Do you have a child with a food allergy/multiple food allergies who’s going back to school? Or starting school for the first time?
It’s easy to become overwhelmed as a food allergy parent, especially when you first get the diagnosis. (This is a great reference packet from the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization for the newly diagnosed.)
Take a look at these 13 top planning tips to help manage your child’s food allergies at school, that I’ve compiled from my 10 years of experience as an allergy parent so far. Plus be sure to download the FREE printable School Food Allergy checklist at the bottom to help you remember them all!
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Every child’s situation is different, and not all doctors approach food allergy management the same, so it can be confusing.
You have to quickly assume the role of food allergy advocate for your child– communicating with others who may or may not understand, or even believe in, the existence of your child’s food allergies!
I’d like to say it gets a lot easier, but there’s no guarantee. It does become more familiar though, and a little easier the more experienced you become. A good support system is also worth it’s weight in gold!
Our Back to School Food Allergy Checklist
Every school year I need to cover all my food allergy bases with Little J’s school. There is so much to remember that I made a list, and wanted to share it with my fellow allergy parents!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or lawyer and am not recommending medical or legal advice. Always refer to your child’s physician with any questions regarding their care and refer to a lawyer with questions about current laws pertaining to food allergies.
1. Two Unexpired Epinephrine Auto-Injectors for School (& Self-Carry Container if Applicable)
Check your expiration dates and get with your doctor’s office if you need new ones. We make sure we have 2 for school and 2 for home. The recently expired ones go in our stash of “just in cases,” since studies have shown that they’ll often stay effective after the date is passed.
A few of these older ones are good to keep at the homes of relatives or friends that your child often visits, in the case of an emergency.
2. Other Emergency Medications
Such as Benadryl or other antihistamines, asthma medications, etc.
3. Updated Emergency Action Plan from Doctor
If you or your doctor don’t have an action plan form, you could use the one from FARE.
Little J gained enough weight to be at different dosages, and his allergies changed, so check your emergency plan for accuracy. Aim to do this earlier in the summer, since offices will be busier towards the start of school.
- Do you have a newly diagnosed child? Be sure the doctor explains to you how severe your child’s allergies are, so that you are prepared to have adequate accommodations made at school and at home.
4. Individual Health Care Plan/504 Plan for Food Allergies at School
Depending on the type of school it is, and the severity of your child’s allergy, you may have one or the other, both, or something else!
Check out these great resources to learn more about your possible options:
- FARE: Section 504 and Written Management Plans
- Kids with Food Allergies: Questions and Answers about Section 504 Plans for Students with Food Allergy
- Spokin: Top 16 Answers: What is a 504 Plan and Do I Need One?
5. Check with School Nurse About Policies, Procedures & School Forms
- Ask the school nurse who will keep the emergency medications and who will have access to it.
- Find out what the current policies and emergency procedures are regarding students with food allergies at school.
- Update or submit any needed medical forms. They may need copies of prescriptions or a form signed by your allergist, so ask ahead of time.
6. Talk with Teachers & Other School Staff If Needed (Coaches, Administrators, etc.)
- Make sure your child’s new teacher(s) are aware of his/her food allergies and the extent of them, that the main teacher has a copy of the 504 Plan/Health Care Plan, and knows what to do in an emergency.
- Don’t go in on the defense, you all are on the same team! Their experience and knowledge of food allergies may vary greatly, so you will have to be specific about what is safe and not safe for your child.
- After we talk, I send the teacher a concise email reconfirming what we discussed. I reiterate that I’m available to provide whatever items are needed to ensure a safe classroom for Little J and include my contact information
7. Enter School/Teacher/Nurse/504 Plan Coordinator Contact Info in Cell Phone & Email Contacts
So you won’t need to search for it if you want to contact them later.
8. In the Classroom: Plan for Snacks, Experiments, Crafts, Rewards, Parties, & Substitutes
All of these could bring about potential allergen issues in the classroom.
REMEMBER: Food proteins are not bacteria, so using hand sanitizer doesn’t do any good. They cannot be “killed,” so make sure school personnel understand they have to be washed away, or wiped away with some kind of wipe.
- Does your child’s classroom have a snack time? Where do they have snack? (At their desks?) Do they wash their hands afterwards? Think about possible cross contamination with using shared items, like scissors, markers, etc.
- Food or other food-related items are used often in experiments or crafts. Teachers may not think about these being related to your child’s food allergies.
- Are food items used as rewards in the classroom? You could suggest that non-food items be used. Here’s a great list of non-food rewards for the classroom.
