, incorporating variety and balance and then allowing children to decide what and how much.

When I create a menu for camp, I take into consideration all the allergies, and avoid incorporating those foods into the menu whenever possible. For example, I design gluten free dinners, so all campers eat the same way at that meal. Breakfast and lunch, there are gluten free options that mimic the food non celiac children are eating. For example: Gluten free English muffins were on the menu this year, substituting for the whole grain English muffins the non-celiac children were eating. They are “to die for” I understand from one of my little gluten free campers. So when he told me that last year, I grabbed onto the idea and incorporated them into this year’s breakfast!

I create an excel spreadsheet with each camper’s name that requires a special diet, their allergy, and which cabin they are in, so when bagging snacks or nighttime food treatments, their food is always there and available.

A large white board sits high on a wall in the dining room, with carbohydrate counts for all the foods on that meal. Another poster board has the accumulating foods for gluten free as they are offered, along with other “specialty” items such as rice milk, soy milk and vegetarian options.

If you head for camp, I would love to hear the ways you have set up camp meals, snacks and when you dose insulin (meals only? Snacks?) Do you lower basal rates on all campers when they arrive? Or do you individualize your program?

If you haven’t taken the opportunity to attend camp, I encourage you to do so. If you are a new CDE, the learning curve is exciting and steep at camp. If you are a “mature” CDE, summer camps NEED you! Even though I am ready to head home to be with family, I will miss the simplicity of focusing on nourishing children, keeping them safe and watching them develop lifetime friendships and bonding that only those with type 1 diabetes truly understand.


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  1. Aug 17, 2010

    Volunteering for camp is as easy as finding the one you want to go to, and applying. There are multiple websites. The American Diabetes Association is one good place to start, with camps in almost every state. The diabetes education and camping association is also a resource to find camps that match your interest.
  2. Aug 05, 2010

    How do you volunteer for a camp?
  3. Jul 31, 2010

    I just finished working at the Slam Dunk Chicago Bulls Basketball Camp for Kids with Diabetes. We have three camp locations in Chicago and surrounding areas. I coordinate the medical staff at the Lisle, IL camp. We monitor blood glucose levels, ketones and keep the kids at an adequate target range for playing basketball for three hours. While all of the campers have diabetes, there are some with peanut allergies, celiac disease, asthma, Asperger's Syndrome and seizure disorders. Only one camper has celiac disease and his mother is kind enough to provide a bag of appropriate snacks at camp. I appreciate what Carla says about "feeding" the lows vs providing a healthy balance. Our camp is only five days and last four hours each day. Campers eat their breakfast or lunch at home. At camp, they receive carbs for glucose levels that are below target range for intense physical activity. We tend to focus only on treating the lows. But this gives us something to think about for next year. I would like to have available only snacks that would be peanut free to eliminate any potential trigger for an allergic response. Also, I agree with Carla, if you haven't taken the opportunity to help out at a camp, you should do so. It's wonderful to see the children in that environment. At camp, each camper is one of many with diabetes not the only one or one of few. They make friends, they compare insulin pumps and they bond and have fun together. Next week, when I return to the clinical setting, I will think of the fun we had at Slam Dunk camp. When our patients that were at camp come to the office for their routine visits we now have stories to share about camp. It is a special event.

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