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!