Big Kid

These Food Allergy Tips Can Keep Your Kids Safe at School This Fall

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Kids all over the country are heading back to school, which is an exciting time! Time to get back to routine, structure, and early bedtimes! When you’re prepping for back to school, there’s a lot to think about. We buy new supplies, we refresh our kids’ wardrobes, we worry about which teacher they’re going to get. We buy the bento boxes and lunch bags and start planning (and dreading) the nightly ritual of packing school lunches. But for parents of children with food allergies, there’s a bigger worry: how to keep your kiddos safe when they walk through those school gates everyday. A lot of us take that for granted, but when your kid has a life-threatening food allergy, it’s the one thing you can’t stop thinking about. These food allergy tips will go a long way toward keeping your kids safe this fall.

You can’t control every moment of the day when your kid is at school. But these food allergy tips can help you feel a bit more in control of a potentially scary situation. The most important thing you can do before your child heads back to school: communicate with the school, teachers, and administrators!

If this is your child’s first year in school, or first time at a new school, open the lines of communication before school lets out for the summer. Most schools and district offices don’t stay open for the entire summer, and with the hustle and bustle of the new year starting, it can be difficult to schedule meetings. Reach out to the school in the spring; send an email to the principal and school nurse, and if possible, ask for a face-to-face meeting. During the meeting, ask about school policies when it comes to allergens, as well as their medical emergency and medications policies. Get copies of any forms you’ll need to have on file when the new school year starts. These can include medical authorization forms, special dietary restriction accommodation forms, and action plans for emergencies.

You may also want to begin the process of putting a comprehensive management and prevention plan in place. Some schools may require that you request and file an Individualized Health Plan (IHP) or 504 Plan.

Over the summer, make an appointment with your child’s doctor to secure authorizations, prescriptions, and signatures on the required forms.

Don’t put this off until after school starts! You don’t want to find yourself scrambling to get everything together. Your child’s doctor is required to sign off on the medical authorization form, the dietary needs accommodation, and the IHP or 504 Plan. In addition to these signed forms, you’ll want to make sure you have a prescription for any meds or EpiPens your child will need to carry or have on-hand at school.

Next up in food allergy tips for heading back to school: meet with the school food services director.

This is really important if your child will be buying lunch from the cafeteria. You’ll want to find out how the kitchen and staff manage cross-contamination when it comes to food preparation and service. Also, once you’ve submitted the special dietary restrictions accommodation form, you’ll need to know how your child goes about requesting their meals, and what safe substitutes will be used.

On the first day of school, turn in all the required forms that have not been submitted yet.

There should be copies on file in the front office and with the school nurse, as well as with the district. It couldn’t hurt to make sure your kid’s teacher has copies on file in the classroom, too! Be sure to also leave any medications or EpiPens with the nursing staff at school, and review administration procedures.

Touch base with your child’s teacher, and make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to food allergy precautions and procedures in the classroom.

Your child will be spending the bulk of their day in their classroom with their teacher and classmates. It’s incredibly important to get all the paperwork and meetings done with school staff and administrators. But nothing is more important than opening a line of communication with their teacher. Find out what the policy is on snacks and class treats, and reiterate the very important “no sharing food” rule. Also, it can’t hurt to volunteer to provide safe snacks for the class for parties and such! This is super helpful, and may earn you some points with the teacher.

Finally, the most important of the food allergy tips for going back to school: communicate with your kiddo before they walk out the door.

It’s never too early for your child to learn how to manage their own allergies, and it can very well save their life. Your kiddo should know not to share food, and who to contact if they’ve been exposed. If they carry their own EpiPen, review how to administer the injection. Getting them comfortable with managing their own allergies is so important. Plus, the more they know, the more they can educate their schoolmates!

Back to school for kids with food allergies can be stressful, but these food allergy tips can help take some of the stress and worry out of what should only be a fun and exciting venture.

(Image: iStock/ChesiireCat)