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A Parents’ Guide to Food Allergies at School

More kids than ever have food allergies, it seems. Here’s what you need to know if your child’s classmate is one of them.

By Amy Leibrock
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, milk carton, and an apple next to a brown paper lunch bagJohn Block / Getty Images

 

What Are Schools Doing About Food Allergies?

“Schools have gotten so much better at handling this issue,” says Maria Acebal, CEO of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and the mother of a child with food allergies. “Different states have different guidelines; some are mandatory, some are not, and some don’t have any at all.” A school that’s proactive on this issue will train staff about food allergy safety, have a written policy about food allergy management, and have food allergy action plans on file for each allergic child detailing his or her allergies and how to respond to an ingestion. The school may also have cleanup procedures in place, including guidelines for proper hand-washing.

The bottom line is to respect whatever rules are in place, whether they’re state-mandated or requested by a single parent, says Acebal. This might mean that you can’t pack a PB&J sandwich for your child’s lunch, but it also presents an opportunity to teach him about compassion for others.

What Kinds of Items Can I Bring for Parties in My Child’s Classroom?

Start by following your school’s guidelines. If you’re faced with a daunting list of “banned” foods, don’t panic. “I don’t expect nonallergic families to always understand what is safe for my child to eat,” says Jenny Kales, author of The Nut-Free Mom Blog. If you have questions, ask your child’s teacher or the parents of the allergic child for a list of “safe” foods and brands. “Food labels vary in terms of what allergy warnings they offer, so having those go-to foods is a huge help,” says Kales.

Choose packaged foods over home-baked. (Even if your homemade cupcakes don’t contain allergenic ingredients, there is a risk of cross-contact from the utensils and cookware you use to make them.) Always bring along any packaging so the teacher or parent can double-check the label. If you’re still unsure, consider nonfood treats, like inexpensive toys, stickers, or art supplies. As part of a nutrition initiative, some schools don’t even allow outside food in an effort to avoid introducing not only allergens but junk food as well.

What Does My Child Need to Know About Food Allergies?

“You definitely don't want to scare kids or make them overly concerned,” says Kales, “but you do want them to know it's an issue they should respect. Something simple like ‘Alex can get really sick and go to the hospital if he eats anything with peanuts’ will usually suffice.”

Read More About:Preventative Health

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