For Mission Trips, Summer Camps, and Youth Ministry Events

Traveling for a Mission Trip or Summer Camp with Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Kids? Two simple actions can change an EPIC FAIL to a BIG WIN!

It’s no secret that more kids each year are Gluten-Free (GF) and Dairy-Free (DF) …along with tons of other “frees.”

How are churches responding?

  • Some do nothing. The message is: “Deal with it.”
  • Some offer GF/DF options at ice cream socials & pizza parties. The message is: “We love you. You are different. But we are trying.”
  • Some are educating themselves, working with parents, and planning ahead. The message is: “You are worth the effort to include.” EXTRAVAGANT LOVE AT WORK!

Most of us can agree on the following:

  • GF/DF youth feel misunderstood and left out
  • Youth leaders stress because they don’t fully understand it and don’t know what to do
  • Parents communicate to try to make it better but feel helpless and hopeless at times

No one seems to be able to fix it alone. So how about we work together?

2 SIMPLE ACTIONS CAN CHANGE YOUR TRAVEL FROM EPIC FAIL TO BIG WIN FOR GLUTEN-FREE, DAIRY-FREE KIDS

From the mom of a GF/DF kid, I’m telling you the tried and tested truth.

It takes a little bit of time. But anyone can do this.

An otherwise life-changing youth trip can be completely overshadowed by:

  • Being hungry from skipping meals in order to avoid getting sick
  • Having one too many salads with no dressing because that was the only DF/GF option
  • Feeling excluded and sometimes picked on for being the focus of accommodation and inconvenience

However, just 2 Simple Actions can transform that same trip into a week where:

  • GF/DF Kids feel loved and included with plenty to eat
  • Parents are heard and develop deeper trust with church leaders
  • Youth leaders do the happy dance of success because they have become the hero!

IT’S NOT AS DIFFICULT AS YOU THINK TO TRAVEL WITH GF/DF

Just 2 Simple Actions:

  1. Educate Yourself
  2. Plan Ahead

Yep, that’s really it.

Since you probably don’t have a Nutritionist and an Event Planner on staff, these Quick Facts and 3 Steps to Planning Ahead are a perfect place to start!

NOTE: in this post, I am addressing Gluten Free / Dairy Free intolerances to the best of my knowledge and experience.

Other very common issues are Peanut Allergies and Celiac. Get to know your kids and your parents. Work with them.

The same Simple Actions are needed: Educate Yourself. Plan Ahead.

Knowledge is power. Know what you are Dealing With. And then, Plan Ahead.

Before we jump into the fix, why are we even talking about it?

Is it really THAT important?

UNDERSTANDING GF/DF ISSUES IS A PART OF YOUTH MINISTRY

It’s Hard to be a GF/DF Kid

  • You watch people eat pizza and ice cream, while you have a salad with no dressing
  • You go to parties and take your own food (and again watch people eat birthday cake)
  • You deal with friends teasing you about what you can’t have and urging you to taste things that will make you ill
  • You smile and say thanks when people who are close to you (sometimes your own mother!) forget or make an error, and give you special treats you can never enjoy

Providing for Gluten Free/Dairy Free Kids Shows You Care

A friend said to me recently, “I had no idea how bad it was until my daughter became dairy intolerant. She has violent reactions and can be in the bathroom for hours.”

Exactly.

Providing for your GF/DF kids in your Youth Group speaks volumes. To the youth. AND to the parents.

  • You will gain trust.
  • You will be a hero.
  • And your learning will benefit your ministry for the rest of time.

It’s about Listening. Protecting. Accommodating.

If those words don’t sit well with you, you need to get out of youth ministry. If you want to know how to serve these kids and their families, read on.

HOW MASLOW’S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS RELATE TO DIETARY NEEDS AT SUMMER CAMP

If you ever took a psychology class, you saw a pyramid of Maslow’s needs.

In short, the needs on the bottom of the pyramid have to be met before the next ones can be. The needs continuously overlap. The levels on the bottom take precedence over the ones above.

If a person’s PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS aren’t met (food, water, warmth, rest), they can’t really be successful at the next level: SAFETY.

They can’t feel safe if their food needs aren’t met.

If they don’t feel SAFE (security and safety) , they can’t move onto BELONGING.

Let’s Apply Maslow’s Needs to our GF/DF Kids

If your GF/DF kids are worried about what they have to eat, if they are going to get sick or go hungry (PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS), then they cannot be free and safe.

It overshadows everything.

If they get their GF/DF food, but are ostracized, picked on, or publicly made into a “special case”, then that affects Level 2 of the Hierarchy – SAFETY NEEDS.

It also puts a screeching stop to BONDING & RELATIONSHIPS.

The whole point of youth ministry is to BOND & DEVELOP RELATIONSHIPS (with peers, with leaders, and with God).

Your kids literally cannot develop full and free relationships at youth group, unless their PHYSIOLOGICAL and SAFETY NEEDS are met FIRST.

So, if you want to minister to youth, you actually have no option to ignore their dietary needs.

I promised you it’s easier than you think, so here goes!

