Back-to-school time is stressful on its own. Add in the specter of food allergies and the stakes can feel even higher. What to toss in the lunch bag? What’s safe to share with the class?
According to Kids With Food Allergies, part of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 1 in 13 kids has a food allergy.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, 90% of food-related allergic reactions come from eight foods: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. With the exception of seafood, those allergens are pretty typical ingredients when it comes to snacks aimed at children.
Snacks at school can be particularly problematic, as “most allergic reactions on school campus happen in the classroom, not the cafeteria,” says Melanie Carver, vice president of community health for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Here are a few tips for smart, safe eating at school and at home:
• Help your kid understand their allergies. They need to be able to communicate what they’re allergic to, and they should be comfortable asking questions of other adults. She suggests parents role-play with their kids to practice. Even if the kids don’t have any food allergies, they should be aware that some of their friends might.
• Know what’s in your food. Be sure you read the packaging for any ingredients that could cause a reaction, and teach kids how to read labels. Also look for voluntary disclaimers about potential cross-contact in a facility that produces multiple types of food.
• Be sure others know. If you’re sharing snacks with your children’s class, include a label or recipe. Try to get a list of safe foods from the teacher, too. If you’re hosting a group at home, double-check with the kids or, better yet, check with their parents first.
• Emphasize what your kid can have, not what they can’t. Be sympathetic if they feel deprived or left out. At school, Carver suggests parents ask that teachers stock allergy-friendly snacks, such as muffins, for their kids in the freezer for unexpected situations, such as an impromptu party. Attitude helps, too. Think of it as an opportunity to explore new foods.
• Try to compensate for what’s left out. Good snacks, individually or in combination, will cover a wide swath of nutrition. Thankfully, fresh fruit, as well as dried or freeze-dried, and vegetables are generally safe bets. As to other types of foods, Kids With Food Allergies offers some alternatives to consider. If dairy is out, nondairy milks are an option, and you can pick up calcium in many greens. No nuts? Consider olives, pumpkins seeds (pepitas), sunflower seeds and avocados. If eggs are a problem, you can get vitamin B12 from fish, shellfish, soy, beef, chicken and milk. The ballooning gluten-free market means finding substitutes for wheat foods is not hard these days. Oats, if certified gluten-free, are a great snacking option, and so is the classic rice cracker.
— Becky Krystal, The Washington Post