Globally, 220-250 million people may be suffering from food allergy. Millions of kids have food allergies nowadays. Peanuts, milk, eggs, gluten, sesame seeds, fish, soy and many more might cause some sensitivity or even a life-threatening allergic reaction. Sometimes I wonder if it is because our daily life is packed with dangerous chemicals, or just because medicine is so developed and parents are more aware. My boy was diagnosed with milk, egg and gluten allergy when he was just 3 months old. We are lucky that these allergens cause only skin rash and indigestion problems. But you do not want your child to suffer from any type of inconvenience.
To deal with allergies at home is not so difficult. Yes, it’s a bit tricky to adapt the menu to the allergic person and to make it tasty for all the family members, but at least everything is in your hands.
Bigger problems start when the child starts to go to a nursery or to school. Every year there will be a new teacher, a new teacher’s assistant, a new specialist, new management team. And if you inform them once, they usually forget. Or maybe they do not forget, but they just do not have enough knowledge about allergies. Actions that are second-nature to you, such as reading ingredient labels, may not be an intuitive action for others. Even the parent who tries to eliminate all the allergens sometimes does mistakes. It happened to me when my boy started to eat solid foods. He started to feel bad and I thought that the only new product in his diet was bread, but I really checked all the ingredients when I bought it. I checked every single ingredient on Google page, and you know what, I found out that one of the ingredients in the bread albumin was nothing else but the egg white. This was the cause of my boy’s sickness. How can a teacher or other caregiver at a nursery or school know what secret allergen ingredient is hiding in the food?
After managing my boy’s food allergies at school for the 5th year, I can share some tips from my experience.
1. Prepare and provide information and medication
Providing information about your child’s food allergy and medications to the school is critical. You should provide information about foods, to which your child is allergic, symptoms of the allergic reaction, treatment plan, emergency contact information. If your child’s allergy reaction might be severe, it is better to provide the school with the prescribed medication (just be sure that the expiration date is at least 12 months away). As soon as possible at the beginning of the school year, you should meet at least with your child’s teacher and the school nurse to discuss the action plan.
2. Snacks and lunch should be provided from home
No cafeteria or catering company will think better about your child then you will. They think how to feed masses, how to make it cheap and how to do business out of it. They would never think of allergies and they will never take responsibility. To provide allergy friendly food that meets requirements of every possible allergy that might be in a school is impossible. Snacks and lunch from home is not only allergy friendly, but it is made with love.
3. No food sharing rule
Encourage your child not to accept food if someone is sharing. You can inform as many people as possible about your child’s allergies, but it is human nature to forget or not to think of something. So my recommendation is to speak with your child and introduce the rule – no food from others, this way you will eliminate lots of dangerous food. And no trading food with classmates. You should ask the teacher to follow this rule as well.
4. Prepare an allergy friendly goody bag
Food is used in class projects, arts, crafts, science experiments, during holidays and celebrations, also as a reward in class. In an ideal world, you could ask teachers and parents for food modifications to make sure that the child with food allergies could fully and safely participate in class activities. But in reality this does not work. Example from my experience: kids counted marshmallows for class math project and ate them later on. The teacher, who was a wonderful and very helpful teacher, did not think that marshmallow might contain egg white, which later caused allergic reaction to my boy. Even knowing that your child is allergic to something, parents still prepare birthday treats or bring celebration snacks that allergic kids cannot consume. A very good solution is to prepare an allergy friendly goody bag for your child and leave it with your child’s teacher. This way every time kids are rewarded with food or get some food during birthday celebration in the class, or during a class project, your child will be substituted with some other treat from his own goody bag. This way there is no need to worry and read labels or call parents to ask for permission.
5. Teach your child self-management
As your child grows older, it is very important to know how to manage the allergy himself and recognize potentially dangerous food, as eventually one day he will be responsible for himself and mummy will not check every ingredient label for him. Teach your child to recognize the symptoms of reactions. He should know the list of dangerous foods, the medicine needed for severe reactions, maybe even carry it with him.
Sometimes it is such a struggle to deal with food allergies when your children are out of home and especially at school. Those 5 simple rules helps us feel safer and avoid most common accidents.
If you want to get any further advice on allergies, I would be happy to help you and share my experience.