by Holly Larson, RD
Getting back into the school routine can be a challenge for anyone, but even more so if your child has food sensitivities or allergies. What can you do to ensure that the school year goes as smoothly as possible? These five tips for managing special diets, food sensitivities, and allergies at school will help to lay a strong foundation for a healthy year at home and at school.
Have Clear Guidelines
You, your child and any teacher or caregiver needs to explicitly understand what is OK for your child to eat. It is just as important to provide examples of what your child can eat. After hearing the list of exclusions, many people can wonder what is left.
Communications are most effective when they are both verbal and in writing. “Our daughter is following the Balance 360 System and can no longer eat gluten, dairy or refined sugars. For example, it is not ok for Sally to have goldfish crackers because they contain wheat and dairy. A better choice would be plain air popped popcorn or Luke’s brand black pepper crackers. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always a safe option. We have a list of approved snacks, would you like a hard copy or to have us email it to you? Thank you!”
Don’t forget to check in with your child and teacher periodically. How are things going? Any tough situations? What can we do to to make things better? If your child is staying late at school for club meetings or soccer practice, make sure he or she has extra snacks packed.
Role Play and Practice
It can be a challenge for anyone to know what to say in the moment, especially for a child. Arm them with language to navigate common situations that they will encounter at school and with friends. “What would you say if your friend Gerardo offers to share his cupcake with you?” and “What would you say if your friend Billy dares you to drink some chocolate milk?”. The more practice your child has had with talking through situations, the more confident he or she will be. Don’t give your child all of the answers - let them make their answers their own. Your child’s blossoming confidence will minimize the parent’s instinct to hover and micromanage.
When your child is old enough to read and understand food packages, practice looking and them together so that your child will be able to decide if foods fit their eating plan.
Anticipate and Plan
Stay on top of your child’s academic schedule and activities. Getting into the swing of things for a regular school day is one challenge, but what will you and your child do during class parties? Field trips? Testing days?
Praise and Reward
Arming your child with a clear understanding of what is expected is just part of your job as the parent. You need to check in with your child to see if that expectation is being consistently met. Be realistic; don’t expect perfection, and praise progress.