Monday, August 26, 2013

Food Allergy Classroom Presentation

By Kelley Lindberg

As each new school year starts, I often recommend to parents of children with food allergies that a good way to enlist support (rather than misunderstandings or even bullying) from both classmates and teachers is to offer to come in and give a presentation to the class about food allergies.

I have found that kids can be the best champions. When they feel like they’re part of something important, they rise to the occasion. They also have better memories than we adults do, so often kids will remind teachers when something in class isn’t safe for their food-allergic friend.

So, with the new school year upon us again, I thought I’d offer my presentation outline and notes, in case you’d like to give a food allergy presentation to your child’s class and aren’t sure where to start. My presentations usually last about 20 minutes.

There are also videos available that explain food allergies to school-age children, so if you’re more comfortable showing a video, by all means try that! If you have a favorite video, tell us about it in the Comments section. Thanks, and good luck!

All About Food Allergies Class Presentation

Who knows what a food allergy is?
I let kids raise hands and see if any know. Often they do. I then point out how a true food allergy is different from lactose intolerance and from hay fever or pet allergies.

Who knows someone with a food allergy?
Let a few of them tell you who they know who’s allergic. Usually, about a third of the class knows someone with a food allergy. This helps the teacher realize how widespread it is, and makes the food-allergic child feel less “alone.” Then I remind them that they ALL know someone with a food allergy, and I introduce my kid and tell what he’s allergic to.

This is what a food allergy can do to you if you touch or eat the food:
  1. Tingling sensation, itching, or metallic taste in the mouth
  2. Hives
  3. Sensation of warmth
  4. Itching
  5. Difficulty breathing or wheezing (like asthma)
  6. Swelling of the mouth or throat
  7. Vomiting
  8. Diarrhea
  9. Cramping
  10. Drop in blood pressure
  11. Loss of consciousness
Can you catch a food allergy?
     No! It’s not contagious.

Here’s what to do if someone is having a reaction:
  1. It’s an emergency!
  2. RUN to a grownup, teacher, or recess monitor and tell them it’s an allergic reaction.
  3. Call 911.
Here’s how to keep your friend safe:
  1. Wash hands and face after eating.
  2. Don’t bring food to the classroom or the playground. Keep all food in the cafeteria.
  3. Keep your lunch area neat. Don’t spill or throw food!
  4. Tell a teacher if you see food where it shouldn’t be.
  5. Tell a teacher if you think your friend is getting sick.
  6. Respect the food allergy table.
  7. If you’re bringing treats for a party or your birthday, ask your parents to bring safe treats or non-food party favors (pencils, notepads, tattoos, erasers, balls, etc.).
Note: I always take enough trinkets – fun erasers, PAL pencils or bracelets from FARE, etc. – for the whole class. Then at the end I ask a few questions (“Who remembers one way to keep your allergic friend safe?,” or "Who remembers what Junior is allergic to?") and give a prize to anyone with the right answer. Then the last question is “Who’s going to keep your allergic friends safe?” They all yell “Me!” and I give EVERYONE a prize who hasn’t already gotten one.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Food Allergy ID Card and Back-To-School Info Sheet

By Kelley Lindberg

I dropped my baby off at his first day of school today.

He’s in ninth grade.

He didn’t want the traditional picture in front of the school. He didn’t want the kiss goodbye. He didn’t want me anywhere near the school, him, his friends, or the planet.

The first day of school isn’t quite the big deal it was for him on his first day of kindergarten, somehow.

But he’s still my baby, and I got him to sit still for a photo in the front seat of the car, at least.

I also had to go into the school (although I used a different entrance, so he didn’t have to be seen with me, so that was marginally acceptable), because I had to drop off his medicine kit and medical action plan at the front office.

In his medicine kit, I include two epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens or Auvi-Qs), some antihistamine tablets, and a laminated card I made that has his photo, emergency instructions, and emergency contact information.

If you’d like to add a similar card to your child’s epinephrine kit, I’ve uploaded a template here: FoodAllergyFeast’s Food Allergy ID Card. You should be able to click on the photo, and it will load as a Word document. Then you can insert your own information. It’s two pages – if you print them back-to-back, the generic info about anaphylaxis should line up to print on the reverse side of the card. If not, just print both pages, use double-stick tape to line them up back-to-back, then have them laminated together at your local copy shop. If it doesn’t all line up right, feel free to use my template as an example, and create your own. (Many thanks to Michelle Fogg of UFAN for designing the original ID card.)

