7 Ways To Ensure Your Child With Food Allergies Is Safe At School
By Megan Cole, Cook Children's Emergency Department Nurse
Food allergies are a frequently discussed topic among parents and medical professionals. If you are not a parent of a child with food allergies, chances are high that someone you love, or someone you see daily may be dealing with this challenging diagnosis.
According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), 32 million Americans are living with food allergies. If you take the statistic a little further, that means 1 in 13 children have food allergies. For a parent, it can be terrifying to have to think about leaving their child at school all day.
Now that school is in full swing, you may have questions, or may be wondering if there is more you can do to keep your child safe. As a pediatric ER nurse and parent of two with food allergies, I am here to tell you that knowledge and preparation are keys to a smooth year! Here are some ways to ensure your child is safe at school.
- First and foremost, visit your child’s allergist every year. (If your child is newly diagnosed and awaiting your first allergist visit, your pediatrician can help you.) Make sure your child has an updated prescription for Epi-Pens. Make sure you have 2 sets; one for home and one for school to keep with the nurse.
- Ask your child’s allergist or pediatrician to fill out a personalized action plan. The FARE website has action plans that are simple to understand, and can be found at www.foodallergy.org. Make multiple copies of these plans. Give them to your child’s teachers and the school nurse. These are absolutely essential to have! They outline exactly what to do in the case of accidental exposure to an allergen.
- Know your rights as a parent. Your school should be accommodating your child in the best way possible. Your child is protected by law due to their food allergy. You can request a 504 meeting at your school. During this meeting, you meet to determine how to best meet the needs of your child at school. As an example, in my children’s 504 plans, we specify that they need to not be seated around anyone eating nuts during the lunch period.
- Make sure your children know to never, ever eat food that you either did not pack for them, or did not provide for the classroom. Get your kids in this habit early, and it will become second nature.
- Prepare for classroom celebrations. Elementary school especially seems to have many, many food centered celebrations. Provide a box of safe treats to keep in your child’s classroom so that they are not completely left out.
- Read every label! Food companies are not required to label for allergens, so it is essential to read every ingredient, even if it’s a food your kiddo has consumed before, as production lines can change.
- Take care of yourself. Caring for a child with food allergies can be stressful. Take heart in knowing it will get easier over time. Reach out to other food allergy families and know you are not alone.