Allergy-free School Lunch Strategies


If your child is going to school for the first time and has food allergies, you may be wondering how you are going to keep your child safe at a distance. You need allergy-free lunch and snack strategies.

Food Allergies Seem to Be on the Rise

In 2007, approximately 3 million children under age 18 years (3.9%) were reported to have a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months.

Almost 4% of children under 18 years of age, 3 million children in the U.S., reported having food or digestive allergies in 2007, and the number increased 18% over the 10 years previous. Several thousand children are hospitalized each year because of their food allergies. About 2% of Canadians have severe, anaphylactic allergies. It isn’t clear why the numbers are going up. It may just be a matter of increased diagnosis.

Allergic reactions can be severe to the point of being life-threatening for some. Food allergies involve a reaction of the body’s immune system. Symptoms of food intolerance tend to be much less severe gastrointenstinal reactions. The best-known food intolerances are lactose (milk) and gluten (wheat). Many children outgrow many food allergies, but peanut and tree nut allergies can stay for life.

The numbers of children with severe problems are low overall, but, if your child is one of the few, food allergies can be a big enough issue to shape family life.

Food Allergy Basics

U.S. Food and Drug Administration labelling laws identify eight “major food allergens” that account for 90% of all food allergies. There are, though, 160 foods identified as potential causes of allergies.

The big eight food allergens are:

  • milk,
  • eggs,
  • peanuts,
  • tree nuts,
  • seafood,
  • shellfish,
  • soy. and
  • wheat.

Allergic reactions can include: hives, flushed skin or rash, tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth, face, tongue, or lip swelling, vomiting and/or diarrhea, abdominal cramps, coughing or wheezing, dizziness and/or lightheadedness, swelling of the throat and vocal cords, difficulty breathing, or loss of consciousness.

Sending Your Allergic Child to School

If your child is going to school for the first time, you want to be sure that your child, your child’s teacher, and school officials know about any severe allergies.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control conducts a periodic survey to find out how schools are dealing with food allergies. Most schools (97.9%) keep records of students with severe food allergies, but not all schools that had students with food allergies adjusted the food offered to those students. Some schools (76.9%) had a written plan to feed these students, but there is enough of a gap that parents need to be prepared to help schools accommodate their children.

Work with the school to be sure that your child eats safely at school. Your child, though, is the first line of defense, since she is the one who will be able to say, “No, I can’t have a bite of your peanut butter cookie” or “I can’t trade sandwiches.”

The best resources I have found for back-to-school allergy strategies are in the PAL Back-to-school Kit from The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. The kit teaches not only the child with allergies but that child’s friends how to be safe and Protect A Life (PAL).

Resources for Parents of Children with Food Allergies

The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network – A nonprofit working to bring global awareness to food allergy issues. Their focus is information exchange for awareness and education. They have a Be a PAL Back-to-school Kit with a lot of essential information for students, parents, and educators, including lesson plans that help everyone in the classroom become more aware of those students for whom basic foods in other students’ lunch boxes can be life threatening. They also have a free allergy-free recipe database.

Food Allergy Initiative – A nonprofit funding research, improved diagnosis, and education and advocacy to keep patients safe. Their focus is finding a cure for life-threatening food allergies.

Kids with Food Allergies – A national nonprofit providing support and community for families. They have a recipe database available to paid members. Forums and support are available to free members. They also have allergy alerts for undeclared ingredients for products in Canada, U.S., and the UK.

Image © Salahudin |

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