Gina Clowes is the founder of AllergyMoms.com. We would like to thank her for guest blogging for us and sharing her family's allergy story. Note: This article was originally written for Health Central: My AllergyNetwork.com. To view the article there, click here.
Although there is a lot of attention on peanut-free tables and banning peanut butter from school cafeterias, studies show that most food allergic reactions at school happen outside the cafeteria. Classroom parties and other situations out of the ordinary can put food allergic children at increased risk.
With Halloween parties around the corner, I thought I'd share my TREAT sheet (some tips) that has helped keep my son and other allergic children safe and included in classroom parties.
Start with your child's teacher.
In my experience, having the teacher communicate the "rules" for the party is the way to go. You and other parents of children with special dietary needs can provide the teacher with a list of safe treats and activities. Hopefully by this point, your child's teacher understands how dangerous food allergies can be. If not, now would be a great time to share this important information.
Set realistic expectations.
Even today there are many parents who are not aware of the dangers of food allergies. It is likely there will be mistakes. Sometimes the teacher may "catch" these, other times he or she may not. Remember that others are not as immersed in the food-allergy world as we are. Even with reminders sent home, there will always be a parent who "didn't get the memo." Take these oversights with a grain of salt and assume honest intent.
Eat only food with labels that have been double checked.
Your child will be tempted but it's important to remember that ingredients change. Different sizes of the same candy or cookies can have different ingredients as well. Homemade treats are likely to be on the scene and these can contain any number of questionable ingredients and may have been cross-contaminated by an innocent parent who is not accustomed to baking for a food allergic child. Also, don't use common sense (or common assumptions) to determine if a food is safe. Jelly beans can contain peanut flour. Taffy, chewy candies and lollipops can contain milk or egg. Cherries can contain almonds! This is not the time for you to let your guard down.
Attend the party.
You will be amazed at what you will find. My son attended a "peanut-free" preschool and received a full-sized Snickers bar in his treat bag! (I confiscated it and enjoyed it later that evening!)
Even when you think you have the party food covered, other parents may use food in their party games or for prizes, not thinking of food allergies. Parties are hectic so it is always helpful to have an extra set of eyes on your child to make sure that he does not consume an unsafe treat.
Treats served should be safe for all of the students in the classroom. This is not only more inclusive but it keeps the learning environment safe. Even with multiple food allergies, there are a wide variety of snacks and treats that can be served safely. Offer to bring safe foods to share. Prepare a specific list of safe snack ideas to keep other parents involved. This will give other parents an opportunity to bring food to share as well. Be there to double check what shows up because there are always surprises. I thought all lemonade was safe for my son until one parent brought kiwi-flavored lemonade to a party!
So always have safe treats and a drink for your child as back up.
Remember the power of "Thank you."
And last but not least, remember to thank those who have helped kept keep your child safe and included. People may not realize how hard it is for us to ask for accommodations for our child or how scared we are when we have to depend on others to prepare or serve food for our kids. Those who "get it" make our lives so much easier, so each and every time you come across one of these angels, let them know how much it means to you and your child.
- Gina Clowes