TO CONQUER THE GF/DF DIVIDE, ARM YOURSELF WITH KNOWLEDGE AND PLAN AHEAD

THERE’S POWER IN KNOWLEDGE.

QUICK FACTS EVERY YOUTH LEADER SHOULD KNOW ABOUT GLUTEN & DAIRY INTOLERANCE

  • Gluten is not just Bread. Gluten is a group of proteins found in cereal grains AND in lots of other stuff. Like yummy flavorings, sauces, marinades and more. (Example: GF kids can eat meat, but not a lot of the flavorings that we put on it including many spice mixes and marinades.)
  • Gluten Free / Dairy Free Intolerance is not a preference. IT IS A NEED.
  • While GF is not the same as Celiac, the reactions can be just as severe as Celiac.
  • Intolerance for many GF/DF kids can mean sitting in the bathroom for hours, incapacitating gut-wrenching pain sometimes for days, and terrible headaches. This is not a MILD thing.
  • GF/DF Reactions can be immediate or may occur up to 24 hours later.
  • Cross-contamination means while the food may not contain the ingredient, it was prepared near the ingredient, and thus, contaminated. Some GF/DF kids have issues with cross-contamination, others do not. (Example: Taking a bun off a hamburger does not make it Gluten Free if the bun has touched the burger.)
  • Every restaurant that claims GF/DF options is not safe for all people.
  • If a kid has lived GF/DF for awhile, they know what they need to stay away from. Do NOT encourage them to eat when they feel unsafe.

GLUTEN FREE SPECIFICS:

  • Gluten Free means NO to the following (unless specifically marked GF):  flour (white, whole wheat), rye, barley, oats, breads, bulgur, doughnuts, cakes, pies, cookies, candies, cereals, communion wafers, crackers, croutons, french fries, gravies, pastas, lunch meats, seasoned rice mixes, marinades, seasoned foods like chips, soups, vegetables in sauces, soy sauce.
  • French fries at restaurants are tricky and often sad. If they are fried in a shared fryer (with breaded onion rings or chicken for example) then the french fries are not safe.
  • Many employees at restaurants do not understand Gluten Free, even if they claim they do. That is why GF families ask a ridiculous amount of questions when eating out.

DAIRY FREE SPECIFICS:

  • Dairy Free is NOT the same as Lactose Free.
  • Dairy Free is not just milk
  • Dairy Free means NO to the following (unless it is specifically marked Dairy Free or Vegan): milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, sherbet, sour cream, cream cheese, gelato, pudding, custard, anything cooked with any of those ingredients in it (including mashed potatoes, candies, chocolate, donuts, pastries, salad dressings, creamed or scalloped anything, white sauces, other baked goods)
  • Dairy is sometimes hidden. Some foods that logically seem Dairy Free are not. (Example: Eggs are a great DF food, but only if they are prepared without milk, without butter, and without cheese. In another example, a dab of butter is often added to Steak in restaurants. DF kids cannot eat that.)

ACCOMMODATING GLUTEN-FREE / DAIRY-FREE KIDS ON THE ROAD IS NOT AS HARD AS YOU THINK

If those facts are overwhelming, you don’t need to stress. If you are leading a youth trip, your kids are old enough to know what is going to make them sick.

Your responsibility is simply to plan ahead so they have the options they need.

3 Steps to Planning Ahead

1) COMMUNICATE LOTS WITH YOUR GF/DF FAMILY (PARENTS & STUDENT)

  • Ask ahead of time about specific needs.
  • Get a list of favorite foods.
  • As you decide, share what you will be able to accommodate.
  • Communicate what a parent needs to provide.
  • Give details of where you are going – restaurants, hotels, snacks in cars.

2) MAP YOUR TRAVEL ROUTE

  • Map your route specifically. Knowing where you are traveling allows you to find the options.
  • Figure out the windows of time when you will probably need meal stops.
  • Find those windows of time on your map. Where will you be around lunch time? Dinner time?

3) PLAN YOUR FOOD STOPS AND SPECIAL TREATS (if any) BEFORE YOU LEAVE ON THE TRIP

  • Bring your GF/DF family into the loop when choosing food stops. Ask for their help.
  • Don’t assume a GF/DF option will be at every stop, or even within 100 miles. (this is why you plan ahead)
  • Do not go to one place for everyone, and make your GF/DF Kid eat somewhere else.
  • Plan special celebrations to include your GF/DF Kid. (Example, if you want to have a pizza night, go to MOD Pizza. If you want to go out for ice cream as a treat, find a place that has DF/GF sorbet options. Include. Include. Include.)

RESTAURANT CHAINS WITH GLUTEN-FREE & DAIRY-FREE OPTIONS FOR YOUR TRIP

If you are looking for an easy list of national restaurant chains with GF/DF options to find along your route, here’s a place to start.

This is NOT an exhaustive list. These are just my family’s personal favorites when traveling.

