Making a Safety Plan for Children With Food Allergies

Living with a food allergy means planning ahead for social events, school, and group interactions. In the United States, about 1 in 13 children has a food allergy. This equals about 2 kids per school classroom.1

Children may not be able to talk about their food allergy and what they need. This means parents should partner with friends, caregivers, and schools to help keep their child safe. This allows parents to provide the education and necessary information to ensure a safe environment and reduce their child’s risk of accidental exposure.1

It is important to know that your child is in safe hands. If a caregiver seems unsure about how to care for your child or does not seem to take their allergy seriously, consider finding a new one, if possible.2

What information to share

Find a quiet time to talk with your child’s caregiver, teacher, coach, or school nurse. Use simple, direct language to explain your child’s food allergy and its seriousness. Suggest ways to avoid the food and safe alternatives.2

Explain what allergic reactions and anaphylaxis look like so they can recognize them in your child. Discuss emergency plans for anaphylaxis or other allergic reactions. Give them a copy of your child's anaphylaxis action plan. Bring an epinephrine auto-injector training device with you. Let them practice using it so they are prepared to use it in an emergency.2

Some older children may carry their own epinephrine auto-injectors. You, your child, and your doctor should talk about what is appropriate to share with teachers, school nurses, and coaches.

Schools and food allergies

Many schools now have food allergy protocols in place. But even with restrictions in place, other children sometimes accidentally bring in food that is harmful to a classmate.

Talk to the school about access to epinephrine and make sure there are at least 2 doses at the school in case your child needs them. Let them know about any medical alert jewelry your child wears.3

Understand where epinephrine auto-injectors will be stored in the school. Also ask about who will be responsible for giving them in an emergency.3

It is also important to discuss a plan if the child is not at school, such as on a field trip. For example, if there is a school outing or party, ask about sending your child with their own snacks. This will allow them to enjoy events with their friends but stay safe.3

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list 5 things schools should address in their allergy plans:4

  • Make sure food allergies are managed daily in individual children
  • Prepare for any food allergy emergencies
  • Provide teachers, aides, and coaches with professional development on food allergies
  • Educate classmates and their families about food allergies
  • Create and maintain a healthy, safe educational environment

As soon as your child is old enough, coach them on ways to advocate for themselves and explain their allergy to adults. Even young children can ask questions about ingredients and learn to turn down a food if they are not sure it is safe.

Advocating for your family

If you or your child is invited to a party, call the host. Explain about your allergy and ask about the menu. Some food allergies may be easy to accommodate, depending on the menu. Most people want to be considerate of their guests but cannot always avoid cross-contamination or change their menu.5

If it will be complicated to avoid your allergens, ask about bringing your own food. Another option is to eat before you leave the house, so you can visit without eating. You will just need to explain to your host why you are not eating.5

Always bring your epinephrine auto-injectors when out socializing, just to be safe.

Host a celebration

If you host a birthday party or a holiday celebration, things might be easier. You can offer allergy-safe foods or host a party outside of mealtimes to avoid dealing with problem foods. Games and activities keep everyone busy and enjoying one another’s company.6

For example, to celebrate Halloween, suggest a get-together with friends and serve safe candies or treats. You can also reduce the focus on trick-or-treating by going to haunted houses, hayrides, or fall festivals.

With some planning and preparation, it is possible to enjoy holidays and parties with a food allergy.

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Written by: Jaime R. Herndon | Last reviewed: March 2022