It’s that time of year again – time to head back to school!
This means it’s also time to think about food allergies in the classroom.
While your child might not live with food allergies, it’s a good chance that there is at least one child in his or her classroom who lives with a life-threatening food allergy. Given the current statistics on food allergies – one in every 13 kids has a food allergy – it’s a better bet that there are at least two kids per classroom with food allergies.
Eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergy reactions: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. (Another allergen that is on the rise is sesame seed and since only the “top 8” are required to be listed by the FDA as an allergen, sesame is a tricky one!)
So the question becomes: what can parents do to make school a safer place for all the kids with food allergies?
It’s actually quite simple.
When it comes to food allergies, a little education goes a long way!
First and foremost it’s important to remember to exclude the food not the child. Kids with food allergies are often excluded from classroom birthday celebrations and class parties because there aren’t any safe food options available. If your child’s school still allows birthday treats to be brought into class and there are kids with food allergies in that class reach out to the teacher – and even that child’s parents – to see what is safe.
A great resource for finding snacks that are safe for kids with peanuts, tree nut, and egg allergies is the Safe Snack Guide. This online guide is updated on a regular basis and is a great tool for room moms, PTOs/PTAs, teachers, coaches, and well..pretty much everyone!
If the classroom has multiple food allergies and sending in snacks for a birthday celebration seems nearly impossible, consider a non-food treat. One of my favorite go-to classroom birthday party treats is a small cellophane bag filled with a pencil, fun eraser, and sometimes I’ll add in a Dum-Dum sucker or a package of Smarties candy (both of which are allergy safe)! That way everyone gets a treat and no one feels left out.
When planning a classroom party it’s a good idea to reach out to the parents of any child with food allergies and ask them to help with the planning. That can be as simple as providing a safe treat for the entire class or offering suggestions about safe items (fruit or pre-packaged safe snacks as opposed to something made in someone’s kitchen, etc).
If you’re on the PTO/PTA at your child’s school and you aren’t sure how to plan allergy-safe events so that all the kids can participate, reach out to the parents of the children with food allergies. They want to help (really, they do). If you’re planning an event, consider non-food options if your event can be presented without food (exclude the food not the child).
Dealing with food allergies at school doesn’t have to be scary or stressful. Just plan ahead, ask questions, and remember to exclude the food not the child.