School Cafeterias

By Heather Legg

Many schools are back in session now, and whether it is your child’s first year of school, or 12th, if he has a food allergy, the cafeteria may be one of your least favorite places. It is important to communicate well about allergies with not only your child, but the cafeteria and the school administration and teachers.

Here are some other tips to insure that your child will be safe whether he eats school food or always brings from home:

• Make sure there is an allergy policy at school. Fill out the necessary medical paperwork to have on file at the school and maintain all medication with current expiration dates.
• Continually educate your child on age appropriate safety techniques, from no sharing or trading to asking questions about ingredients to identifying symptoms to self administering an Epipen.
• Talk to the cafeteria managers and make them aware of your child’s allergy. Ask for lists of menu items and ingredients of all food that is being served. Check in to things like food prep to evaluate risk of allergen contamination.
• Include your child in packing his lunch. Kids love to eat food they have helped prepare and make sure you provide plenty of healthy alternatives to his allergen to make sure he is getting a balanced diet.
• When packing and serving alternative foods, try to find foods that look as similar as possible to what other kids are eating if that is something important to you and your child. For instance, on pizza day at school, you could pack a gluten or dairy free pizza for your child if that is his allergy.
• Pack enough options so your child is not hungry if he is not the mood for something. You don’t want him being tempted to eat a friend’s food.
• Check on the cafeteria’s and classroom’s food allergy policy. Is there a separate table? Do you want/not want there to be one? How much do you want other children to know of your child’s allergy?
• Make sure your child can identify and report any symptoms he may experience and that he knows who can tell if his teacher is not in the cafeteria with him (often teachers have a break during lunch but there are assistants, lunch monitors or cafeteria staff he can tell).

These will be lifelong skills your child will need. The school cafeteria does not need to be a scary place, but instead, a good step in responsibility.

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