The Food Allery Back-to-School Checklist

9 Items for the Food Allergic Child Heading to School

Nearly 6 million children have a food allergy, and many of them will be getting ready for the new school year. Studies tell us that about 16-18% of children with food allergies experience a food allergic reaction in school, ranging from mild to severe, and sometimes fatal.

If you have a child with food allergy, like me, you may be gearing up for a safe and easy entry back into the school routine. Here are a few things to think about as you prepare your child for school:  


Medicine. Photo © Huseyin Bakir, stock.xchng

At your child’s physical, make sure to get updated prescriptions for epinephrine. Check expiration dates for your antihistamine, or other medications included with your child’s food allergy management plan. Determine where medications will be stored at school. For example, will your child carry his medication with him or will the nurse store his medications? 

Meet Your Child’s Teacher

The relationship you develop with your child’s teacher is probably the most important one of all. She will know your child better than any other adult in the school, and will see him daily. Find out if she or he has managed food allergies in the classroom before, as this will gauge everyone’s comfort level with the situation. Discuss how your child will be managed in the classroom. Make sure identified allergens are not present or allowed in the classroom. If outside food is allowed, ask for clear and obvious signage outside of the classroom (on the door/walls) indicating a classroom food allergy is present. For example, “No Nuts. Food Allergy Alert!”  

Meet Your School Nurse

Know your nurse!.

The school nurse will be your touchstone on all things 'health' with your child. From managing your child’s allergy medications to ministering him when he has a cold or fever, she or he will be your resource and ally in keeping your child safe and healthy throughout the school year. Personally, I have always felt more comfortable knowing I could reach out to the school nurse with updates on my child, and ask her to check in on him as needed.

An Accommodation Plan

Also called a Section 504 plan or a tailored, written plan for your child, an accommodation plan outlines how your child will be included in school activities safely. For example, what needs to be in place for your child to travel on a field trip? What policies need to be set for the classroom? Where will your child eat in the lunchroom? How will outside food be handled? 

Food Allergy Action Plan

Also called an Emergency Care Plan, this plan needs to be updated every year, often with your medical doctor at your annual physical. It outlines your child’s specific treatment plan in the event of ingestion, or an allergic reaction at school. For example, my son’s plan details, in order, what steps to take if he accidentally eats food containing tree nuts, and includes when to use antihistamine, epinephrine and who to call and when. For a sample plan, see this.

Back Up Snacks for the Classroom

Applesauce is a good back-up snack.. ©iStockphoto/FotografiaBasica, licensed to

Classroom celebrations may not always be planned ahead of time. Cupcakes, cookies and other treats appear without notice! This situation not only puts your food allergic child at risk, it may also be emotionally difficult when everyone else is eating a treat. Have a couple of safe, allergy-friendly food items stored in the classroom for your child as a back-up snack.  

Lunch Packing Gear

Every child looks forward to a new lunch box for the new school year. The child with food allergies is no different! Because children with food allergies may bring their lunch to school more frequently, allowing you more control over the lunch components, you’ll want to confer with your child about which lunch box he wants (or not). Also consider whether you need new food containers and whether using food labels including ingredients would be helpful.

Snack Policy

Check in with the school to see if they have an allergy-friendly snack policy. Read it. Does it make sense for your child? If not, ask for modifications or work out a reasonable plan for your child. In my experience, all school personnel care very deeply about keeping kids safe in school, and are amenable to reasonable suggestions. If a snack policy doesn’t exist, this is a great place to use your experiences and knowledge to help the school ramp up a plan for food allergic kids. Get involved in the process! 

Allergy Alert Stickers and Tattoos

Tattoos come in handy on field trips..

Especially for younger children who cannot read, or who are just starting school, stickers can be easy to recognize and a helpful step to keeping your child safe. A friend of mine made stickers for her little girl’s food in the classroom that said, “OK for Tess,” and she applied these to the food she sent in as back up snacks, and to any snacks she sent in for the whole classroom. Tattoos are useful as well, particularly if your child is heading out on a field trip and in the early days of school when everyone is still getting to know each other (including teachers!). These can be applied to your child’s skin and can be washed off at the end of the day. 

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