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Back To School: Dealing with Food Allergies in the Classroom

Sending your food allergic child off to school can be scary beyond belief.  What will happen to little Johnny when we aren’t there to monitor every his food intake?  I feel like we are becoming skilled at dealing with allergies in all kinds of social situations, here’s some tried and true tips from our allergic household to yours.

What we have to avoid: Gluten (wheat, barley, rye, oats and all derivitives), dairy, food additives (colors, flavors, preservatives) and chemicals.

How we do it:

I bake in advance and store goodies in the freezer.  This includes batches of cupcakes, brownies, cookies, bread, etc… This way, I always have a safe food on hand to send to a party.

I send a tote box of safe snack foods to the classroom at the beginning of the year and replenish it as needed.  These include ready made, long shelf life, individually wrapped snacks (Ian’s gluten free cookie buttons, Annie’s Bunny fruit snacks, Endangered Species mini dark chocolate bars).  This way if there is a spur of the moment treat in the classroom, my munckins can pull out a treat instead of having to sit by and watch everyone else enjoy their goodies.

Arm the teachers and staff.  Full disclosure is needed here.  Include what foods to avoid and possible reactions.  Check in frequently to see if they have questions or concerns.  We use email a lot to communicate throughout the school day and there have been multiple occasions when a teacher has called from the classroom to ask, “can Kenzie have…?”.

If your child has a life threatening reaction (say to peanuts), and your school isn’t a nut free zone (ours isn’t), then talk with the principal and cafeteria staff about setting up a peanut free zone in the cafeteria.  A cute “No Nuts” banner can be placed over a specific table or group of tables and students should be educated about sitting there and the life threatening consequences of severe allergies.

Get your child a lunch kit that will help them keep their food separate (and therefore not contaminated) from their neighbors.  Our kids use the Laptop Lunch boxes and they love them.   Send your own utensils, napkins and beverage containers.

If you want to allow your child to eat a school lunch on occasion to help them feel more integrated, call the cafeteria staff and find out menu’s and ingredients.  Plan a day when you know the menu is doable and you can eat with your child.  Go to the cafeteria with them and teach them how to communicate with the staff about which foods can go on their tray.  Being in the cafeteria also helps you keep an eye on how meal times work and what your child is actually eating.  Kids love having their parents for a lunch visit, so don’t worry about embarrassing them.  In our school, I become everyone’s visiting Mommy of the day when I show up.

When sending your child off for a playdate, party or sleepover you must communicate well with the other family.  I always send my child’s food with her (especially treats like a cupcake and a piece of candy).  If the family really wants to cook a safe meal to include your child, provide simple recipes.  A favorite food that is okay with our dietary needs are tacos.  I explain to the parents which ingredients to use and send anything I think they may need (safe crunchy taco shells, seasoning packets).  I also stress that whole foods are always okay (fruit & veggies galore!).   No one wants to make your child sick, I’ve found parents to be very helpful!

For in class Birthday parties (and pizza or rootbeer float parties, our school has a lot of parties), I try to stay in contact with the teacher so I can be prepared for the party.  Since I’m a stay at home mom and within walking distance of our school, I often have the option to pop in at party time and deliver a cupcake, So Delicious fudgesicle, Hansen’s Natural Rootbeer and safe ice cream, gluten free pizza, etc… If I can’t be there then we have the the safe treats tub for the kids to pull goodies out of.  I try to find out what is being brought in for a specific party so that I can bring a similar food.

Please share your tips for navigating the social world with allergies!


  1. Kimberly says:

    Most important – Your child has to be their own advocate. S/he needs to know what s/he can’t eat and to say NO – loud and clear.

    They need to read all packaging. My kinder teacher taught me to read the word peanut and every time I was given something in a package she read the ingredients with me.

    The child needs to know their own body and what a reaction feels like. S/he needs to know that you will back them if they stand their ground and demand that you be called. When a bully smeared peanut butter on me, I screamed the office down til they called my Mom. She rushed me to the ER – and my doctor read the principal and Nurse the riot act.

    Please please please communicate with all your child’s teachers in elementary school. I’ve taught specials class (tech) for 4 years – and never had a parent give me a heads up about allergies. The kids have told me because I had rules about lunch kits and food in my room to protect me.

    A couple of times with art club, soccer club, choir provided snacks. I sounded the alarm about peanuts in the food. The teachers were never told the kids were allergic and – the kids 3 – 5th grades didn’t check the labels.

    Because I raised a fuss – our nurse got permission to make a list by grade level listing children and their allergies/medical issues. I can’t imagine not talking to coach if your kid was allergic to fire ants.

    Also about lunch kits – At my school each grade has a box that they put all the lunch kits in. The reasoning makes sense. The teachers pick up their kids from specials, take them to recess, then to wash their hands, and to lunch. One container with handles that 2 kids can be sent to pick up is convenient.

    After I landed in the ER from picking up a lunch kit with a trace of peanut on the outside, I voiced concern about this. The kids with allergies as sever as mine are responsible for taking their lunch kits to recess/lunch.

  2. I’m very thankful that I don’t have to deal with food allergies with my kids (we do deal with Asthma though), but I am much more relaxed about it because the school they attend is FANTASTIC about addressing those issues. I was room mom for one of the classes last year and I was made aware of all foodallergy issues of the kids in the class, so when it came to class party time, we knew what we could and couldn’t bring. It just made it so much easier because you knew if you had to worry or not. It’s all about the teachers/staff building a cooperative environment. :) You could even ask my sons who was allergic to what and they’d tell you. “Oh mom, so and so is allergic to peanuts, so be sure to tell me if I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich so I can sit at the ‘peanut butter table’ away from him.” I heard that many times and was super proud of my son for being so aware of his friends!

  3. Sounds like there is a lot of planning and education going on and to be honest that is what I’ve found to be the best possible protection for my anaphylactic child too. I think mother’s who constantly bake and prepare endless ‘special’ meals and treats should be rewarded. I know for me the best reward is to see him happy and not feeling left out, because often his treats are tastier. You talked about lunches, have you seen disposable food bags, which can keep food warm in ovens, made by Allergy Kidz ware? There are some other wonderful products we’ve found we can’t live without… check out:
    I say “houray to Moms”!!!

  4. Wow, we’re honored to be one of the snacks you pack for your children! It must take lots of work to make sure your children are only eating food that are safe for them, and you’re doing a great job at it!

    Thanks for your support!

    Amanda Chau
    Endangered Species Chocolate

  5. Thanks for these really helpful tips. We just learned of my son’s food sensitivities this summer (eggs & citrus, likely dairy & gluten, no HFCS or food color) and, while we’ve dealt with them at home, we’re starting to experience the challenges of sending him out without our guidance. He went to a playdate where they had muffins, then popsicles for snacks and he couldn’t have any of it. Since he’s not a big snacker at home, I didn’t even think to bring his own.

    Now I realize that I need to always be prepared for these situations. At school, friends’ homes, parties, etc. I’m looking for good cupcake recipes that don’t use eggs so we can freeze a bunch for events. The tips here are helpful too – I’ve got 4 weeks until school starts to figure this out!

    Thanks for the help.

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