Lucifer's vision... see below
'Back to School' is here again. You've bought the uniform, the shoes are polished and the name tapes are sewn on. For most parents, that's the end of the preparation. But if your child has allergies, the fun is just beginning.
There's the pre-term meet with the teachers to explain about allergies, the expiry dates on medication need double checking and emergency contact numbers need to be collated.
And that's it, right? The teachers know how to manage a reaction, you are sending in a packed lunch and a snack, nothing else to worry about? Not quite...
Back to school means food at any moment of the day
Most schools don't mention in the prospectus that 'impromptu food' is a regular feature of the school day. It might be a baking lesson, a birthday celebration or select any reason you fancy. So your child will need allergy friendly treats on permanent standby.
Frustrating? Yes. Impossible? No.
Sweet talk the teacher
Getting the teacher and parents on side is the first step to letting your child join in the foodie fun. The teacher knows what to do in an emergency, but may be at a loss if a pupil produces a birthday cake and your child can't have any.
So provide the teacher with a tin that is full of safe food for your child. Don't send healthy stuff, load it with the treats that you normally ban. It's hard enough for your child to feel 'different' because of allergies, but it's a little easier if you've sent in a bag of psychedelic sweets and the other kids are jealous.
Make friends with the parents
Life with allergies is easier if everyone is on side. As your child starts school, send a note to the other parents explaining about your child's allergies and asking them to give you advance warning if they are sending food into school for any reason.
Most parents are willing to help and the really lovely ones will go the extra mile and only send in food that everyone can share.
Stock up the store cupboard
Shelling out for new school stuff is inevitable in August and September, so while the cash is flowing start stockpiling allergy friendly treats. This could be for the school treat tin (see above), for the dreaded party bags (more later) or for those really bad days when you haven't planned ahead and there's nothing to put in the lunch box.
Put your principles aside and buy the sweet, sugary foods that make your toes curl, but delight your child. And if the idea of a glucose fructose syrup overdose is really too much, start baking batches of 'safe' cakes and biscuits and load up the freezer in readiness for the Autumn term.
Your child receives their first invitation to tea
Oh proud moment! But allergies can make it tricky. Tea invites usually go one of two ways. Either: the parent is determined to provide 'safe' food and really wants to make an effort. Or: the parent wants you to provide food to avoid a calamity. Whether the parent is pushy or passive, it's up to you to set the rules.
Pushy parent is resisting your wishes? Slip in a few mentions of anaphylaxis and adrenaline injectors. Passive parent is visibly worried? Speak soothingly about the minuscule chance of an allergic reaction.
And always meet the parent before the tea date to clearly explain the allergies and what to do if there's an allergic reaction. Don't try to get them up to speed at the school gate as you hand over your child; it will be stressful for both of you.
One day Lucifer sat down and planned a vision of hell for parents of children with allergies. And it closely resembled a modern day kids' party. Chocolate smeared children rampage around, eating allergens and then swigging from your child's cup by mistake. Jelly, custard and biscuits fly everywhere.
There are two options. Either you stay (your child looks very uncool and you get a migraine) or you brief your child and the party hosts, provide safe food, hand over the medication and go. Both options are stressful, but at least the second one means your child feels 'normal'.
And don't forget the horror that is party bags. Aside from the plastic tat, there will be chocolate and sugar a-plenty. Try and meet the party parents beforehand and give them safe treats to put in your child's party bag. And because party means cake, you will have to provide cake/baked goods as well.
Yes, parties and allergies are a match made in hell. Try to be out of town if possible.
The school fête
This means a range of stalls either loaded with cake or offering edible treats as a reward for winning. It's a dazzling array of deliciousness and not an ingredients list in sight. What to do?
Avoiding the fête is always an option - who likes a noisy hall full of kids hyped up on sugar? - but the other option is to be proactive.
If you want your child to be able to choose from the cake stall like everyone else, you'll have to provide the goods and label them clearly. Because cross-contamination can be a risk - e.g. the same knife used to cut wheat flour cakes and gluten free cakes - you'll probably have to bite the bullet and volunteer for the stall.
And if many of the stalls are based around food, it's an idea to have safe treats in your bag so you can swap them for the allergy nasties.
How long until we break up?
If you are dealing with allergies, 'Back to School' is as much about you as it is about your child. Although your school days are over, the Autumn term means homework (late night baking for parties), essay writing (letters, labels, emergency procedures) and detention (mandatory attendance at fêtes, parties and other gatherings involving food). You have an exhausting 10 week term ahead, so get organised, buy the right supplies and knuckle down to work. How long until the holidays?!
Quick I need a safe recipe! #1
Preparation time: 15 mins Cooling time: 15 mins in the freezer
Pack of 'safe' biscuits
Chocolate that your child can eat
Pretty cake sprinkles that your child can eat ('Let's Do' Sprinkelz are good: you can get them from Dietary Needs Direct)
- Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper
- Melt the chocolate
- Dip both ends of the biscuits into the chocolate and place them onto the baking tray
- Repeat until the biscuits and chocolate are used up
- Scatter sprinkles over the biscuits
- Cool in the refrigerator or freezer if you're really up against it
Quick I need a safe recipe! #2
Preparation time: 15 mins Cooling time: 15 mins in the freezer
Pack of 'safe' biscuits (or cake)
Tub of 'safe' ready-made icing (Betty Crocker icing is available in most supermarkets)
Pretty cake sprinkles that your child can eat
- Spread the biscuits with the icing
- Cover with sprinkles
- Leave to cool
Where to buy your allergy supplies
Most supermarkets have a 'free from' section, or you can shop online.
Goodness Direct offer a great range of allergy food, as does Dietary Needs Direct.
For vegan chocolate, try Moo Free Chocolates.
For details of, and links to, hundreds of freeform food suppliers see the FreeFrom FoodsMatter Directories.
For more allergy-friendly treats see FreeFrom Recipes Matter and, especially, Kathie Auton's guest spot.
First published in September 2012
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