Tips for Keeping Your Child with Food Allergies Safe at School
All moms worry about their kids’ safety, but for moms whose kids have food allergies, something many people take for granted can pose a serious risk to their child’s health. Millions of kids with food allergies attend school every day. But when it’s YOUR child, you’re always going to worry, will my child with food allergies be safe at school today?
Disclaimer: Please note, food allergies vary in type and severity. This post is not intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your physician for medical advice specific to your child’s health and safety.
My daughter was diagnosed with food allergies when she was under a year old. Three years later and we’ve only had one accidental exposure. She’s never been left with a non-relative. And even with loved ones I give tons of warnings, instructions and check every morsel of food.
But this fall my food allergy child starts preschool. And I’ll admit I’m terrified of not being there to make sure she is only ever given foods that are safe for her.
So, I’ve done some research, talked to my fellow food allergy moms, and started preparing for how to keep my child with food allergies safe at school.
And what I’ve learned about food allergy safety at school is that preparation is key. Along with clear communication and planning with your child’s school to make sure your child stays safe.
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How to Prepare for Sending Your Food Allergy Child to School
Talk About School Safety and Food Allergies with Your Child’s Doctor
One of the best ways to keep your child with food allergies safe at school or daycare is to plan for their safety ahead of time. A good place to begin is with your child’s doctor.
Before school begins schedule an appointment with your child’s allergist or pediatrician. During the appointment make sure you have the prescriptions you need for emergency medical care at school in the event of an allergic reaction.
For example, if your child has an epi-pen for an anaphylactic reaction, now is the time to get the prescription filled to keep at school.
Make a note of the expiration dates of any medication you send to school and set a reminder in your phone or calendar to replace them when needed. You cannot depend on the school to keep track of this.
You should also talk to your child’s doctor about an Allergy Safety Plan.
Create an Allergy Plan for School
An Allergy Plan, sometimes called an Emergency Plan or Allergy Action Plan, is a document you provide to your child’s school or daycare with easy to understand criteria for identifying the signs of an allergic reaction. And what action should be taken once a potential reaction is identified.
An Allergy Plan also includes contact information for parents, doctors, or other emergency contacts.
Your allergy emergency plan should be posted at your child’s school, daycare, and even at home when you have a babysitter.
Include your child’s photo on your allergy plan for school and daycare. And make sure you have copies for your child’s teacher, the school nurse, the office, the cafeteria, or anywhere else that seems relevant.
The school may require a doctor’s signature on your emergency plan. So make sure to get that taken care of during your appointment prior to your child starting school.
Your doctor or school may have a specific form they use for an Allergy Plan. But if not, one form I like is included in this Kids Food Allergy Safety Kit. You can also find a free downloadable allergy plan form here.
Talk to School About Your Child’s Food Allergies Before the School Year Begins
If you know where your child will be attending school in the fall, schedule a meeting the prior spring or in late summer before school starts to discuss your child’s food allergies. Ideally, you would meet with the school principal, your child’s teacher, the school nurse, and possibly even lunchroom employees to discuss your child’s food allergies.
Discuss your child’s allergy plan and ways that they can help keep your child safe.
Communicate with Your Child’s School About Food Allergy Safety
When you meet with staff from your child’s school about food allergy safety, there are a few topics you want to cover.
First, find out what the school’s policies are regarding food safety for kids with food allergies. Do they discourage sharing food among kids? Do they have a special table for kids with food allergies? (more on this later). Do they have staff training on identifying the signs of an allergic reaction?
If your school does not provide training, consider requesting that your child’s teacher and the lunchroom staff be trained on how to recognize the signs of an allergic reaction. Make sure they are aware that when a child describes their tongue feeling itchy or their mouth feeling hot or even just saying they feel “weird” it can be early signs of an allergic reaction requiring immediate care.
It also a good idea to emphasize the importance of kids washing their hands before and after eating (all the kids, not just those with food allergies). And tables being wiped down after eating times to prevent the spread of allergens.
Request that your child’s teacher avoids using food as a reward in the classroom as it may endanger kids with food allergies and intolerances. Or isolate them from their peers.
And find out how substitute teachers, field trip chaperones, and other temporary caregivers will be made aware of your child’s allergies.
Finally, and possibly most important for kids requiring Epi-Pens or other emergency medications, find out where your child’s epinephrine will be stored. And who will give it if it’s needed.
Does My Food Allergy Child Need a 504 Plan?
As a food allergy mom, you are probably used to advocating for and protecting your child. Even then, I know this can feel intense. You don’t want to be “that mom” that the school staff are already rolling their eyes at before school even starts.
But we’re not talking about being a helicopter parent here. We’re talking about food safety issues that can be life and death for some kids. So, don’t be afraid to ask for what your child needs. And to make requests on their behalf.
Your child’s school may want to create a 504 plan for managing your child’s food allergies. Or this might be something you bring up. A 504 plan is a plan written collaboratively with the school and a student’s family to manage food allergies and other health concerns.
A 504 plan is a great way to formalize your requests to your child’s school regarding the way their food allergies will be managed in the classroom.
