For many people, the beginning of each school year signals a fresh start. But it can also bring anxiety, especially for parents of children with food allergies and sensitivities. Luckily, there are many resources out there to help such families navigate the transition from summer to school while staying safe. We’ve put together a checklist to help you prepare for sending your child back to school without worry. Many of the items on this list are time-sensitive, like scheduling a doctor’s appointment and obtaining appropriate forms and medications, so get started on them as soon as possible to enjoy this exciting time of year with your family stress-free.
Stock up on Allergy-friendly Snacks and Treats
Be on the lookout for healthy, non-perishable allergy-friendly snacks for your child that can be stored at school. There’s a lot out there these days, but check out Annie’s Organic Snacks and Enjoy Life products for tasty gluten-free and other allergen-free options that kids love! It’s also a good idea to provide safe desserts that your child can enjoy during special occasions like birthdays or holiday parties. Most teachers have access to a fridge and/or freezer where they can safely store and label those sweet treats so that your kiddo won’t feel left out of celebrations.
Schedule a Doctor’s Appointment
Don’t delay on this one: it’s crucial that you connect with your child’s doctor to get signatures on all required school forms before the start of each school year, especially if your child is attending a new school. Leave the doctor’s office as informed as possible about your child’s food allergy so that you can communicate your child’s medical history effectively with his or her school.
Turn in All Completed Forms and Medications
Now’s the time to double check the expiration dates of all allergy-related prescriptions and epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPen or generic) that you’ll send to your child’s school. In addition, make sure the school nurse is aware of the appropriate ways to store medications and has received all signed and current forms (including a current emergency care plan) regarding your child’s food sensitivity or allergy.
Contact Your Child’s School
Know your child’s support team at school and make sure everyone is fully aware of your child’s food allergy and emergency action plan. This will likely include the school nurse, food services director, classroom teacher, and administrative personnel. While it’s important to check in at the beginning of the year, scheduling meetings with the appropriate people, don’t forget to follow-up throughout the year, especially if any changes occur in your child’s food identity.
Consider School Meals
Before school starts, determine the best option for schooltime meals. Some schools are entirely peanut-free campuses while others offer separate seating where kids with food insensitivities can safely eat lunch. Meet with the food services director at your child’s school or district to notify them of your child’s sensitivity or allergy and so that you have current information about food preparation and storage, if you and your child opt for school-made meals. It’s a good idea to pack your child’s Nima sensor so that your child can test anything he or she consumes at school in case of cross-contamination. Lastly, be informed about cafeteria policies and seating arrangements prior to school starting. Clearly communicate what you know to your child so that he or she can eat lunch worry-free the first day of school.
Meet With Your Child’s Classroom Teacher
Schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher and learn about how the classroom is managed in terms of seating, snack time, and other times when food might be a part of learning. Share online resources about allergy-friendly classrooms and, if possible, try to encourage non-food rewards in the classroom. Make sure the teacher is fully aware of your child’s food allergy and is familiar with appropriate procedures in case of a reaction. It doesn’t hurt to go over how to use Nima with your child’s teacher and provide extra capsules in the classroom. Don’t forget to figure out a plan for when field trips happen and volunteer to chaperone if you’re available.
Teach Your Kids How to Manage Their Food Identities
Encourage your child to advocate for his or her food safety in school. This might mean wearing an allergy bracelet to designate his or her food identity or discussing how to report bullying that involves food choices. Review the importance of reading food labels, thorough hand washing, and what to do in case he or she experiences a reaction at school. Remind him or her that using Nima at school during lunch or birthday parties will provide peace of mind in potentially anxious moments.
Looking for More Food Allergy Online Resources?
• The Food Allergy Research and Education website offers comprehensive checklists for how to manage food allergies during the school day.
• Learn to further navigate food allergy health at school with these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• Finally, for more ideas about how your child can stay safe at school if he or she is gluten free, check out this back to school gluten-free survival guide on the Nima blog.