And here’s a sheet I create every year and give to my son’s teachers, the lunchroom manager to hang in the kitchen, and the front office (and if we had a school nurse, I’d give one to him/her, too): FoodAllergyFeast’sFood Allergy School Emergency Sheet.

If these links don't work, email me and I'll send them directly to you: kjplindberg (at)

I hope your child’s back-to-school experience is full of hugs and laughter. (I plan to get my hugs later this evening, when no one is watching. He might not need them anymore, but I sure do!)


Monday, August 12, 2013

Back to School with Food Allergies

by Kelley Lindberg

Now that school is only a week or two away (at least here in Utah), many parents are getting ready to send their little ones off to a scary place – not that school itself is scary, but the food in the classroom and cafeteria can make it seem that way.

About this time every year I post my back-to-school tips. So I’ll repeat them here, in the hopes that they help smooth the way for other parents over the next few weeks. Good luck, and enjoy these remaining few days of summer!

(Remember, there are links to several school-related resources on the Utah Food Allergy Network's website, so be sure to check those out. And last week I posted my Back-To-School Food Allergy Shopping List, so you might want to look at that, as well.)
  1. Ask the principal if there are other food-allergic kids in the same grade, and if they can be assigned to the same teacher. That makes it easier for the parents of the allergic kids to trade off field-trip and party chaperone duties, reminds the teacher to keep the classroom allergen-free for multiple kids, and gives you some backup in food issues. (It's nice to NOT be the only one.) Statistically, about one in twenty kids has a food allergy, so chances are good there will be several food-allergic kids in your school.
  2. Make several copies of your Food Allergy Action Plan (available on FARE’s website) and ask to hang one in the office, the cafeteria kitchen, and the classroom, so that your child's photo and "What to do in case of a reaction" instructions are handy no matter where he is.
  3. Practice with your child what he should do if he "feels funny." Role-play and pretend you're the teacher, and have him come up and tell you what's wrong. Often our kids are too shy about asking for help, so have him practice with you, and with the teacher if possible. Not only does that give your child words to use if something happens, but it helps impress upon the teacher how important it is.
  4. I get on my principal's staff meeting agenda at the first of the year and give a 15-minute talk about allergies and demonstrate the EpiPen or Auvi-Q. When my son was in elementary school, I also gave a presentation to my son's class and all the teachers and aides he comes into contact with. If you're not comfortable doing this, ask if there are other allergic parents that you can contact. Talk to them about ways to teach the teachers -- maybe another mom would be willing to give the presentation if you make the photocopies. It's easier when there are two of you involved!
  5. Remember, In Utah, your child can legally carry his EpiPen or Auvi-Q. But he probably is not capable of administering it to himself in an emergency, so make sure the teachers and everyone else know where it is and how to use it. Because both EpiPen and Auvi-Q are available right now for $0 copay, get a pair for the school office, and a second pair to keep with the child (in his backpack or lunch bag, usually). You might also attach a luggage tag with his photo on it to his backpack, so the teacher can tell which backpack is his quickly.
  6. If he's going to be having lunch at school, talk to the Lunch Lady and cafeteria monitor. Introduce your child, tell her what your child is allergic to, and let your child know that the Lunch Lady is a friend that will help keep him safe. Then remember the Lunch Lady and the cafeteria monitor on holidays with little thank you cards or gifts to show you appreciate them. Few people do that. But it will help keep your child's food issues fresh in their mind, and they'll get to know him well.
  7. Ask about setting up a food table just for allergic kids. All that’s required is a table with a sign that says allergies only, and the cafeteria monitors clean it with a separate marked bucket and cloth. Don’t let them make your child eat in a separate room or the principal’s office. He shouldn’t be punished just because he’s allergic to some foods! Ask the principal to mention the allergy table in a newsletter or other information that goes home with kids at the beginning of the year. You may find other kids with allergies expressing an interest in sitting at the table if they know it’s available.
  8. Ask the parents of your child’s friends to send safe lunches with them every once in a while, so they can eat with your child. Make it a fun place to be!
  9. Most peanut-allergic kids don’t react to the smell of peanut butter in the air, but a few do. If you are worried if your child will react to the air in the cafeteria, ask to take him in for a “practice run.” Sit in the cafeteria for half an hour and see if he reacts. If he doesn’t, cross that worry off your list.
  10. Eat lunch with him for the first few days. That will reassure both of you that you can both handle this!
  11. Talk to the teacher about which cafeteria door your child should use to avoid peanut butter contact (usually the one furthest from the playground), where to put his lunch bag after lunch, and where his EpiPens will be.
  12. Remind your child NOT to throw away his lunch trash. Tell him to bring it home in his lunch bag, so that he can avoid using the trash can. If another kid slam-dunks a half-full milk carton in the trash can, you don’t want your milk-allergic child to get splashed.
  13. Medical alert jewelry can help remind teachers and other staff about your child’s allergy. Lots of companies now provide medical alert jewelry in styles ranging from classic metal bracelets to fashionable plastic jewelry or even cool fabric sports bands (like at American Medical ID). Use your favorite search engine to find a style your child will enjoy wearing.
  14. If your schedule allows, volunteer a lot, so the staff knows you and counts on you (not just for allergy issues). If the only time they see you is when there's a food allergy issue, then you may start feeling like they're whispering "Oh no, here she comes again." But if they see you as a "Gosh, what would we do without her" kind of volunteer, then the occasional food issue will be coming from a great mom who's making a reasonable request.
  15. If someone else is already the class mom, or you can't volunteer for that position, tell the teacher you really need to attend all parties and field trips because of the food allergy. The teacher may want to let the other parents know that you'll be selected for all the special events because of the food allergy, so that they don't think the teacher is playing favorites.
  16. Volunteer to shop for all the snacks or food materials for classroom parties or food educational units (like making noodle necklaces or gingerbread houses, etc.). Tell the teacher if she'll collect money donations, you'll go buy all the ingredients. They're usually delighted to get out of having to shop, and it lets you ensure the ingredients are safe.
  17. Be aware and be prepared, but don't panic! School is going to be a lot of fun, and your child will do just fine. And believe it or not, so will you!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Back to School Shopping List for Allergies

