When Food Becomes a Special Need

Campfire cookingWe’ve all encountered Scouts who are picky eaters because the menu is different from home and food is cooked in unfamiliar ways.  Most food aversions work themselves out because most kids will not willingly starve themselves. That is not always the case, and Scout leaders need to be receptive and address special cases. One special issue with food is sensory overload.  There are neurobiological disorders, including autism, where “ordinary” sensory input overwhelms the mind. Eating is a complex sensory experience because food has taste, smell, texture, and appearance.  Some Scouts have sensory issues that are so intense that they refuse to eat many types of foods, no matter how much you  encourage or reason with them. Parents in these situations tend to be reluctant  to ask for accommodations for their child.

Food aversions become a health and safety issue when there are not enough calories in the food that the Scout eats to sustain the Scout through the activity.  At the same time, we need to preserve the dignity of the Scout and minimize the attention that a food aversion draws. Ultimately, you must find enough compatible food for the outing.  Have a discreet and candid conversation with the parents to learn what foods work well at home and what foods are simply no-go.  For short-term outings and summer camp, it may be enough to allow the Scout to bring some familiar snacks from home to supplement the regular menu items.  High adventure trips with lightweight trail foods are another matter.  One alternative is to seek out lightweight versions of foods that are well received at home, such as instant mashed potatoes, packaged meats, or dehydrated fruits and vegetables.  Then, have the Scout’s family test drive the lightweight versions at home.  For freeze-dried foods, you can have a tasting event in advance of the trip for everyone in the group and use the results to accommodate the special needs.  A strategy for non-cooked meals is to issue a variety of pre-packaged foods that the Scouts can trade as needed to accommodate food aversions.  It is  okay to sacrifice nutritional balance for energy content during a limited term outing.

As always……Be Prepared!