Back to School: Food Allergy Edition
It’s that time of year again…back to school! While most parents are concerned with clothes, binders, and backpacks…food allergy parents are consumed with thoughts of something else entirely.
“How can I keep my child safe this year when I’m not around? What if another kid gives my child a contaminant while riding the school bus? What about the school lunches…are they safe?”
The fears don’t subside once August passes. Soon comes October…Halloween month. This means trick or treating and classroom costume parties. Followed by November’s Thanksgiving celebrations and December’s Christmas cookie and candy gifts. Valentine’s Day exchanges, Easter candy, and all the classmate birthdays in between…the worry…never…STOPS!
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to eliminate 100% of peanut allergens from my son’s school. So, in addition to having an emergency response plan in place, it’s my job to raise awareness and educate my son, as well as others. By doing this, I hope to make this school year just a little bit safer for my son and others out there like him. So please, if you work at a school, or are the parent of school aged children…listen carefully. This post was written to you.
Consider Yourself Warned
The best way to avoid a tragedy is with prevention, not intervention. For this reason, my son takes cold lunches to school every day to avoid cross contamination. But, what if there was such large group of awareness surrounding my son that the chances of him being exposed to contaminates are greatly reduced in the first place? With your help, it’s possible.
Bracelets, buttons, iron on patches, keychains, stickers, and so many more products have been created in order to help warn others of present food allergies. For example, my son has an “Allergic to Peanuts” warning keychain attached to both his backpack and his lunch pack. He also has medical alert bracelets that he wears on higher risk days, such as field trips. On these days, he’s likely to be surrounded by people other than his usual group of watchful eyes. But how useful are these warnings if no one is looking at them?
There’s even been times when the medical paperwork I fill out at school registration isn’t enough. It’s up to the parent, to make sure that everyone reads the paperwork, sees the warnings, and is aware of the risks. Never assume they know just because they should. For these reasons, I’ve found it crucial to assemble a school “Super Squad.”
The Super Squad
Fortunately for my son, he’s already teamed up with a super-para who serves as his school advocate and watches over him like a hawk. If it weren’t for her, I would be a nervous wreck every morning when my son goes to school. Not every child has the benefit of a one-on-one para. So, who exactly is included in The Super Squad and what should they do? Check out these squad member descriptions to find out!
Squad Commander: The Parent
As the parent, you have the most important job of loving, supporting, organizing, advocating, and educating each member of the super squad. You are the leader and emergency action plan creator. Whether you are supportive or not is the make-it or break-it of the entire team.
- Fill out all medical registration paperwork thoroughly
- Create an emergency action plan and educate others on it
- Teach others about food allergies and cross contamination
- Send all necessary medications and devices to the school nurse
- Provide allergy friendly snacks at school for birthday/holiday treat substitutions
- Update squad members any time there are plan changes
- Keep open communication throughout the entire year
- Love the child and each member of the squad…food allergies can be scary for everyone!
Squad Front Line: Your Child
Your child is their own first line of defense. Even though my son isn’t old enough to read nutrition labels, he can still recognize an orange Reese’s wrapper and knows it’s on the “no-no” list. Do what you can to educate them in an age appropriate way. You’re not only keeping them safe at school, but teaching them the skills they need to stay safe for the rest of their life.
- Ask “does this contain…” before accepting food items from others
- Recognize high risk food brand packaging
- Read nutrition labels for allergens and cross contamination risks
- Recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction
- Know the emergency action plan
Squad Second: The Teacher
The next squad member is your child’s teacher (or teachers if your child moves rooms through out the day). Teachers are super important squad members. Not only will they be in contact with your child the majority of the day, they’re also the head honchos in spreading awareness to others that come into contact with your child at school.
- Create a safe environment by keeping surfaces clean and clear of contaminates
- Read nutrition labels before child consumes class treats
- Educate any substitute teachers, paras, aids, and assistants that come into contact with child
- Raise classroom awareness by emailing parents to warn them of the classroom allergy.
- Send home a “safe food” list for class parties
- Understand the emergency action plan and be ready to enact it
The Troops: Classmates and Their Parents
Parents and kids without food allergies often bring contaminates to school in lunches, snacks, and party treats. Most of the time it’s not out of negligence, it’s out of lack of awareness. Even though your child may not be allergic to peanuts, your child’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich can still send my son to the hospital. Please be considerate when choosing the foods you send to a classroom with a known food allergy.
- Take time to educate yourself, and your child, on the classroom allergy
- Read nutrition labels, including cross contamination warnings, before sending class treats to school
- Consider sending allergy safe alternatives in your child’s cold lunch packs and snack bags
- If you bring a contaminated item, don’t share, wash your hands, and wipe the table when you’re done
- Reach out to the parent of the child with the allergy with any questions or concerns
Don’t Fit Into Any Of These Roles?
That’s ok. Here are some other ways you can be a member of The Super Squad.
What’s In Your Lunch?
The top 8 food allergies are milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, wheat, soy, and fish. Chances are pretty good that you, or the food allergy sufferer in your class, won’t have all 8. At the same time, there could be other allergens not listed here. I’ve personally known people allergic to strawberries, bananas, and rosemary. For simplicity purposes, just focus on the specific food (or foods) that pose a direct threat in your situation. In our case, it’s peanuts.
In the beginning, replacing peanuts/peanut butter was a huge challenge for our family. It wasn’t until we found SunButter that our lives became a little bit easier. SunButter is made from sunflower seeds, tastes very similar to peanut butter, and has no cross contamination risks. In fact, the brand is free from all top 8 allergens!
SunButter comes in 6 flavors, including chocolate, that makes using it as a peanut-free substitute easy peasy. We use SunButter in place of peanut butter in sandwiches, scotcheroos, cookies, puppy chow, and more. Anything you can make with peanut butter, you can make safer with SunButter!
Whether your class is dealing with a peanut allergy, one of the other top 8, or one of the odd ones…there are so many amazing, safe substitutions out there to choose from. So next time you pack your child’s lunch, or send them to school with birthday treats, please consider taking the time to make the swap. Think of it like your life depends on it…because someone else’s might.
Going back to school can be a scary time for so many reasons. This year, let’s not make food allergies one of them. Take a minute to read the nutrition label. Don’t forget about the cross contamination warnings. Swap the allergen food for a non allergen food before sending it to school. Raise awareness and educate others. That’s all it takes to make someone else’s life a little bit safer. Just remember…prevention eliminates intervention. The entire Super Squad thanks you in advance!
Messy Masterpiece wishes you a safe, and happy, 2022-2023 school year!