Food Allergies and School
We are a country that revolves around food. Almost all gatherings and holidays have food involved in some way. Snacks are provided for children at church, day cares, pre-schools, sporting events, parties, play dates, schools and more. Food is also offered as a reward for good behavior or acheiving a goal. Is this wrong? I don’t think so. But when you have a loved one with food allergies it is no longer about right or wrong. It is about safe and unsafe.
How to Keep Our Kids Safe at School
Students have to eat at school. We can’t expect every child to eat a gluten, dairy, seafood, peanut, tree nut, egg, milk and soy free food for lunch and snacks. Or can we? This has been a debate I have heard many times. Now that I have been on both sides of the food allergy coin, I feel I have learned enough to bring awareness to and educate others about food allergies. No, I am not a licensed or trained professional. I am simply a mom who lived the life for 9 years. I am often asked how I kept Kylee, who had life threatening food allergies, safe at school. Lucky you, I am going to share this with you now.
Tips for Back to School with Food Allergies
It all begins during Back to School preparations. A food allergy is a disability that takes a parents ‘Back to School’ stress to a whole new level. I wish I could say that what I am about to share with you is fool proof and that you will not have to worry anymore. But I can’t. My hope though is that maybe it will help relieve some of your worries and fears and empower you to know how and what to do to provide a safe environment for your child.
Plan your annual food allergy testing appointment about 4-6 weeks before school starts. This allows you to get the latest diagnoses and information you need. You will also have plenty of time to get the prescriptions for epinephrine that will need to be supplied to the school. I recommend calling to schedule your appointment in January. Then it is on the books and you are set.
Contact your child’s school before the allergy appointment and get all of the forms they require. You will want to take these with you for the doctor to fill out. Make sure you have a separate form for each medication (ie; Benedryl, inhaler, epinephrine, etc) that may need to be administered.
I am not even going to get on my soap box about the insane cost of epinephrine devices here. Just know, if you don’t have insurance, the price tag is going to sting… A LOT!
Many schools require that all medications be kept in a locked cabinet in the office. I will share with you how I complied and worked around the required policies. I would give a set of the $400 – $600 (gasp) EpiPens to the school per their request. They would lock them up and that is where they stayed until the end of the school year. My opinion is this is one of the most ignorant policies I have ever had to deal with. Why? So glad you asked.
It takes approximately 2 minutes in some cases for a throat to fully close during an anaphylaxis reaction. I am not saying this to scare you. I am saying it to educate you. Imagine your child in their classroom, on the playground, in the lunchroom, in the library, wherever…and they have a reaction. Think of what has to happen in under 2 minutes. Someone has to notify the office of the reaction. Then, assuming someone is in the office that very second, that person has to get the key and unlock the cabinet (hands shaking due to the stress of the emergency), find the correct medication and then get the epinephrine to your child in under 2 minutes. Sorry, but I never wanted to the gamble that the office staff had superhuman powers. So here ya go education system. Take these $400 – $600 EpiPens and do with them what you want.
Now, let’s talk about where to keep them so they will actually do your child some good. Honestly, I never asked for other options. Speaking with authority is a strong trait of mine. I notified all who needed to know that along with the medication that would be kept in the office, another set of medications would be kept in the classroom. In preschool and Kindergarten, we had her meds kept in a filing cabinet in the classroom. When the students left the room, the teachers simply carried the case with them. In 1st grade, Kylee started carrying them on her person. She had to grow up fast and she was very ready to be responsible for carrying them. We purchased a little pouch like this to carry her Auvi-Qs in. She wore them all the time. She knew she was never allowed to unzip the pouch, and she never did. Students were also instructed on this safety measure.
BONUS Medication Tips:
- If you do not have insurance, call around and price shop for epinephrine devices. Cash prices vary and some places have them cheaper than others.
- Call in advance to see what the expiration date on the box is. If it is less than 9 months out, call somewhere else. I have been lucky enough to find expiration dates as far as 15 months out. Newer medicines means less money out of your pocket.
- ALWAYS carry at least 2 devices at all times. There is no guarantee the needle will work properly and having a back up is a must.
- Place band-aids in with the meds. The needles are large enough the area will bleed after.
Order a Medic Alert Bracelet. Yes, there are cutesy ones out there that you can purchase, and we did a couple of times..but why? Medic Alert bracelets are cheap and durable and they do what they are meant to do. Alert others that your child has a medical condition requiring immediate attention.