  • Five Guys Burgers (even the fries are GF)
  • Denny’s
  • Chick-Fil-A (NOTE: CLOSED SUNDAYS!)
  • Chipotle
  • Boston Market
  • MOD Pizza
  • In & Out Burger (even the fries are GF)
  • Jersey Mike’s
  • Jamba Juice

FIND ME GLUTEN FREE: A RESOURCE FOR FINDING RESTAURANTS WHEN TRAVELING

Find Me Gluten Free is a great website with customer reviews. This site allows you to search a city and even a type of food.

Example: I searched “Pizza, Tucson, Arizona.” This is what came up:

Clicking on any restaurant leads you to reviews.

I always look for “Celiac tested” in the reviews. If a Celiac person has eaten there several times and not gotten sick, that’s a win!

We find most restaurants that rate well with Celiac families are also accommodating for Dairy Free.

WHEN TRAVELING, GROCERY STORES ARE BETTER THAN NOTHING!

For team building and great relationship, the more you can keep everyone together, the better. But there may be times when a GF/DF option doesn’t exist or something unexpected comes up.

If that happens, a run to most groceries stores (including Walmart) can yield a GF/DF feast.

  • GF/DF Bread
  • GF/DF Lunchmeat
  • Precooked GF/DF Grilled Chicken
  • Deli Potato Salad (usually GF/DF)
  • Pre-packaged Salads
  • Fruits & Veggies
  • GF/DF Protein Bars
  • GF/DF Potato Chips, Snacks, Cookies, Candies

A FEW FINAL WARNINGS:

Hotel Breakfasts are Usually a Dud

  • DO NOT BELIEVE THIS: “It’s a Free Breakfast with GLUTEN FREE options.”
  • What this usually means is your GF/DF Kid watches everyone eating hot waffles, cheesy omelets, yogurts, doughnuts, hot chocolate, and yummy pastries. While the only option for your GF/DF kid is dry Fruit Loops cereal and an apple.

Do NOT Believe All Restaurant Employees When They Say Food is Gluten-Free/Dairy Free

  • We have been to many restaurants that claim one thing and do another. Sometimes ignorance, sometimes human err, sometimes neglect.
  • That is why I have included a list of best-bet restaurants.

All Gluten-Free Foods are NOT Created Equal

  • If you plan a grocery run, please talk to the parents or student first!
  • Some Gluten Free & Dairy Free Foods taste like cardboard with a grainy aftertaste.
  • GF/DF families have already spent crazy amounts of money trying and tasting every brand and possible option. We find more discards than keepers. So, use our wisdom and don’t waste your money!
  • If you are on the road with that GF/DF Kid, take them with you to the store.

If you want to be a super star, and surprise them with a good tasting treat, here are a few of the favorites at my house:

Doughnuts and Pastries

KATZ brand gets our vote! Especially their DF/GF Doughnuts. Love the glazed, the powdered sugar, and the cinnamon sugar ones. Katz also has a fabulous “twinkie” called a Vanilla Cream Cake. (found in the frozen aisle at Sprouts and sometimes Frys/Krogers)

Ice Cream

SO DELICIOUS Caramel Cluster is our favorite brand and flavor. (All So Delicious Ice Cream is DF. Only some flavors are GF.) We love the Almond and Cashew base a lot better than the Coconut Milk.

Most grocery stores now carry DF ice Cream. Ben & Jerry’s. HaagenDaz (just watch for GF). Sorbet is also a great ice cream alternative in the grocery store.

Closest thing to an Oreo Cookie

MIDEL brand: Chocolate Sandwich Cookies. This is a much better copycat of an Oreo than any brand! In Tucson I can only find these at some Safeway Grocery Stores

Candy

Skittles & Starburst.

SHOW EXTRAVAGANT LOVE TO YOUR GLUTEN FREE/DAIRY FREE KIDS

IT’S OKAY WHEN YOU STILL MESS UP (NOW AND THEN)

One youth director texted in exasperation … ugh …. “This is the billionth time I’ve messed up on her diet.”

As a parent of a GF/DF Kid, I get it.

Even after years of living this 24/7, I still mess up. I find a special treat and I’m so excited. I get it home and my 16 year old says, “Mom I can’t have that.” And gosh, she’s right.

If you are trying, you are on the right track.

If you try and fail and don’t receive immediate grace, please understand you are glimpsing years of frustration. It’s not about you.

And, as a parent, I can tell you, I blame myself for the fails much more than any volunteer.

SO … THANK YOU!

On behalf of all the GF/DF Families out there, thank you for trying!

Thank you for even asking the question!

Thank you for reading this article!

If you are a GF/DF Family with other tips or insights to add, things that help you when traveling, could you add them in the comments below?

I also really love your emails!

With a little hesitation of sounding like a broken record, my desire with the Creative Little Church is to develop a network of Women in Ministry in Small Churches. Encouraging each other with resources, accountability, and support.

FOR MORE ON INTENTIONAL YOUTH MINISTRY IN A SMALL CHURCH, CHECK THESE OUT:

Youth Ministry in a Small Church – the Foundation that will Keep You From Crashing & Burning

Team Building in a Small Church – the Ultimate Guide to Working with Volunteers