It’s that time of year again where you’re either breathing a sigh of relief, bemoaning the end of summer, or both. Regardless, back to school requires preparation, especially if you’re a food allergy parent.
Food allergies can be very daunting, especially when you have no daily control over your child’s environment. This is where the three P’s: Plan, Promote and Persevere, are integral to your child’s safety and your piece of mind. Many of these tips are best done prior to the beginning of the school year, so it is still early enough in the season to review this list, take action and cover all your bases.
1. Schedule an appointment with your allergist, preferably before school. Make sure all health papers are in order, such as the Emergency Action Plan and Medical Authorization Form. Develop an emergency plan with your doctor to present to the school nurse.
2. Write an introductory note to the principal and teacher. Tell them about your child and his or her needs. Open communication is fundamental to your child’s safety.
3. Introduce or re-establish your connection to the school nurse. Discuss your child’s emergency plan.
4. Get a prescription for extra Epi-Pens (check to see if your insurance allows it). You will need one for the school nurse, for your home and don’t forget about any after-school activities where food may be involved (i.e. religious school, clubs, day care, babysitters, etc.).
5. Speak directly with the teacher regarding birthday parties and other food occasions. Ask for advance notice of birthdays, so you can provide a safe alternative for your child that day. Keep a bag of treats (with an adequate shelf life) for the teacher to use in a pinch in the event that someone brings in something unexpectedly.
6. Depending on the particular allergy, it is usually easier and safer to supply your child’s lunch. Ingredients and cafeteria products may change, and you cannot oversee preparation. It is far better (and probably healthier) to provide your own.
7. Make sure your child’s lunchbox is clearly labeled with his or her name on the front. You may want to put a fun, colorful type of luggage tag on the handle to differentiate it from other kids’ lunchboxes. A case of mistaken identity could be dangerous.
8. Introduce yourself to the cafeteria director and the lunch aides (this applies to elementary school specifically) and point out your child so they are on the radar during lunchtime. Check in with them periodically. If your child needs a peanut-free table, make sure you can identify one.
9. If possible, volunteer to be a room parent. This keeps you on top of what goes on in the classroom, especially during parties and holidays.
10. Finally, teaching your child to advocate for themselves, no matter how young, is crucial to his or her success. Stress the no-share rule and teach them how to use their Epi-Pen whether they self-carry or not. Assure them there is a plan in place to keep them safe. This reduces their anxiety and yours.
Keep calm and persevere on! Unfortunately, our job as food allergy parents is never done, even if you have a 504 plan. Staying on top of these procedures is paramount. It’s always best to check in every few weeks with the teacher, nurse and/or principal regarding concerns, questions or updates regarding your child’s allergies.
MIDDLE SCHOOL CHECKLIST
Since elementary and middle school have different structures, the checklist is a bit modified. If you have a 504 plan, many of the tips below have probably been taken into account, but if you don’t, you can still develop a plan with the school administration.
1. Planning tips 1-3 still apply. However, more likely, your child will be a self- carrier. Make sure he or she knows how to use their Epi-pen and has it with them, especially during lunchtime and after-school activities. Provide the nurse with an Epi-Pen as well, along with the appropriate paperwork.
2. School trips and outdoor activities are all important social and educational facets of middle school. It is essential to have the appropriate conversations with administration on food allergy safety regarding these events.
3. Teenagers and young adults are at the highest risk of fatal food-induced anaphylaxis, which is why communication with your child is so important during these volatile years. Your child will be curious about testing out their independence — make sure that food curiosity is not part of their plan.
Chocolate Cookie Recipe (nut, dairy, egg, soy free)
Make these for the lunchbox on the first day of school. They look amazing, taste great, boast a nutritional punch AND have far less sugar than the average cookie. And as a bonus, they don’t require a mixer. For more information on this recipe and others, visit www.lifeisgoodlickthebowl.blogspot.com.
- ⅔ cup less 1 tablespoon canola oil (I use organic.)
- ⅓ cup *sucanat plus 1 tablespoon white sugar
- ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 teaspoon good quality vanilla
- 1 ¼ organic whole-wheat pastry flour (I use Arrowhead Mills brand. Unbleached is fine in a pinch, but lacks the nutrition).
- ½ cup less 1 tablespoon cup unbleached white flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup chocolate chunks (I use Enjoy Life brand.)
- ¾ cup mini chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl combine all the dry ingredients with a wire whisk.In a large bowl combine the oil, sugars, applesauce and vanilla. Whisk briskly until the oil and all the ingredients come together. It should be the color of caramel.
2. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and stir until combined. If the dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour but not too much. Stir in the chocolate chips (sometimes I use my hands, especially if I add more chunks) to incorporate the chips evenly throughout.
3. Using a cookie scooper, place the batter on the baking sheets and slightly press into a circle with your fingers. Bake from 12-15 minutes (12 minutes if you like them soft, 14-15 for really crunchy). Cool completely on wire rack.
*Sucanat is whole cane sugar. It has a slower releasing affect on blood sugar and its nutritional value is ranked highest in the sugar kingdom because of its molasses retention, which makes it a source of minerals and vitamin B6.
Rachel Ornstein Packer holds an MSW from Yeshiva University and is certified with Precision Nutrition in exercise nutrition/nutrition consulting. She is a freelance writer specializing in food allergies, diet and nutrition. Her debut children’s picture book, Sky-High Sukkah, was just released.