Tips for Managing Food Allergies When Your Child Starts School
Written by Daniela Baker
Food allergies bring an entire set of challenges to children and parents. When grocery shopping and going to restaurants, you’re always examining labels and asking questions to ensure your child remains safe and avoids the unpleasant allergic reactions (including hives, upset stomach, or anaphylaxis).
The good news is that you aren’t alone in your worries. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) estimates there are approximately 2.2 million school-age children who suffer from food allergies. Unfortunately, even though millions of children are affected by food allergies, at this time there isn’t a consistent school policy regarding food allergy management. In fact, virtually every school district has its own individual program and policies regarding how to deal with food allergies in the classroom. This makes it important for you to become your child’s advocate when it becomes time to return to the classroom.
While policies are inconsistent, there are actions you can take to help keep your child safe and confident at school. Here are eight tips that parents can follow when it comes to helping their child manage their food allergies during the school year.
1. Educate your child. Talk to your child about their food allergies and educate them about what types of foods they should avoid. It can be confusing for them to know what types of meals typically contain the ingredients that they are allergic to. Let them know that if they are unsure about the ingredients, it’s probably best for them to skip that food.
2. Educate school staff. Prior to the beginning of the school year, arrange to meet with the school principal, teacher and nurse so they are all aware of your child’s allergies.
3. Educate childcare providers. If your child receives care from someone before or after school, don’t forget to talk to them about your child’s allergies as well. This detail can sometimes be overlooked and can lead to potentially harmful snacks.
4. Educate the cafeteria staff. If your child will be purchasing school lunches, the AAAAI recommends meeting with the cafeteria staff and providing them with a picture of your child. This will help them identify your child so they can steer them toward smart choices when buying their lunch. Ask them to create an allergy-free alternative on the days that they are creating a meal that your child will be unable to eat.
5. Pack your own lunch and snacks. The safest route is to make your child’s lunch and snacks at home. This will ensure there are no mix-ups in the lunch room. Get your child involved in the lunch and snack packing process so they are excited about the food they get to eat. This will decreases the likelihood that they try to trade food with a school friend.
6. Discuss snack policies with the teacher. Talk to your child’s teacher about their classroom snack schedule. Ask them to keep an eye out for your child to help discourage them from accepting food from other kids.
7. Get a doctor’s note. Many school districts restrict students from being able to carry medicine on them. Get a doctor’s note from your child’s pediatrician or allergist outlining the necessity for them to carry emergency medication on them at all times. This will help you get a waiver for any no-medicine policies so your child can stay safe without having to worry about getting into trouble.
8. Create a Food Allergy Action Plan. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) has a helpful worksheet that parents can download and utilize. Your child’s doctor can help you complete the plan to ensure all of the information is correct. Once complete, provide a copy to your child’s teacher, the school office and the nurse. You may also want to keep a copy in your child’s backpack, so it is with them on the school bus or any field trips.
Daniela Baker is a social media advocate. She is also a mother of two and hopes this post will help parents of children with food allergies.