(This event took place during school hours at Thanksgiving Time, 2016)
One in thirteen children in America have food allergies, according to the national allergy organization, FAACT. Roughly two children in every classroom are managing this potentially life threatening medical condition at school.
Out of safety concerns, children with food allergies are often isolated and made to sit separately from their peers during snack time, lunch, and even classroom and school parties.
Often times, students with food allergies, celiac disease, diabetes, FPIES or EOE have to bring in their own safe food for classroom birthday parties and holiday celebrations, while everyone else shares a treat.
Can you imagine being the child who can’t devour the super cool birthday or holiday cupcake your classmates are enjoying? Or having to sit away from the group in your own classroom while everyone else celebrates?
By looking through the eyes of a child, one can see how isolating this might feel, having to watch from the sidelines. These are times for bonding, laughing and celebrating, together.
Children with food allergies or other medically restricted diets did not choose their medical diagnoses. It’s not because they are picky eaters. Their lives depend on strictly avoiding their allergen(s) or adhering to their dietary restrictions.
How can we solve this problem of exclusion and reduce the risk of isolation and anaphylaxis in our schools?
Decreasing the amount of food-centered celebrations is a big step in the right direction, as stated in the CDC’s Voluntary Guidelines for Food Allergy Management in Schools.
What about a time when food might be an important piece of the party puzzle?
One Thanksgiving, the school my children previously attended did something really awesome. The students in grades K-8, along with the faculty, staff, local elected officials and guests came together for an “allergy friendly” celebration.
What does that mean?
The children brought their own sandwich or main item to eat, and the school provided all of the rest! Everything was safely coordinated with our school nurse, event team and cleared with permission by the parents of the food allergic children.
Nothing was homemade or from a bakery. Everything had ingredient labels.
A festive assembly performed by a local Native American organization also took place during the celebration, reducing the need for food to keep the party going.
What was the best part about this celebration?
All of the children were able to sit safely with their classmates and enjoy the same treats as their peers!
We followed our school’s Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Policy and designed a party safe for everyone.
Our gymnasium was transformed into a fancy dining room, complete with tablecloths and centerpieces. Our efforts came together and a new tradition was born.
In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, we had an inclusive, joyous and safe meal, together. This was a wonderful example of collaboration, demonstrating to everyone what a supportive school community is all about.