As the school year gets underway, parents, teachers and school staff need to keep in mind children who have food-related allergies, both in the classroom and in the school building. Food is a very important part of the school day - from snacks and treats to the lunch served, but children with food allergies could face extreme consequences if they come in contact with certain foods.
All states have laws governing how schools protect students and employees with allergies and asthma, but these laws vary from state to state. Some have comprehensive public policies supporting people with asthma, food allergies, anaphylaxis risk and related allergic disease, and those states are recognized by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's (AAFA) State Honor Roll of Asthma and Allergy Policies for Schools. AAFA's State Honor Roll identifies how states either excel or don't yet make-the-grade for these policies. Check out what laws and policies have been established in your state at www.StateHonorRoll.org.
Also keep the guidelines from your state in mind as you purchase or make treats for your child's classroom, from Halloween all the way to Valentine's Day:
* Check with the classroom teacher and the school first about foods that should not be brought into the school building. Some children have extreme allergies, such as to peanuts, and can react to minimum contact like touching a door handle that had been previously touched by someone handling something with nuts. Any food can cause an allergic reaction, but milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish allergies are some of the most common. If purchasing a snack, read the ingredients list carefully, and double check it against the allergy list provided by the school.
* When preparing the foods - or shopping at the grocery store - make certain the items you'll be taking to the classroom don't come in contact with foods that are barred from the school. This includes washing pots, pans and utensils thoroughly before blending ingredients when baking at home.
* If your child has been diagnosed with a food allergy, consider making special treats he can enjoy without worrying about the snacks containing the foods he's allergic to. Also develop an allergy action plan with your child's doctor, teacher and the school nurse. A free asthma/allergy action card is available from AAFA on the State Honor Roll website, which helps you outline what foods to avoid, what medications to keep (an epinephrine auto-injector is the best first-line emergency treatment), what to do in case of emergencies, who to contact and more. The AAFA site also has many other pages of free information and tips about food allergies.
Encourage your children to enjoy special treat time at school. But also encourage them to be aware that some of their classmates may have serious reactions if they are to come in contact with certain foods. And when preparing a special treat for the classroom, keep food allergies at the forefront of your thoughts, and the celebration will be much more fun for everyone since children with food allergies won't have to worry about the foods they're eating.