For kids who have celiac disease, it can be tough to feel normal — especially when it comes to food. And especially when everyone around them is having their fill of sandwiches, cake and cookies.
But for one week a year, a group of eight- to 15-year olds in Nova Scotia has a chance to be themselves without worrying about what’s on their plate.
Brigadoon Village in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley has been hosting Camp Silly-Yak — a one-week camp for kids with celiac — every summer since 2012. This August, the camp is expecting more than 50 campers to take part in cooking, boating, art, sports, theatre, aquatics and environmental education activities.
And the fact that the kids don’t have to feel special is what makes it so special.
“Kids can come together, often for the first time, where they all share similar needs. They are no longer the kid with celiac disease because everyone is the same,” says Brigadoon’s summer director, Gareth Evans.
Everything on the menu at Brigadoon Village during Camp Silly-Yak has been planned with the gluten free diet in mind. Megan Bonnell is the camp’s interim executive head chef and she says she’s looking forward to getting creative with the kids’ meals. Bonnell is a graduate of the culinary arts program at Prince Edward Island’s Holland College, and has also worked as a paramedic, which means she has extensive training in allergy and anaphylaxis treatment and prevention.
She’s comfortable cooking for kids with celiac, having worked in wheat-friendly and natural foods establishments. She also points out that before the campers arrive, the kitchen is thoroughly cleaned and all items that contain gluten are removed and stored at another location.
The biggest challenge she anticipates is cooking for the “picky eaters” — but she also says those same kids can offer the greatest reward. “Often I will have children come up to me to say that the meal they just had was something they’ve never had before, and now it’s their favourite thing to eat,” says Bonnell. “I love to try new things, and I love to see the kids enjoying their meals carefree.”
Parents whose kids have attended in past years say the camp offers their kids a rare opportunity to let their guard down at mealtimes. Says one parent, “It meant [our daughter] had a chance to meet other kids who had celiac just like her. …She could just be at camp and not be concerned about the food! She was the same as everyone else.”
This year’s camp runs from August 23 to 28; spaces are still available. Find out more at BrigadoonVillage.org.
Check out some of last summer’s fun, via the folks at Brigadoon: