Some parents of children with a food allergy or allergies prefer that their child eat only food prepared at home. However it is important to note that According to guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal agency overseeing the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program, schools must offer safe substitute meals to students with life‐threatening food allergies.
In order to ensure that your child gets safe food, it is necessary to provide written instructions from the child’s licensed health care provider, as well as the identify appropriate substitutions. The USDA provides sample forms in its Accommodating Students with Special Dietary Needs in the School Nutrition. The instructions and forms can be integrated into the schools approach to managing your child’s food allergies at school.
Talk with the school’s food service director, preferably before the start of the school year, to find out how the school cafeteria manages students with food allergies, and whether the approach is appropriate for your child.
Common approaches include:
- Posting menus in advance to allow parents to identify potentially unsafe meal offerings
- Training food service personnel on food allergy issues such as, avoiding cross‐contact during food preparation and serving, and reading food labels
- Posting pictures of children with food allergies behind the counter or register
- Using seating arrangements to minimize exposure to food allergens, while ensuring that children with food allergy do not sit alone
- Encouraging hand washing after eating and food handling
- Washing surfaces after food is eaten or served
Four out of every 100 children have a food allergy, and studies show that the prevalence is increasing among children. However, through awareness and reasonable accommodations, children can have the opportunity to take advantage of healthy foods in schools.
For more resources about managing food allergies in schools click here!
Stefanie Hubert, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County