Cases for Medication
Purchase cases for the medications. They have to be large enough to hold everything your child needs. Benedryl, EpiPens, Bandaids, Instruction Card with Medical Information and child’s picture. Other parents have used the dissolve allergy pills, but I just purchased a full bottle of Benedryl and placed a syringe with it. Pencil cases work great for this if they are not going to be subjected to weather conditions.
Create Instruction Cards. Go to the website of the device your child has been prescribed and download a copy of the device instructions. Print them off. On the other side, you can place a recent picture of your child, their name, date of birth, grade level, teacher name, doctor contact information, parent or guardian’s contact information, Medic Alert id #. I placed a copy of this everywhere I could. With the medications, at the front office, with the teacher, and with the nurse.
Purchase containers for ‘safe’ snacks. I used ones like this. I firmly believe that parents of food allergy children should provide their own snacks. You may believe otherwise and that is your choice. But to ensure my child was only eating what I knew was safe and to remove that additional stress from the educators and staff, it is worth a few snacks in a snack box. On the box I attached a laminated card with Kylee’s picture and ‘Safe Snacks’ typed on it. I have the card samples included in a Food Allergy packet you can order HERE. These were always snacks that Kylee thought were special so that anytime the class had snacks, she was able to choose a ‘special’ treat from her very own box.
Safe Snack List
Type up a list of safe snacks that your teacher can send home to the parents of the other children. Yes, other parent’s are very supportive. If they aren’t, my experience has shown it is because they have not be educated yet on what a food allergy means. They want to keep your child safe and it really helps when they can just choose something from a list rather than playing the guessing game. This is a great time to write an introduction letter to the other parents as well. Tell them about you, your child, and their allergies. Tell them some ways they can help and give them your contact information so they can contact you if they ever have any questions. I had several parents reach out to me and it was always a comforting and loving conversation. You can see a sample of the list and the letter I used HERE.
Educators, administration staff, playground staff, lunchroom staff, and nurses need to be trained on how to use an EpiPen (or whatever device you are using for your child). They need to know what foods are safe and how to keep the classroom a safe environment. Train them on properly wiping down all tables and chairs after anytime food is eaten. Snacks, lunch, birthdays, etc.
Purchase boxes of wipes for the classroom. I purchased mine from Costco. I always supplied the teachers with wipes and made sure they were fully stocked at all times. This ensured they were able to clean after every activity mentioned in the training above.
The lunch room…the worst room in the school. Will your child sit at the ‘Food Allergy Friendly’ table or will they be sitting with their friends? This will require added safety measures. We did both. We liked the ‘Food Allergy Friendly’ table the best and my daughter was never alone for lunch. I introduced a program that allowed the children to eat with Kylee when they had a ‘safe’ lunch that day. Parents were notified what foods were NOT allowed at the ‘Food Allergy’ table. For the most part, it was the students who reminded their parents to pack safe food so they could sit with Kylee. We treated it special and exciting and it was always a positive experience. I trained the lunchroom staff how to make sure Kylee’s table was wiped with clean rags (not the same rags they were using on other tables) before her time to eat. A sign, that I created, was placed in the middle of the table to remind other students that they had to have safe lunches to eat there. You can get the same sign HERE
Lunchroom staff checked lunches for the first few weeks of school, but even in 1st grade, the students began inspecting each other’s lunches before they were allowed to sit there. I was constantly amazed at how grown up and protective they were.
Make sure you provide your child with extra wipes in their lunch box so they can use them before and after they eat. Throw in a few folded paper towels to put the lunchbox on so that way you make sure your child’s lunch never touches the table.
Have your child keep all of his/her trash in their lunchbox. This ensures they never go near the trash cans which are full of unsafe foods.
Educate the Students
Students need to be educated and included in the ‘PAL’ system. I loved doing this each school year. The teachers would allow me to come in and take about 20 – 30 minutes and teach the children about food allergies and about the ‘PAL’ program. Another program I used is the ‘Binky Goes Nuts’ PBS Program.
I know we are all busy and many work full time, but you need to make it a point to develop a relationship with everyone whom your child encounters during the day. They are the ones who are going to be with your child 6-7 hours a day. Help plan parties, offer to provide toys instead of treats, or you provide the class treats yourself.
You Got This!!!
Be creative in how you can help keep your child’s classroom safe. Work with everyone involved and develop a positive relationship.
This is A LOT of information and I am sure I have even left some stuff out, but this is enough to get you and your child off to a safe and happy new school year.
For more food allergy resources, see my post here.
If you are new to the world of food allergies, see my post here.
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