By Kelley Lindberg

The new school year is fast approaching. I can tell by all the Back To School sales in every store I visit. And by the look of despair on my son’s summer-tanned face.

Like it or not, it’s a great time to stock up on all those school supplies our kids will be needing in a few weeks.

Of course, those of us with food-allergic kids have to add a few extra items to our back-to-school shopping lists. So if you, too, are preparing a back-to-school shopping list for the food-allergic student in your life, don’t forget these essentials:
  • Epinephrine Injectors – Have yours expired? It may be time to get new ones. I get a pair to leave at the school’s office, and a pair for him to carry in his lunch box (along with instructions). Be sure you check the expiration dates on the new ones to make sure they’ll last through the school year. Remember, this year there is a new auto-injector, called Auvi-Q, that might be worth a look. (See my recent blog post on Choosing an Epinephrine Auto-Injector for Your Food Allergies.)
  • Antihistamine (Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra, etc.) – Like with the EpiPens, I put some in the office, and some in his lunch box. Again, check the expiration dates.
  • Lunch Box – He always takes a home lunch and sits with his food-allergic buddy.
  • Thermos for hot foods – He lives on noodles, but these are great for safe soups, chili, and casseroles, too.
  • Food Containers – Invest in a few plastic containers that will fit inside the lunch box for things like salads, dressings, sandwiches, fruit, etc. They’re more economical, more ecological, and far less “squishable” than plastic baggies.
  • Beverage Thermos or water bottle
  • Handi-Wipes – I always put a couple of individually wrapped Handi-Wipes in his lunch box so he can clean off the table if he needs to.
  • Food Allergy Action Plan – Make an appointment with your child’s allergist or pediatrician now, and have them fill out a Food Allergy Action Plan to give to your school. I attach a current photo of my son, and then I make a few color copies of it. I give one to the school office, one to each of his teachers for them to hang in their classroom, and one to the school cafeteria manager for her to hang in the kitchen, so that the lunch workers will know him and recognize him if he has a reaction. If your doctor doesn’t have their own form, use this Food Allergy Action Plan from FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education). It’s probably the most widely used form in the U.S., and most doctors recognize and use it.
  • Medical ID Bracelet or Necklace – If your child will wear one of these, it’s a great idea. It is a visual reminder for teachers of your child’s allergies, and it’s an instant help for EMTs who might be summoned if your child has a reaction.
  • Clean-up Wipes – I like to take a couple of tubs of wipes to his teacher, for cleaning desks. (I usually take tubs to the teacher throughout the year, too, since they often go through them quickly.)
  • Do you have any other great suggestions for allergy-aware back-to-school supplies? Be sure to share them with us!
Happy shopping!