Parents: Your kids are either back at school already or will be in the next couple of weeks (this coming Monday if they’re DPS). On one hand, if you’re an old pro at this, you might be rejoicing (hooray, some structure!). On the other, if your children have food allergies (according to the Children's Hospital Colorado, up to three million kids in the United States are allergic to some type of food), you might be a little apprehensive to turn them over to someone else’s supervision.
You can’t hold your child’s hand every minute of the day; but what you can do—in addition to placing a certain amount of trust in your children to be conscious of their decisions—is heed these back-to-school tips from the experts at Denver’s National Jewish Health (NJH).
Expert: Jennifer Moyer Darr, a NJH social worker who helps educate and coach families of food-allergic children.
- Communicate: Whether your child is starting at a new school or simply in a new grade with a new teacher, you should meet with all the appropriate school officials—principal, school nurse, teachers, and cafeteria staff—to make sure they’re informed of the allergy, treatment, and necessary precautions. If your child will be eating school lunches, tour the cafeteria and ask how the staff prevents cross-contamination. The more school personnel who are aware, the less likely an incident will occur.
- Prepare: Make sure to write down—and make copies of—the plan to prevent exposure, recognize adverse reactions, and respond accordingly (i.e., with an EpiPen). You can download NJH’s Food Allergy Action Plan to distribute to all relevant parties
- In the Classroom: If appropriate—and if your child is up for it—show and tell can be a way for a child to share allergies with classmates to help keep everybody aware when snacks are being passed or shared. It never hurts to give the teacher a supply of safe snacks to have on hand in the event that little Susie’s mom forgets and puts nuts on those birthday brownies for the class.
Expert: Dr. Kirstin Carel, NJH assistant professor of pediatrics
- Be a stickler: If your kids learn good habits at home, they’ll (hopefully) translate to school. Make sure they wash their hands after every trip to the bathroom. Insist on washing before dinner. Teach them to cough into the shoulder and inside elbow instead of the hand, so germs won’t get transferred to everything they touch. If it’s habit, they won’t think twice about doing it elsewhere when you’re not around.
- Clean: Wash anything your child touches that may have been in contact with other children and their mouths. If they bring a toy to school or a friend’s house, wash it with soap and water upon its return. Disinfect surfaces frequently. Eliminate the potential for lingering germs.
- Discourage: Ask your kids to avoid the water fountain at school—a breeding ground for germs, especially during cold and flu season—and help them remember by sending them to school with their own reusable water bottle.
Expert: Emily McCloud, MS, RD, NJH clinical dietician
- Familiarize: Don’t ignore the school lunch program. Learn what’s on the school lunch menu—most will have at least some options—and go over it with your kids so they can make smart choices when they’re available. If the main meal is pizza or a hot dog, teach them to balance it with vegetables whenever possible.
- Involve them: When you’re packing lunches, ask for their input. Have them help plan their lunches for the week so they’ll be more likely to eat whatever’s in their bag instead of trading it for the Cheetos. Take them to the store and guide them to healthy—yet tasty—choices.
- Be creative: Kids get bored of the same-old things. Try a whole-wheat English muffin for a sandwich, or almond butter instead of peanut butter. The more fun the food, the more likely they’ll eat it.
—Image via Shutterstock