How to include children with food allergies
If you are planning a birthday party, group event, school event, or another event that several children will attend, then chances are one of them will have a food allergy. Children just want to feel included and accepted, not different and excluded. A food allergy is not something they asked for or want. Here are a few tips on ways to make children with food allergies included.
1. Any time you plan something, where there is going to be food, ask parents if any children have food allergies. I had a play date at my home, and we invited all the girls from my daughter’s class. At the bottom of the invitation it specifically said food will be served, and if your child has a food allergy, to please contact me. Find out from the parents which foods are safe for their child. Parents of an allergic child will NEVER steer you wrong on what foods are safe for their child. If the food items are unusual, you can ask the parents where they can be purchased. If you don’t feel comfortable picking safe foods, ask the parent to bring a safe treat for their child or even the entire group. They will truly appreciate you asking!
2. Serve healthy allergen free alternatives. Although children love sweets, candies, and goodies, try serving healthy alternatives like fruit and vegies. I have found that most children love fruit, so have a variety of fruits that the children can pick from. NOTE: Some children have food allergies to fruits, so refer to #1.
3. Due to the number of food allergies, my daughter’s school has adopted a no food policy for their school events. We have been conditioned to expect some kind of food treat for classroom and holiday parties, but these treats truly are not necessary. A non-food craft, game, or other activity can take the place of food. Plus, essentially it is healthier for all the children to not have sugary snacks.
4. If you feel that a snack is essential, depending on the number of children coming and their specific food restrictions (some children have a milk allergy, some have a peanut allergy, some a soy allergy, some an egg allergy, and some must be gluten free due to Celiac’s Disease), you may not be able to find a snack that is mutually safe for all the children. In this situation, you can ask the children to bring their own snacks. Allergy parents always have a safe snack lying around, and I am sure they will appreciate that you want to keep the children safe. They WILL understand, so don’t be afraid to ask!
5. If you are having a group of children, and only one suffers from an allergy, try to accommodate their food allergy. I know this might be asking you to go out of your way. Don’t think of it as a hassle or a burden, instead view it as helping to keep a child safe and alive. You may think I am exaggerating, but some children’s allergies are so severe that eating even a teensy bit of the allergen could cost them their life. Make the extra effort, it can mean the difference between life and death.
6. This one is big… ALWAYS keep the containers, packaging, and wrappers that shows the list of ingredients for the foods being served at the party/event. Parents of allergic children know most of the things their children can and cannot have, but we can’t memorize every single food item out there. Show the allergic child’s parent the packaging, so they can verify that the foods will be safe. Also, PLEASE, do not be offended if the allergic child’s parent asks you to see these the packaging for the foods served. They are only trying to keep their child safe. It is not that we think others cannot read labels, but it is a way of double checking to make sure something is not overlooked. I often have my husband double check the ingredients on new things, just to be 100% sure they are safe.
7. If the allergic child does need to bring their own snack, PLEASE stop teasing if you happen to hear it. We were all children once, and we all know children can be cruel, and they tend to pick on anyone out of the norm. Seeing another child not being able to eat the same thing as them or having to bring their own food, can lead to mean comments being made. If you hear a child teasing the allergic child, put an end to it, and make sure the other children are aware that this behavior will not be tolerated.
8. Explain the child’s allergy to the other children. If the allergic child is in an after school club, boy scouts, girl scouts, sports, etc where food will be served, consider having a nurse, teacher, or someone educated on allergies come speak to your group. Educated people make better decisions, and it gives everyone a better understanding of things. You can make it that child’s special meeting, and even allow some time for the allergic child to talk, and have the other children ask them questions. The discussion does not have to be some deep medical discussion, just simply, “John cannot have anything with peanuts, because he is allergic to them. If he eats them, his allergy will cause him to…” Children like to have things explained to them, which is why they always ask us “why?”
My final tip… NEVER be afraid to ask the allergic child’s parent questions, if you are unsure of something. I would rather get 100 phone calls asking questions, than 1 phone call saying my child had an anaphylactic reaction to something that was not safe. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and the parents will appreciate you making a conscious effort to help keep their child safe.