BY BLOGGER AND MUM LOUISE JONES – FOUNDER OF NUTMUMS.COM
Are you worried about how your child manages their food allergy at school? Nutmums Founder, Louise Jones, shares the measures that she’s put in place.
Hands up, who had the jitters before their child started school? I did. Would he enjoy it? Would he make friends? Would the staff teach him well? Would he accidentally eat a peanut? Would he have a severe allergic reaction? Would the staff spot it and administer the EpiPen in time?
As the parent of a child with a life threatening food allergy, you have all the regular starting school nerves, with a few extras thrown in. Whilst location and OFSTED ratings might be important, top of your wish list is a school that is allergy savvy. Reaction is the 4th R your child can well do without.
After experiencing a life threatening allergic reaction at 20 months my son, D, started reception class last September. Despite my initial worries, our first year has gone very smoothly. Here are the measures we put in place with our school, and the unexpected challenges which have cropped up so far:
Before D started school I spoke to an allergy nurse who advised me on the importance of parents working with schools to manage children’s allergies. At the end of the summer term before he started, we met with my son’s new teachers and the head of the kitchen team. This gave us the opportunity to fully explain his allergies and to learn about the safeguarding procedures the school would put in place.
On top of labelling uniform, my pre-term preparation included:
- Obtaining an up-to-date allergic reaction action plan from the hospital.
- Putting together two sets of emergency medication including an EpiPen, inhaler and spacer and antihistamine. One set would be kept in D’s classroom, the other in the staff room.
- Making a note of the various expiry dates, so I could provide replacements when needed.
Schooling the student
Next I followed a fellow nutmum’s advice of drumming into D two key rules: 1) Only eat your own food at school and 2) Tell a teacher if you ever feel unwell. I helped D to understand the importance of what I was telling him by “playing school”, with me pretending to be a friend offering round sweets and him saying “no thank you”. Despite my best efforts, I know we’re still not 100% there. At one recent party, I had to pry a piece of cake out of his hand, whilst being told (indignantly) that it wasn’t from a friend, ‘Batman gave it to me!’ At another party, D had to turn down chocolate and I was again mean mummy in his eyes as he HAD checked with his (4-year-old) friend, who had promised it didn’t have nuts in. These incidents make me very grateful that our school has a nut free policy and lunchtime assistants who police the “no swaps” rule.
Safeguarding school dinners
Before starting school, I assumed D would have packed lunches. However, he has been able to have school dinners. Our council has a “no nuts” policy and the school kitchen team double check the ingredients and for “may contain nuts” warnings. The school’s other safeguarding measures include:
- Making sure all lunchtime staff know who D is by displaying his photo is on the kitchen wall with details of his allergies.
- Wiping down his table before he sits down to eat.
- Making sure that D goes first in the lunch queue to reduce the cross contamination risk if one of the meals “may contain nuts”.
- Enforcing a “no food swaps” rule.
Unexpected dangers in the classroom
Other unexpected risk areas include home corner props and class cookery activities.
A “safe treats box” has also worked really well for us: whenever there are class treats, a teacher gives D a nut free alternative from his box.
Supervising school trips
Whenever D goes out of school his teachers will carry a set of his meds, while D and his classmates all have nut free packed lunches prepared by the school kitchen. For added peace of mind, I also volunteer as a parent helper, though he might not be so keen for me to do this as he gets older!
Overcoming out-of-school clubs
One aspect I found challenging during D’s first term is out-of-school activities. D has been able to attend a holiday football course, run by a teacher. However, I tend to volunteer as a helper at events such as after school film shows or end of term parties, which are run by fellow parents. If his dad or I weren’t available to help out, this is one thing he’d have to miss out on.
End of year report
Preparing for starting school took extra leg work behind the scenes. To begin with, you have to think through all the risk areas and organise medical kits, action plans, safe treats boxes. Then, throughout the year, you continuously liaise with the school and help out at after school activities and the various trips. However, I can vouch that there are confident, inspiring schools out there. In some ways, our first year has been better than expected: I never thought D would have school lunches or I would be able to drop him off at a holiday club.
In fact, the biggest challenges have not been school hours but social life that comes alongside school such as playdates and parties. Suddenly your child’s social circle expands and you’re faced with taking a deep breath and saying “he’d love to come … and that date sounds fine … but I just need to let you know about his peanut allergy … and how you are with using an EpiPen?” I’m hoping these occasions will become less stressful too, as he gets older and knows to say no thank you if someone offers him food. Even if that someone is Batman!