With recent research showing that one in 25 U.S. children has a food allergy, it's likely that one of your child's classmates will be living with this potentially life-threatening condition.
Here are five tips for coping with food allergies in the classroom:
Ask for a list of "safe foods." A food list is a big help to parents who plan class parties or events. Kids with allergies may have specific brands or types of foods they can safely eat, so ask the allergic family or teacher for a list at the start of the school year. "Dealing with allergies can be complicated, so point us in the direction of what kids can have and not just what they can't," suggests Erika Joyner, a west suburban Girl Scout leader and mom of four.
Count on the allergic families to contribute food. Fourth-grade teacher Catherine Blake uses this approach. "I like it if parents of the allergic child can provide treats. Those of us who don't have to think about allergies on a daily basis aren't always completely aware of what's best to eat for allergic kids," says Blake. Allergic families are used to providing food for parties and events, so don't hesitate to ask them to send safe treats.
Consider non-edible treats. Non-food treats are a safe, worry-free and fun option for everyone. Items like inexpensive toys, stickers, small notebooks and themed pencils can be a big hit. Plus, they have the added bonus of being sugar-free as well as allergy-free.
Understand that food restrictions are sometimes necessary. If you're being asked to avoid or minimize a food in your new classroom, it's for good reason. Food residue (such as sticky peanut butter) can be transferred to shared surfaces on computers, desks and more. Cross-contact can trigger allergic reactions.
Don't be afraid to invite allergic classmates to a play date or birthday party. Some parents are hesitant about hosting a food-allergic child because they fear an allergic reaction. In most cases, food allergies are very manageable. Depending on the allergic child's level of independence and your level of comfort, ask the parent to stay. Who knows? You might make a new friend, too.