Preparation and education
Before little ones start school, parents should talk openly with their child to educate them about their specific food allergy. “There are plenty of books to help educate young children on food allergies. These books are fun to read together prior to starting school,” Turbill says.
Most importantly, Turbill advises to teach little ones how to speak up and be prepared if they notice an allergic reaction. “Children with anaphylaxis should be carrying their adrenaline injector or medications everywhere they go, such as school, sport or friend’s houses. A little hip pack or back pack is perfect for this.”
What to do at school...
Parents should also meet with school staff and put procedures in place should an allergic reaction ever occur. “Teachers need to be made aware of a child’s allergy and parents should ensure the teacher has had recent training in administering the adrenaline injector, if a child carries one.” Written allergic action plans can be obtained from your medical practitioner - make sure the school and the child’s teachers have a copy at hand.
Send your child to school with a packed lunch of allergen-free ingredients and teach them not to share foods with their school friends.
Ask the teacher to notify you in advance of any organised activities, such as school picnic days or birthday celebrations, so that you can cater for your child on those occasions. Turbill recommends keeping ready-made cupcakes in the freezer for those days. “You could also supply the teacher with a couple of appropriate treats or non-food items to be kept especially for your child for those unexpected days”.
Turbill warns that even some school craft activities can pose a risk. Homemade play-dough, for example, can affect a wheat allergy. It’s important for parents to check and make arrangements so that their child can feel included.
At the supermarket...
Fortunately food labelling laws are very strict in Australia which means the top eight food allergens need to be clearly marked with ‘contains ‘or ‘may contain’ in a commercial product.
“It is essential parents learn how to read food labels and to know other common names for their child’s allergens which may appear in a product,” she notes. A good resource is the Food Standards Australia website.
Be careful of things bought in bulk or from some Deli counters, as cross-contamination may occur and labelling isn’t always obvious. Always ask to see ingredients, or if you're ever in doubt, leave it out.
Turbill also notes that a lot of allergen-free products still contain high levels of sugar or fat or artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. So parents are advised to choose sensibly to optimise nutrition.
Did you know...
The most common food allergies in school-aged children are peanut, dairy, egg, and tree nut - cashew being the most common.