Understanding Food Allergies in Schools

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Understanding Food AllergiesI’ve spent most of my working life teaching children to love literature and to be able to communicate effectively in their writing. Along the way, I hope that I’ve also managed to teach them how to be good, compassionate human beings. Next month, my role will shift from being a teacher of students to being a parent of one. I’m overcome with anxiety at times, but not for reasons that affect most people.

My son has food allergies. Pretty significant ones, at that. So significant that we’ve been to the ER and are currently the proud owners of two, uber expensive epi-pens. (Although if anyone reading this has a child who needs to carry an epi-pen, click here for a fantastic reusable coupon that gives you an amazing discount!) Food allergies are on the rise these days. Did you know recent numbers show roughly 8 percent of children have serious food allergies? That’s about one out of every thirteen children in each classroom across America. So take a long look around you when you attend your child’s Back to School Night. Chances are pretty good that at least two children in your child’s class have food allergies.

Raising children with food allergies can be scary at times, especially when they are younger. It’s made extra difficult, however, by the general public’s lack of knowledge on the matter. So to clear the air and hopefully spread awareness, I’ve made a short list of information that I, as a parent of a child with food allergies, would like you to know.

1. Parents of children with food allergies have nothing against birthdays or parties.

We are not scheming behind the doors of a gluten free bakery trying to figure out how we can personally sabotage your child’s birthday or classroom holiday party by requesting an ingredient list of the treats you brought. Our sole priority is the same as yours: keeping our children safe.

2. Unsolicted advice regarding our child’s diet discourages us.

When people heard I gave my son soy milk, they assured me that doing so would give him too much estrogen and cause him to grow man boobs. Well, when the options I had to choose from involved giving him soy milk (because there was a time when that was all he could safely drink) or giving him nothing and have his development and hydration levels suffer, I chose option one.

3. Snack sharing scares us.

I know, I know. Isn’t sharing one of the first things we teach our kids? But the minute someone gives my son a delicious cookie made with butter and eggs, his left eye is going to start to swell, and that will be followed by welts and hives forming around his eyes, throat, lips, and anywhere an elastic band from his clothing is touching, and then some wheezing will ensue. If your child really wants to share, just ask his friend’s parents which food he cannot have. Then, if the snack your child is enjoying is safe for him, share away!

4. If your school is peanut/nut free, please respect that.

I have heard a couple people say, “Oh, I’ll just sneak a PBJ into my child’s lunch because he loves it so much. No one will know.” Doing something like this, though it might seem like not that big of a deal, could be life-threatening for another student at your child’s lunch table. Before you try to sneak one past the system, please ask yourself the following question: Is this something that is worth harming or taking another child’s life? We all know that the answer to that is “no,” so please don’t chance it.

5. Think through your questions before you ask them.

I often get asked questions such as, “Why don’t parents just homeschool their children with food allergies so that others don’t have to be affected by their diets?” That is hurtful and a bit ridiculous. Going to school is not just a time for book learning. It’s where our children learn about our world, its people, how to get along with others, and grow socially and emotionally.

Our number one job as parents is to protect and advocate for our children until they are old enough to do so for themselves. I was clueless regarding the ins and outs of food allergies prior to having my son, so now I promote food allergy awareness so people know what it means, what it looks like, and how they can best help support parents with children in these situations. Because at the end of the day, we all have the same goal: to love our children, nurture their growth and development, and keep them all safe.

Parents of children without food allergies: What questions might you have about dealing with children with food allergies in your child’s classroom this year?

Parents of children with food allergies: What did I leave out? And how do you handle your children’s food allergies when they are in an environment outside of your control? (I could really use some tips.)

 

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Megan has called Colorado Springs home since 2008 when she and her husband of twelve years moved here after serving for two years as Peace Corps volunteers in the beautiful country of Macedonia. She spent her time in Macedonia teaching in a village school, working alongside college professors at a university, and having long, luxerious coffee dates with some of the best people she has ever been priviledged to know. Megan's educational background is in Secondary English Education, and most of her working life has been spent teaching English to junior high students, a grade level that she absolutely adores. Starting this year, she has stepped away from the classroom to explore the world of Communications, and she is excited to be serving as the Strategic Communications Coordinator for a local charter school. When Megan isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with close friends and family; however, her introverted side is just as content being alone on her front porch with a good book and a hot (often re-heated multiple times) cup of coffee. Her interests also include writing, scoring deals at garage sales, and trying (but usually failing) to be creative with her sewing machine. Megan’s boys keep her on her toes with their crazy antics and energetic spirits, but they are always quick to settle down if it means snuggling up to their mama and reading, a pastime in which she happily obliges them.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. I’ve been a mom for almost 10 years now. When our oldest was one he had an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts. At that time food allergies weren’t so wide spread (or at least people weren’t as aware). We have felt so much grief from some family and friends due to us needing to avoid peanuts. We were hypersensitive at first I’m sure, but when you witness your child close to death that does that to you I suppose. Some of our other kids have allergies/sensitivities as well but thankfully not severe.

    When our oldest was younger we learned to carry safe snacks with us at all times and offer to bring a safe alternative to group functions if needed.

    As he grew we eventually taught him to be responsible for his own allergies. Asking about allergens, talking through missing out on some snacks, what to do if he’s around nuts etc. it’s been a learning experience for sure and I’ve spent many days in the grocery store aisles in tears but it does get easier!

  2. Thanks Megan! I think you brought out some really good points. As someone who has no close connections to anyone with allergies this severe it gets easy to not think about it. While I’ve never sent PB&J when it wasn’t allowed, I have known some that were more than a little dismissive of the need to do so. I never really thought about how that sandwich or treat snuck in could have had the potential to kill a child. It is SO not worth it!! And I think the next time I hear about it I’m going to speak up and ask that parent just that question.
    Well said Megan!

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