How to Prepare Allergy-Friendly Snacks for School
With growing awareness of food allergies in schools, the days of passing out homemade goodies to the class have become a thing of the past. Allergy-friendly snacks for school are increasingly recommended, or required, when small children in the classroom have a life-threatening food allergy.
Many of today’s preschool and elementary classrooms will make it clear to other parents when a student in the class is impacted by a food allergy. At the very least, they do not allow homemade treats to be passed out to class and may require store-bought snacks with a free-from allergen label (Partake cookies are a very popular choice as a pre-packaged, school-safe snack). Also, children are taught not to share utensils or food in order to prevent allergens from reaching affected children.
If your child doesn’t have a food allergy but is in class with someone who does, you may want to ensure you are preparing allergy-friendly foods to send with your child to class. In the event your child’s class does allow homemade treats, it is in everyone’s best interest to ask if there are any food allergies for you to be aware of and take the proper precautions to ensure you prepare allergy-friendly snacks for school.
The best way to prevent an allergic reaction at your child’s school is to learn more about what type of allergies are present and the dangers of cross-contact.
Top 9 Allergens
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the most common allergens are milk, wheat, eggs, soy, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and sesame; however, over 170 foods cause food allergy reactions so it is important to know if any children are impacted before preparing anything.
How Common are Food Allergies?
Food allergies impact an estimated 8 percent of children in the United States, according to the CDC. This is equivalent to one in 13 children, or about two children per classroom. Over 40 percent (two in five) children with food allergies in the United States have been treated in the emergency department due to a reaction. While some reactions are milder, such as a small rash, others can be life threatening, such as anaphylaxis. There is no cure for food allergies, and the only way to prevent a reaction is strict avoidance of the food allergen.
Cross-contact (also commonly referred to as cross-contamination) can happen when one food comes into contact with another, resulting in mixed proteins. This causes small amounts of each food to be present in the other. Even if it can’t be seen by the human eye, it could be enough to cause an allergic reaction if eaten. Cross-contact cannot be reduced or eliminated by cooking the food, with an equal chance of cooked treats producing an allergic reaction in affected children in the class as uncooked food.
(Note: the term “cross-contamination” is technically referring to foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses when not separated during food preparation. It is not technically applicable to food allergies.)
What’s an example of cross-contact? Simply wiping a knife used to spread peanut butter before spreading jelly would still have plenty of peanut protein to cause a severe allergic reaction for someone allergic to peanuts. Using the same spatula to flip a cheeseburger and then flip a hamburger could cause an allergic reaction in someone with a milk allergy. Picking shrimp or croutons out of a salad could cause a reaction in someone with a shellfish or gluten allergy. And of course, not washing your hands when handling foods with allergens before preparing allergy-friendly foods would cause cross-contact as well.
According to FARE, these are some of the ways to avoid cross-contact:
- Ensure that all utensils, cutting boards, and pans have been thoroughly washed with soap and water before using. Consider using separate utensils and dishes for making and serving safe foods. (Some food allergy families will use a different color to identify the safe kitchen tools.)
- When making several foods, cook the allergy-safe foods first.
- Keep the safe foods covered and away from other foods that may splatter.
- If you make a mistake, it cannot be undone. You can’t just remove an allergen from a meal. Even a small amount of cross-contact makes food unsafe. Start over.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before touching anything else if you have handled a food allergen. It is important to note: hand sanitizer or water alone will not remove an allergen. Only soap and water or commercial wipes will remove a food allergen.
- Before preparing any food, scrub down all counters and tables with soap and water.
Double check that each ingredient does not contain any allergens, particularly if you are using any pre-packaged food. It’s a good idea to keep a list of the ingredients in the dish to answer any questions of parents. Also, be sure to keep allergens completely separate from food you are preparing.
Keep Allergy-friendly Snacks at School
Partake’s founder, Denise Woodard, learned of her daughter’s food allergies when as a toddler, she had a severe allergic reaction and was unable to breath, prompting a visit to the ER. This prompted her to create Partake Foods and its line of allergy-friendly snacks and other products like breakfast mixes. Any one of Partake’s products would be a safe ingredient or allergy-friendly snack to share at school as it is free of the top 9 allergens.
Partake champions food inclusivity, as many children with food allergies are ostracized when unable to ‘partake’ in the shared treats passed out to friends at school or parties. When snacks are prepared with all children in mind, everyone can feel included. Even if your child doesn’t have food allergies, accommodating a classmate who does can mean a lot to that family.
If you’re preparing allergy-friendly snacks for school, it is vital to follow the above steps to ensure the food is safe for all of the children to enjoy. While most schools have an emergency action plan to handle allergic reactions in the classroom, it is best to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Read labels closely, keep your food prep area clean and free from allergens, and you can easily keep school snacks safe and allergy-friendly.