New School Year Food Allergy Checklist + FREE Printable

As summer approaches August and a new academic year begins, I am reminded of the nerve-wracking first days of school with a food allergy student. Though Matthew graduated in 2021, the memories of preparing for a new school year remain vivid.

As the back-to-school season approaches, families nationwide begin their annual shopping trips for paper, pencils, and notebooks. For most, it’s a straightforward task, filled with excitement over selecting new supplies. However, for allergy moms, this time of year brings an added layer of complexity.

Back-to-School Shopping: Extra Steps for Food Allergy Moms

In addition to the usual list, food allergy moms must confirm that classroom materials and snacks are safe for their children. They meticulously read labels, check for allergens, and communicate with teachers to guarantee a safe learning environment. While others focus on finding the right colors and brands, allergy moms prioritize their children’s health and safety in every purchase.

A Guide for Parents of Children with Food Allergies

Matthew attended a widely popular K-12 charter school that is highly sought after and difficult to get into. The upside was that once we were in, we had a consistent environment with the same nurses, administrators, and staff members, which made my job of ensuring his safety easier than most.

Navigating the complexities of food allergies in a school setting is no small feat. The stakes are high, and the challenges are real, but with the right approach, it is possible to create a safe and supportive environment for your child. 

Hands-On School Involvement and Invaluable Insights

My hands-on experience as an elementary homeroom mom and extracurricular coach gave me profound insights into the essential steps and questions parents must ask to ensure their child’s safety and confidence. This continuity allowed me to develop strong relationships with the teachers, facilitating better communication and proactive allergy management throughout his school years.

Empowering Allergy-Savvy Kids

When your food allergy student watches you engage with administrators and teachers about their allergens and safety, they learn to model that behavior, speak the language, and advocate for themselves. We will not always be there for our children as they get older. This is the best way to empower them and give them the tools they need to navigate safely in diverse environments, and it is never too early to lay down the foundation. By witnessing proactive communication and effective problem-solving, they gain the confidence and skills to manage their allergies independently and responsibly, ensuring their well-being. It’s never too early to set the foundation; use age-appropriate language and include them in the conversation where appropriate.

Drawing from these experiences, I’ve compiled a comprehensive list to help you navigate this critical aspect of your child’s school life. This guide includes the questions I wished I had thought of earlier, practical tips, and strategies to ensure your child’s safety and well-being at school, empowering you to advocate effectively for your food allergy student.

Finding Reassurance: One Food Allergy Mom’s Journey

In 2007, we attended an open house for a new K-12 charter school with Matthew. Initially, we planned to enroll him in a nearby K-3 school. In January 2008, I called to schedule an orientation to discuss food allergies; however, the school refused to meet until August, leaving me uneasy as a mom of a child with life-threatening allergies.

Desperate for reassurance, we visited the new campus. When I voiced my concerns to the new Head of Schools, she said she “didn’t know much about food allergies, but we would figure this out together.” Her words were a lifeline, offering the teacher-parent partnership we wanted and the assurance we needed.

This conversation transformed our anxiety into a supportive environment, giving us confidence that Matthew would be safe and cared for.

Click HERE for your FREE Back-to-School Food Allergy Checklist!

Managing Food Allergies at School: A+ for Awareness, Safety

The school was a food allergy mom’s dream, setting a gold standard for managing allergies. Administrators and nurses developed a process that actively sought input from parents like me, giving us a voice in shaping the school’s allergy management. This collaboration boosted our confidence and reassured our children, knowing their environment was attentive to their needs.

Over the years, I created a series of essential questions to help moms navigate the complexities of school allergy management. These questions stem from real-life scenarios and proven strategies that have significantly improved the safety and well-being of children with food allergies.

A Comprehensive Checklist for Food Allergy Parents

Below is a checklist of essential questions to ask school administrators and teachers at the start of the school year. I wished I had asked many of these questions when Matthew was little, growing up, but I didn’t know or think to discuss them. I’ve also created a free printable of these questions to download and use as a guide at your next meeting.

Questions to Ask Your School’s Administrators:

  1. What policies and procedures are in place?
    Is the school allergen-free?
    Is there a separate eating area for children with food allergies?
  2. What information do you need from me?
    Is there an emergency medical plan I need to fill out?
    Do you require a doctor’s signature?
  3. How will food safety information be communicated to other parents?
    Will a note be sent home?
    Are there signs at the school entrance if it’s an allergen-free zone?
  4. How will information be shared with staff not directly involved with my child?
    Will there be a staff meeting or posters in the staff room?
  5. How will substitute teachers be informed?
    Ensure the information is prominently displayed, such as on attendance sheets.
  6. Where will my child’s EpiPens be kept?
    Can my child carry an EpiPen?
    Medications should be easily accessible and in an unlocked room at all times.
  7. How and when will staff be trained?
    Can I attend or assist in any way?
    Would the school like to borrow an EpiPen trainer for practice?
  8. Will all lunchtime supervisors, including substitutes, be trained?
    Even just asking this question highlights the importance of your child’s safety.
  9. How will allergy information be shared with after-school program staff?
    Is there a separate training session for after-school caregivers?
    Will they have access to the same resources and information as daytime staff?
  10. What is the protocol for classroom projects involving food?
    Will parents be notified in advance of any food-related activities?
    Are there alternative options for children with allergies?
  11. How will the school handle emergencies?
    Is there a clear emergency response plan in place for allergic reactions?
    How quickly can emergency services be contacted and arrive at the school?
  12. What measures are in place for school events and field trips?
    How is food managed during these events?
    Are there specific guidelines to ensure the safety of children with allergies?

Questions to Ask Your Classroom Teachers:

  1. What precautions will be taken during mealtime?
    Discuss the teacher’s knowledge and practices regarding food allergies.
  2. Will an adult be present during mealtime for the entire break?
    This is crucial for younger children who may have difficulty communicating distress.
  3. How will other children be informed?
    Would the teacher recommend a picture book discussing food allergies?
  4. Can we review the use of the EpiPen together?
    Most teachers appreciate a review only if they have extensive experience.
  5. What are the classroom rules around sharing food?
    This provides peace of mind that the topic will be addressed early on.
  6. What happens if another child brings in food containing my child’s allergen?
    Some schools have policies to trade such foods for safe alternatives.
  7. What are the handwashing routines before and after mealtimes?
    Ensure children wash their hands and desks if allergens are allowed.
  8. Are families allowed to bring in snacks/treats for parties?
    Can you send alternate treats for your child?
    Would the teacher like recommendations for allergen-free products?
  9. How will allergies be monitored on school trips?
    Who will carry the EpiPens?
    Will there be a no-eating rule on the bus?
    Is the allergen present at the destination?
  10. How will birthday celebrations be handled?
    Are there specific guidelines for bringing in treats?
    Can you provide safe treats for these occasions?
  11. Is there a plan for substitute teachers?
    How will substitutes be informed about my child’s allergies?
    Is there a visible and accessible plan for emergencies?
  12. How will classroom activities involving food be managed?
    Will parents be notified in advance?
    Can alternative, safe activities be provided?

Advocate for Your Food Allergy Child’s Safety in School

With another school year around the corner, it’s time to gear up and get proactive. Being informed and involved is vital. By asking the right questions and advocating for your child’s needs, you can help create a safe and supportive environment for their well-being.

If you have questions or tips about managing food allergies at school to add to the list, please feel free to contact me—I’d love to hear from you!

FREE PRINTABLE: Back-to-School Food Allergy List

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