One in thirteen children in America have food allergies, according to the national allergy organization, FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). Roughly two children in every classroom are managing this potentially life threatening medical condition at school. Out of safety concerns, children with food allergies are often isolated, being made to sit separately from their peers. They are not able to sit with their class during snack or lunch. Often times, they have to bring in their own safe food for classroom birthday parties and holiday celebrations.
Can you imagine being the child in the class who can’t devour the super cool birthday cupcakes or latest Pinterest holiday treats your classmates are enjoying? Or having to sit separately from the group in your own classroom? By looking through the eyes of an allergic child, one can see how isolating this might feel, having to watch from the sidelines in their very own classroom. This is a time for bonding, laughing and celebrating, together. You see, children with food allergies did not choose to sit away from their friends or refuse foods offered because they are picky eaters; their lives depend on strictly avoiding their allergen(s).
How can we solve this problem of exclusion and reduce the risk of anaphylaxis in our schools? Reducing the amount of food-centered celebrations is a big step in the right direction, not only for the safety and inclusion of all of our kids but also for improved health and wellness. See the link for CDC’s Voluntary Guidelines for Food Allergy Management in Schools here. But what about those times when food is an important piece of the party puzzle?
Last Thanksgiving, the school my children attend did something really awesome. The students in grades K-8, along with the faculty, staff, local elected officials and guests came together for an allergy friendly lunch. A festive assembly performed by a local Native American organization also took place during this event, reducing the need for tons of food to keep the party going.
What was the best part about this celebration? All of the children were able to sit safely with their classmates and enjoy the same treats as their peers. There wasn’t a special table where allergic students sat. There weren’t little eyes, longing for those delicious cupcakes that could potentially cause anaphylaxis, a life threatening allergic reaction.
We followed our school’s Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Management Policy. In collaboration with our school nurse, principal and parents of kids with food allergies, we designed a party safe for everyone. We did not use homemade/ baked goods. All foods were cleared with food allergy parents first, had clearly labeled ingredients, free from everyone’s allergens. Our gymnasium was transformed into a fancy dining room, complete with tablecloths and centerpieces. All of our efforts came together, and a new tradition was born. In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, we had an inclusive, joyous and safe meal together.