Dropping your child off for their first day of preschool can be difficult for many of us moms. Not only do we have to cope with that initial parent-child separation anxiety (often more ours than theirs!), but there’s also the reality that we are leaving our most prized possessions with near strangers. So we do our research ahead of time, both online and by talking to people we know. When we visit the campus, we ask a million questions about the staff and their curriculum and then we pick the school that best suits our child’s need.
But for parents with children who have severe food allergies, this anxiety can be debilitating, as one little mistake of their child ingesting food made with ingredients like nuts, wheat, milk, or eggs can be life-threatening.
Therefore, when researching preschools for food allergy kids, asking the right questions about the staff, their facility, and their policies to prevent accidents from happening is absolutely crucial.
1. Does the school have a “no nut” policy?
Parents who don’t have kids with food allergies usually don’t obsess over ingredients the same way as those who do, nor do they use separate cookware to prepare food with those ingredients in question. So on those occasions when a parent brings homemade treats into the classroom and swears they are nut-free, there is a chance that despite their best intentions, they aren’t. If your child has a nut allergy, finding a school that has a “no nut” policy is the first step in easing your angst. Instead of having to make educated guesses about what ingredients are in those delicious-looking cupcakes, each and every one will be printed in black and white on the labels of the store-bought version.
2. How many other kids have food allergies?
When it comes to food allergy kids and choosing a school, the more the merrier! You don’t want your kid to be the only one, because not only will it leave them feeling different and possibly isolated from the other kids, but it will also ensure the school has more experience and preparation handling the situation. If there are several other kids with allergies, then you feel at ease that it’s on their radar, the staff has sufficient training, and that they have experience using an epinephrine auto-injector. “I don’t want to be inventing the wheel,” a friend of mine, whose daughter is allergic to almost everything, told me. “I want them to know how to handle an incident in a nanosecond, without having to look at some handbook.”
3. How do you designate/communicate which kids have food allergies?
One of the most important ways of preventing a food allergy incident is planning ahead. This ensures teachers, staff members, and the school nurse have a careful and thorough approach to collecting information and designating each student’s allergies. “At my daughter’s school there is a grid with every child’s name and a list of allergies with an x next to theirs. If a certain amount of kids have a food allergy, then they will stop serving it altogether,” my friend explains to me. Be sure to ask about their game plan, if an incident does occur, and how these scenarios have played out in the past.
4. Does the school provide lunch or do people bring their own?
It’s hard to stop your kid from eating others’ food, if given the opportunity, and even harder for teachers or staff to figure out which ingredients are in them if they see this going down. This is why some parents of food allergy kids prefer a school that provides lunches themselves. Some schools, like my friend’s Montessori, even go the extra mile and serve only allergy-friendly lunches. Other parents prefer to pack their kid’s lunch themselves, because it allows them to feel more in control of what their child is consuming. Whatever your preference is, it is important to find a school that aligns with it.
5. Is there an optional “allergy table” at lunch?
If children do bring their own lunches, some parents feel more comfortable having their allergy kids eat separately from the other kids. This can prevent sharing accidents from happening when the teachers or staff members are looking in the other direction. However, other parents feel as though keeping their child segregated from the general public can be alienating and do not want them feeling “different” from the others. Once again, this is a personal preference.