Ease Back Into School With The Help of This Food Allergy Checklist

A Safe and Simple School Checklist For The Food Allergic Child

Today nearly 6 million children have been diagnosed with a food allergy, and that number is expected to keep growing.  With many of these kids heading back for the new school year, it is important that you,  your child and your teacher are all prepared on how to handle food allergies within the school setting.  In fact studies reveal that about 16-18% of children with food allergies experience an allergic reaction to food while in school, with the reactions ranging from mild to severe, and sometimes fatal.  For the safety of all of the kids, it is important to take the time to get things in order prior to that very first day at school. 

Making a check list will help to make the transition back to school easy for everyone involved.  Even if your child is returning to the same school, it is important to review food allergy safety each year.  Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare your child for school:  

1
Medication

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? Be sure to review this with your child and their teacher so that in the event of an emergency no time is wasted. 

2
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!” 

3
Meet Your School Nurse

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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.  Review your child's food allergies with the nurse, so she understands the allergy as well as what type of reaction might occur in the event of exposure.  Be sure she has the medications on hand in the event of an emergency.  Make sure your child meets face to face with the nurse prior to school so that your child feels comfortable and familiar to go to take to her or him when needed. 

4
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? Additionally this plan might address any other needs in terms of test taking situations and seating within the classroom, that might be affected by food allergy related issues.

5
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, it should identify in order what steps are to be taken if exposure occurs. This will include what the allergy is, what to do if there is a reaction, medications to administer, who to call and how to document. For a sample plan, see this link.

6
Back Up Snacks for the Classroom

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.  

7
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 or she wants (or not). Also consider whether you need new food containers, to avoid cross contamination, and whether using food labels including ingredients would be helpful.

8
Snack Policy

Check in with the school to see if they have an allergy-friendly snack policy. Be sure you review it with your child so that you both feel comfortable with it and that you understand it. Does it make sense for your child? If not, ask for modifications or work out a reasonable plan for your child. School personnel care very deeply about keeping kids safe in school, and are often 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. With the number of kids with food allergies today, you are most likely not alone. By speaking up and talking to other parents, you can all get involved and help keep your kids safe.  At the same time it will be helpful to educate fellow students and staff about the importance of understanding food allergies. 

9
Allergy Alert Stickers, Tattoos and Bracelets

Tattoos come in handy on field trips.

Especially for younger children who cannot read, or who are just starting school, stickers or allergy bracelets can be easy to recognize and a helpful step to keeping your child safe. Stickers might be a great way to allow your child to be reassured about what is safe within the classroom.  With the help of teachers and classmates this may help your child to feel supports by others.  Having your child wear a food allergy bracelet is also another way for them to be identified as having a food allergy.  There are many on the market that are clearly marked with the allergy but are kid pleasing so that your child will be comfortable wearing it. This can be especially helpful when your child is in and out of their classroom and venturing to other locations.  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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