Nut-Free Lunch Tables: Yes or No? And How to Handle it with Your Child
Many schools now have a nut-free table in the cafeteria for kids with life-threatening allergies to nuts. On the one hand, this might be a huge relief to you as an allergy mom. And it may be a necessary measure for your child’s safety at school.
The flip side is that some kids find the nut-free table to be isolating. And dislike being kept separate from their friends during lunch and snack times.
As a parent, this can be a tough call to make. Weighing the severity of your child’s allergies and the chances of exposure, consider carefully both what they want and what they need to be safe at school.
Consider talking to the school about allowing your child to sit with friends who commit to bringing in a nut-free (or whatever allergen you’re avoiding) lunch. And of course, verifying they’ve stuck with their plan.
Or reducing the risk of your child’s exposure by keeping them at the end of a table and trying to have them sit next to a classmate with an allergen-free lunch.
And maybe none of this will work and your child will have to eat at the nut-free table away from their friends. Sometimes none of the choices are ideal. And the best you can hope for is that they will enjoy the company of other food allergy kids.
Things You Can Do to Help Your Child as a Food Allergy Mom
Communicate with Your Child’s Classmates and Other Parents About Your Child’s Food Allergies
As a food allergy mom, reaching out to other parents is a great way to help your child stay safe at school. Ask the school for permission to send a letter to the homes of your child’s classmates.
Let the other parents know about your child’s allergy. You can ask them to avoid sending in the foods your child is allergic too. And provide a list of safe snack ideas.
Or, if you feel like that’s an overreach, at least ask if other parents could try and send you a heads up when they are sending in birthday treats or buying snacks for a class party so that you can provide a safe alternative for your child.
This can also be useful information for parents that volunteer in the classroom or chaperone field trips so that they are aware and prepared in the event your child has an allergic reaction on their watch.
Get an Allergy Alert Bracelet for Your Child
An allergy alert bracelet is a great way to let other people know about your child’s allergies. And they can provide valuable information to caregivers in an emergency.
Because my child with food allergies is so young, I like the allergy bracelet included in this Food Allergy Safety Kit. It adjusts small enough for her tiny wrist. And she’s delighted by the cute little cow on her dairy allergy charm.
The Food Allergy Safety Kit also comes with disposable bands and stickers for situations where you don’t want to send an expensive allergy bracelet (learn more about the Food Allergy Safety Kit in my review here.
You can also purchase metal allergy alert bracelets and medical bracelets that are as discrete or obvious as suits your child’s taste and situation.
If your child is too young for a bracelet, I do know a mom who had her son wear a t-shirt as a young child with big letters stating he had a peanut allergy. There are also necklaces, buttons, stickers, and other options to consider. Get creative, try a few things and see what you and your child are comfortable with.
Avoid Buying Food at School (Hot Lunch) if Your Child has a Food Allergy
In general, if your child has food allergies they should stick to eating food that you send from home. With most allergies, hot lunch is going to be a gamble. Talk to your child about sticking to their packed lunch and snack.
Keep a Stash of Safe Foods at School for Your Food Allergy Kid
If you’re a mom whose kid has food allergies, it’s a good idea to send snacks and treats for your child’s teacher to keep on hand.
These can be given to your child when unsafe treats are brought in for a classmate’s birthday. Or when the class is having a holiday party or other event with snacks.
It’s awesome if other mom’s or your child’s teacher alert you to these events so you can send something appropriate to school. But in case that communication doesn’t happen, it’s a good idea to have at least a few things you keep at school for events that come up.
If your child is at a preschool or daycare where parents take turns bringing snack or snack is supplied by the school, keep a stash of snacks at school for your child to be given every day. Unless you have a huge amount of trust in the teachers and other parents ability to identify allergens in foods, request your child only be given the food you supply.
Prepare Your Child to Take Responsibility for Staying Food Allergy Safe at School
Part of growing up with a food allergy means learning to take responsibility for yourself and avoiding your known allergens. Your child is going to be much safer at school if they know how to avoid foods they are allergic to, seek help when they are having a reaction, and can follow best practices when it comes to avoiding allergens.
Review Food Allergies with Your Child Before they Attend School
Before your child starts school, review with them the foods they are allergic to. Help them recognize foods that might contain their allergen. And practice scripts for declining offers of food and telling other people about their food allergies.
Talk to Your Child About How to Stay Safe at School
When you’re preparing your child for school, talk to them about how to stay safe. Emphasize the importance of not sharing food at school. And sticking to foods you’ve sent them from home.
Teach your child to wash their hands before and after eating. As well as after sharing toys, recess equipment, even sitting at someone else’s desk. Anywhere they might have picked up an allergen.
Most importantly, before your child starts school, review the signs of an allergic reaction. And make sure your child knows to seek help from an adult immediately when a possible reaction occurs.
Make sure your child knows who to seek out for help. And practice what they should say or do to let an adult know it’s an emergency situation.
Teach your child to be their own advocate when it comes to food allergy safety. It will help both you and your child feel safer when they’re away from home.
Sending Your Child with Food Allergies to School Safely
If you’re a food allergy mom with experience sending your child to school, good or bad, please share your experiences and tips in the comments. I’d love to learn from other moms who have been through it!