Many of you are parents of food allergy children, some of who are school-aged. Unfortunately, food allergies cannot be left at home. Food allergies follow us everywhere, including school. As always, we must be on our toes. As I always say, “Hope/Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
I posted a basic back-to-school food allergy guide last year, and you can find it by clicking on the highlighted link. Today’s post focuses specifically on lunch room procedures and precautions for the student with food allergies. Personally, we have one year of school lunches under our belt for my son, and we’ve just embarked on year two this week. I must say from the beginning that we have been truly blessed by the safety and care of our school’s teachers and staff toward our son. Their motto is much like my own above and they live it for his sake on a daily basis.
School Lunchroom Food Allergy Tips:
- My first tip is that you be patient and show grace to your school. This may be the first time your school has been faced with food allergies. At the same time you’re patient, you must also be emphatic about your child’s needs. There is a time for flexibility, and there is a time for standing firm.
- You must first decide whether your child’s school needs to be peanut-free. To this point, we have elected not to make that request at our school. We have found it not to be necessary. Each child’s sensitivity to an allergen, particularly peanuts, is different. Make this decision based on your child’s needs and your school’s environment.
- I recommend talking to the person in charge of the lunchroom to get the lay of the land. How are the tables arranged? (A few long tables with bench seat? Round tables with chairs that seats fewer students?) At our school, we have round tables that seat 8 students per table. Since there were extra tables, I requested my son’s table of 8 be split into two tables of 4 students each. It’s not a designated “food allergy” table, but it allows some space between all the food. Decide what works best for your school, the layout, and your child. A designated “food allergy” table may be a better solution for your child and your school.
- Most schools provide lunches (ours does not), so you may need to get permission for your child to bring in his/her own lunch. Be sure you follow the proper procedure for this.
- If you pack your child’s lunch, I recommend sending in a washable dinner napkin that can be used as a place mat. This will keep your child’s food off the table that may have been used previously by someone with an allergy food and not cleaned well. This just gives me a little extra peace of mind (and it’s not a bad hygiene idea anyway) when I send my son off to school in the morning.
- Ask permission to have lunch with your child on the first day (or first few days) of school. This will allow you to see lunch in action and if there are any changes that need to be made. Furthermore, it may give you the confidence that you need to leave your child at school. If changes need to be made, refer back to the my first point, and be kind but firm.
- Research shows that general washing of hands, tables, and chairs with warm water and soap is effective at removing allergens. Ask your child’s teacher if this is part of their after-lunch routine. I made this recommendation in my son’s class and it was very well received. (It makes good hygiene sense anyway.)
- Finally, check in with your child’s teacher, staff, and lunchroom workers every now and then to make sure everything is still running smoothly. If you feel uncertain of your child’s safety, you may even consider making a surprise visit to the lunchroom.
I think that gives you a good start to introduce your child and your child’s school to safe food allergy lunchroom procedure. Don’t take for granted that you’ve gone over these things in the past. I recommend doing it every year because there are always changes to staff and other circumstances.
Do you have any tips for making school lunchrooms safe for our students with food allergies?