Food allergies are becoming more and more prevalent. Many schools are going “peanut-free.”
My oldest is allergic to milk, peanuts, wheat, barley, milk, eggs, beef, pork, fish, and soy. Yes, you read that right … you can actually be so allergic to milk that you are also allergic to the cow too. He’s had these allergies his whole life, so it’s something that we’ve had to learn how to live with – as a family.
When Jaden hit school age, it became a bigger issue to make sure he was safe but also how to help him feel included in his classroom. We’ve had some teachers who do an amazing job and are sensitive to his allergies. We’ve also had teachers who didn’t really seem to get it. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the last nine years. If your family struggles with food allergies, I hope these help!
- Teacher Face to Face. Every year I find time to sit with Jaden’s teachers, preferably face to face. This gives me the chance to share more about Jaden’s allergies and what happens if he is exposed. Jaden is really good about knowing what he can and cannot eat. He is also very aware that he’s different than his friends. Letting his teachers know that he’s comfortable with himself, but can be sensitive to feeling left out is important. I also lay a firm foundation of grace and understanding. I let the teachers know I respect their job and know that he is one of 45 other children … things happen. I just need them to be honest with me so we can all be on the same page.
- Birthday Treats – what all the other kids look forward to, and my kid dreads. When we first started school, Jaden’s teacher would just tell me when there would be an upcoming birthday treat, and I would pack a special treat. However, Jaden started coming home sad because there were unexpected treats that he wasn’t able to participate in. I had a better idea. Jaden and I fill a ziplock bag filled with special “Jaden-friendly” treats, and I ask the teacher to keep it on hand. This way, no matter what the occasion, he got to participate. One school year, Jaden was allowed to keep a box of popsicles in the teachers’ lounge. His allergies turned from something that didn’t allow him to participate into something that made him special.
- Birthday Parties. When Jaden is invited to a birthday party, I call ahead. I ask what’s on the menu and what kind of cake is being served. Then I get busy making a similar allergy-friendly meal. Bring the meal in a brown paper bag and voila! Jaden fits in. The catch is when Jaden doesn’t want what’s on the menu; I let him choose when he’d like to have. Being different is already tough enough, I try not to pick the “you will eat what I make you” fight for birthday parties.
- Let’s talk about it. From the very beginning of finding out Jaden had so many allergies, we’ve talked openly about the feelings that come along with it – that he’s different than all of his friends, that our food smells so yummy, but he can’t try it, that he can’t have a normal birthday cake. I remind him all the time that he’s the strongest kid I know. Not everyone would be able to live with so many allergies.
What tips and tricks have you used to navigate food allergies in school?