One in 13 children in the United States suffers from potentially life-threatening food allergies, and the number is rising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children with food allergies has actually increased by 50% since 1997.
If you have a child with food allergies, you may be worried about keeping your child safe at school. This can be a challenge, both in the cafeteria and in the classroom, however, the following tips can help.
1. Communicate. Be sure to talk with your child’s teachers, principal, coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, school nurse, and any other adults your child has contact with during the day. Provide them with information about your child’s allergies and dietary restrictions. Ask if the school has any food allergy management policies in place and inquire about staff training. Be sure that you will know where your child’s emergency medications be kept during the day, what experience the school has had with food allergies, and how food allergies are managed on school buses and during after-school activities.
2. Have a plan. In the event that your child inadvertently eats a food that causes an allergic reaction, make sure that your child’s epinephrine and a written plan are available and up to date. Work with the school to create a comprehensive Food Allergy Management and Prevention Plan. Also make sure that all forms are current, including: Medication Authorization forms, Special Dietary Meals Accommodation form, and Emergency Action Plan form.
3. Volunteer. Classroom parties and field trips often involve special food, so spend time in the classroom as a room parent or a chaperone for field trips. If you are unable to attend, ask a trusted neighbor, friend, or family member. Be sure that your child has safe snacks available for classroom celebrations.
4. Educate your Child. Teach your child about food allergies by reading books, reading food labels, and learning about the symptoms of a reaction. Make sure your child knows to avoid foods without labels and not to share foods. It is important for your child to know what happens during an allergic reaction and to tell an adult immediately.
5. Make Food Fun. Food can be scary when a child has a food allergy. Instead of being fearful, take the opportunity to teach your child about healthy and safe eating. Purchase allergy-friendly cookbooks or read blogs. Be sure to involve your child in food planning, shopping, and preparation.