Preparing for Back to School for Your Child with Food Allergies
Food allergies are most concerning for school-age children because of the greater risk for being exposed to a life-threatening allergen. This fall, do you have a plan in place for your child to go back to school? Good communication between you and the school is key to ensure your child is safe while he or she is out of your sight.
Obviously, if your child has food allergies, you monitor closely everything you back in his school lunch box. But you can’t really control what other children bring to lunch, can you? And you have to think ahead about how to handle school events that serve food that may not be appropriate for your child. Before school starts, you should have a plan in place to make sure that the risk of exposure is as low as possible.
My daughter is allergic to many foods, including eggs and peanuts. Unfortunately, at her former school, the staff was not as familiar with how to handle the situation. At times, she was seated by herself at lunch to avoid accidental exposure. And during birthday celebrations, she had to go without. Both were very stressful situations that caused her much sadness.
But it wasn’t the staff’s fault. Ultimately, it was my responsibility to ensure that she was covered in as many situations as I could predict. For example, I prepared egg-free cupcakes that the teacher was able to store in the freezer for those “surprise” days when there was a treat brought in for the rest of the class. On days where the lunch served PBandJ, we opted to designate a section of the table for friends who were eating safe foods so she could still eat with her friends instead of being isolated.
I can’t predict and plan for every event that occurs, but with open communication with the staff, I am able to make my daughter’s day as normal as possible.
Thankfully, my daughter doesn’t require an Epi-Pen, but the staff at our new school has a policy and procedure in place for those who do. Discuss your needs with the school nurse and your child’s homeroom teacher before the first day of school if at all possible – those first few days are chaotic for everyone! Don’t forget to also discuss your special needs with other staff – such as the art teacher, the school bus driver, and those in the afterschool care program. Remember to fully explore what your child will be doing on any field trips (I had a situation of potential concern on a zoo trip this year!)
You should consider creating an Allergy Action Plan specific to your child’s needs. Make yourself familiar with what the school can and cannot do as per the laws in your state.
“In the event of an accidental exposure, the plan helps school personnel manage the reaction in a prompt and effective way. This could mean life or death to the child,” says Joyce Rabbat, MD, pediatric allergist at Loyola University Health System.
Loyola University Health System (LUHS)
National Association of Elementary School Principals (www.naesp.org)
Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE)