Food Allergy Awareness for the School Year

September 15, 2017 | Preschool, Elementary, Middle School

As the weather gets colder and the leaves start changing colors our minds begin shifting away from summer and towards the new school year. While this typically brings feelings of excitement, parents of a child with a food allergy can be filled with mixed emotions often provoking higher levels of stress and anxiety.

Around 6 million children in the United States have food allergies, which is equal to about two children in every classroom. Food allergies among children are on the rise and have increased about 50 percent from 1997 to 2011. A total of eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies, which include:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree Nuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Some allergies (milk, egg, wheat, and soy) may resolve in childhood while allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish are typically lifelong.  Nearly 40 percent of children with food allergies are reported to have a history of a severe reaction. With a severe reaction, symptoms can occur within minutes to several hours after eating the food and can affect the skin, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, and in very severe cases the cardiovascular system. Anaphylaxis is the term for a potentially life-threatening reaction that occurs after exposure to an allergen.

Policies on food allergies will vary from school to school, but the bottom line is to follow the guidelines and recommendations of your school to ensure the safety of children. Here are some tips and ways to support others with food allergies in the classroom (these also work at home):

  • If possible, restrict identified allergens from the classroom. Even a small amount of the allergen ingested, or through contact with the skin, can cause a reaction in those with severe allergies.
  • If food is brought to school, make sure it is properly labeled and packaged so allergens can be identified and avoided if needed.
  • Celebrate in ways that do not involve food. Birthdays and parties can be celebrated with games, crafts, and time outside. Treat bags can be filled with small toys and other non-edible trinkets.
  • Discourage your children from sharing their food, beverages, and utensils and ask them to always wash their hands after eating.
  • If a food allergy is recognized in your child’s classroom all classroom members can use this time to explore new foods and ingredients they may enjoy to replace the one that is restricted
  • For teachers and staff: Avoid using food as a reward or as a part of curriculum. A classroom movie, time outside, guest speaker, or field trip can help motivate students.
  • For parents of a child with a food allergy: Consider a medic alert bracelet for them to wear to help remind others of their allergy. These can be personalized and the child can choose a fun design to include on the bracelet.

Want to learn more about this topic? Explore this lesson below!

Looking for healthy, allergy-friendly recipes to share? Check out our Healthful Recipes board on Pinterest!