As a parent or guardian, it is your job to protect the child in your care. At some point your child will be going off to school or attending their first sleep over so here are some simple steps to keep your child safe, to keep your confidence high, and help raise awareness among your child’s inner circle about his/her allergy.
- First, determine if your child has an allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity to a food. Refer to Achoo….Am I Just Sensitive or is it a Food Allergy? if you are uncertain as to what condition your child may have. Knowing the difference will help you manage the health issues associated with food choices for your child as allergies can sometimes have more serious side effects than intolerances.
- Develop an action plan. Action plans include important allergen information, such as: foods to avoid, symptoms of a reaction, actions to take if your child has a reaction, medicines to administer and emergency contact information. Share the action plan with your child’s caregivers, namely teachers, babysitters, parents of friends and coaches. A sample Action Plan can be found through Rutgers University here.
- Provide information to anyone who cares for your child. The National Food Service Management Institute has some good resources you can refer to assist in understanding allergies as does eXtension.org.
- Teach your child about their allergy. While it is important for others to be aware of your child’s allergy, as a parent you can not control every situation. Your child needs to know what they are allergic to and how to react if they suspect they’ve eaten the allergen. You don’t want to scare your child but you do want to educate them.
- Use words like “unsafe foods” and teach your child how to read labels.
- Go shopping and cook favorite, safe foods together.
- Pack foods for your child so he/she always has something to eat.
- Find creative and fun ways to educate your child. FARE-Food Allergy Resource and Education website has resources to assist.
- If your child does have an allergy, don’t expect that every event your child goes to will cater to your child's needs. Oftentimes, if you let the event planner know, they will try to keep the menu as safe as possible for your child but you can offer to bring an item your child can share with others. For example: if your child is allergic to peanuts you may want bring peanut free cupcakes that your child can share with everyone to a birthday party.
At the end of the day, it is important to be aware of your child’s condition and take the necessary steps to insure their safety. Teaching your child and those around you is the best defense to avoid any serious reactions and keep them comfortable and fear-free when it comes to eating outside the home.
For more resources about managing food allergies in schools click here!
Vanessa Spero-Swingle, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Elizabeth Shephard, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
FARE, Food Allergy Research & Education, (2015) Talking to Children About Their Food Allergies. Retrieved from: http://www.foodallergy.org/talking-to-children.
FARE, Food Allergy Research & Education, (2015) Resources for Kids. Retrieved from: http://www.foodallergy.org/resources/kids.
Frank, E. (2014) Protect your child this school year with an allergy action plan: Advice from Doctor Mom. Retrieved from: http://www.cleveland.com/sun/all/index.ssf/2014/09/protect_your_child_this_school.html .
Hubert, Stefanie (2013). How to Talk to Your Child’s School about Food Allergies. Retrieved from: http://www.extension.org/pages/68822/how-to-talk-to-your-childs-school-about-food-allergies#.VRrZ444sD_V.
Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Food Allergy Action Plan. Retrieved from: http://www.douglasschildcare.rutgers.edu/Food%20Allergy%20Special%20Care%20Plan.pdf.
University of Mississippi, National Food Service Management Institute, (2015) Food Allergy Fact Sheets. Retrieved from: http://www.nfsmi.org/resourceoverview.aspx?ID=452 .