- Will your child have a safe treat box kept in the classroom in anticipation of birthday celebrations? Where will it be kept? One year another student actually stole items from Little J’s treat box several times! The student was caught and the box moved to a more secure location.
- If your classroom is made “allergen”-free, for example peanut-free, how will parents be informed of the no allergen policy? How will the policy be enforced?
- Find out who the room parent will be (or serve as the room parent if possible!), and get in on party planning early!
- Substitute teachers may not know of your child’s allergens, since they are often called in on short notice. Ask how substitutes are informed of student’s allergies, and request that an information sheet is posted in the room for quick reference.
If your child wears a medical alert bracelet, it may allow teachers and staff who don’t often see your child to quickly take notice of your child’s allergens. They have a lot of cute ones out there!
9. Outside the Classroom: Plan for Transportation, Field Trips, Fundraisers & Other School-Wide Events
Think about who will be carrying your child’s emergency medications while they are on the bus, carpooling, on a field trip, or at a school function possibly without a parent and not on school grounds (ex.: away game, band contest, academic competition, etc.).
Are there school-wide events that involve food? Can your child participate in these events? You may need to speak with the PTO or PTA for details.
10. Managing the Lunchroom
Your student already knows how to navigate the lunchroom? That’s wonderful! Confirm no changes were made to the lunch routine at school.
If your child is going to a new school or to school for the first time, think about:
- What’s served in the cafeteria?
- Where are their lunchboxes stored if they bring lunch?
- How are food allergies handled in the lunch room- do allergic students sit at separate tables?
- How are tables cleaned?
- Who monitors students during the lunch hour?
- Does your child know what to do if she ends up sitting next to someone who brought her allergen to school, or if someone tries to share with her?
- Do the children wash their hands after lunch, before returning to class?
I pack extra napkins and individual Wet Ones in Little J’s lunchbox just in case. I’d rather him be over-prepared than need something and not have it!
Related Post: On The Go Travel Snacks for Kids [Nut-Free!]
11. After School Care Plan/Extracurricular Activities
Does your child go home after school with family or friends?
Or participate in an after school program/activity at the school, or at another place of business?
If so, you’ll need to check that they’re aware of your child’s allergens, and can make any needed accommodations to keep them safe. Be sure to find out if they have any snack times or activities with food, or allow any other students to bring food from home.
Basically treat it like it’s another classroom and address the possible concerns you’ve already covered with the school.
You don’t want anything mixed up! Lunch boxes/bags, the non-disposable items inside like utensils, water bottles, snack bags, treat boxes, backpacks, emergency medication containers, etc.
My absolute FAVORITE labels to use for the majority of these are Mabel’s Labels. Most of the labels we’re using on things right now have been on them for over a YEAR!! And these are on items that go through the dishwasher! They don’t even show signs of wear- it’s really amazing to me.
This super customizable Medical Alert Label Pack is great to start out with, which includes labels and tags! They also have round Customizable Allergy Alert Labels, pre-printed Allergy Stickers that give you a choice of allergen to choose, two types of personalized safety alert bracelets, these new awesome Emergency Contact Labels that I LOOOVE, and more! Check out the whole line of Kids’ Safety Labels here!
Don’t forget- Mabel’s Labels offers FREE standard shipping within the U.S. & Canada! (I hate paying for shipping on things!)
13. Document ALL Communication & Reconfirm in Writing!
- To cut down on confusion, it’s best to have things in writing. If you’re already communicating via email, that’s perfect!
- If you have a phone call with someone, send them a summary of the call via email, asking for confirmation of understanding.
- Ask for copies of documents that you are submitting (if you don’t already have a copy), and take a picture on your phone of anything that you might need to have for quick reference.
- Any events that take place, write them down on your calendar (electronic or paper). It’s good to have documentation for your child’s safety.
One More Thing!
Because you need one more thing to do, right? But you know how important all of this is, so the last thing is to communicate these arrangements to your spouse and child(ren)!
- Involve your spouse in planning when possible, and copy them on emails to keep them in the loop. Store all documents in an easily accessible place.
- If your allergic child is old enough, they can help pick out things like their lunch choices, lunch containers, treats, treat box, etc.
- Tell them what’s in their 504 plan to prepare them for certain situations. Older kids may even attended 504 plan meetings!
Involving them will teach them how to advocate for themselves, and build their confidence to do so when you aren’t there.
START EARLY in your communication with the school, be patient, polite, but determined and you’ll rock it!
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If you think this post will help other food allergy parents, please share! And add any additional advice below!