Bearskin Meadow Camp Eases Celiac Concerns with Gluten Free Kitchen


The list of concerns for parents of children with type 1 diabetes is never ending. Add on worries over secondary autoimmune diseases, and the stress can be overwhelming. Thankfully, DYF and Bearskin Meadow Camp have found a way to ease concerns of parents, campers and staff affected by celiac disease.  

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease in which gluten ingestion causes damage to the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients. It is estimated that 5-10% of the type 1 population have also been diagnosed with celiac disease. Over the years, there has been a marked uptick in the numbers of campers, parents, counselors and staff that have adopted a gluten-free diet for health related reasons.

For years, Bearskin Meadow Camp (BMC) tackled the needs of these individuals by offering gluten-free options out of the main kitchen, but with the growing celiac population there were concerns of cross contamination. You can have a separate, gluten-free cabinet with dedicated kitchen tools, but how do you guarantee the flour tossed into the air from your mixer doesn’t dust your gluten-free surfaces?

The answer came in 2005, when DYF included a plan for a designated gluten-free kitchen in their capital improvements. “The idea for a dedicated kitchen space was introduced early in the discussions,” shared Janet Kramschuster, DYF’s Executive Director. “Even after considering the additional cost to the organization—not just the cost of a second kitchen, but ongoing cost of an additional cook on staff to run the kitchen—it was just the right thing to do. Even looking at our office staff, half of us are gluten-free. There was a clear need.”

The gluten-free kitchen opened at Bearskin Meadow Camp in 2013, and has been growing ever since. Strict rules and guidelines are in place to prevent cross contamination between the two kitchens, such as ensuring priority access for the gluten-free kitchen to all shared ingredients before they enter the main kitchen and an understanding among all staff that nothing from the main kitchen can ever enter the gluten-free kitchen.

Jennifer Tran, a nutrition student from Cal Poly, led the helm as cook for the gluten-free kitchen last summer. This summer, she will return as the kitchen manager. According to Jennifer, she saw about 15-25 people use the gluten-free kitchen everyday last summer; a vast increase over the previous year. The staff of the gluten-free kitchen are also responsible for managing other dietary restrictions. Jennifer explained that no meal is ever straightforward. “On lasagna night, for example, we’ll make at least five different versions of lasagna. The main kitchen will make the vegetarian and meat options, while the gluten-free kitchen will make a gluten-free vegetarian version, a gluten-free meat version, and a gluten-free vegan version.”

“The challenge,”  continued Jennifer, “is in assuring the campers eating from the gluten-free kitchen share the same experience as those eating from the main kitchen”. That is not just to say that both the kitchens must serve pizza, but the pizzas must resemble one another in size, appearance, and carb count. “Gluten-free alternatives are often more dense and higher in carbohydrates,” shared Jennifer, “which can be a real challenge when it comes to carb counting”. Moreover, there is the added complication of getting gluten-free alternatives to behave in the same manner as their gluten-filled counterparts. Luckily, the gluten-free cooks at BMC have developed tricks to make everything as equal as possible. For example, Jennifer learned early on that gluten-free cinnamon rolls do not rise. But through trial and error, she learned that freezing the rolls overnight before baking could make them better resemble the cinnamon rolls offered by the main kitchen.

Though the size of a cinnamon roll may seem arbitrary, it is anything but to the campers and to DYF. The organization strives to ensure that every camper share the same experiences, regardless of their particular dietary or medical needs. “Diabetes is isolating enough,” expressed Janet, “it is our job to remove as many barriers as possible that could lead to further isolation for our campers. That is just part of our culture; it is in the fiber of what we do.”


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