Joshua, Henry, Isabella, Matthew, Jasper, Jack, Katie, and Paige.
These are just a few of the names of children who have come to our house for playdates and parties for my sons. Between my two kids there have been numerous birthday parties on the weekends, countless playdates, and lots of social gatherings with their friends’ families.
My wife and I have become seasoned experts in both caring for other people’s children with food allergies during parties and playdates, as well as placing our trust in other parents when dropping our boys off at their homes. At times, this hasn’t been as easy as it sounds, since one of our boys has food allergies, as do a handful of our sons’ friends.
With planning, education, and understanding, however, taking on the responsibility of hosting a child with food allergies at a playdate or party—and allowing your food-allergic child to be in the care of other parents—can be safely done and is ultimately rewarding.
My wife and I aren’t alone in these experiences. Recent studies show that about 8 percent of U.S. children have a food allergy. That means there's a good chance that at some point you will be taking care of a child with a food allergy. Food allergy awareness and understanding are key. Both will allow you to safely include a food-allergic child—who could otherwise easily be excluded—at fun parties and playdates.
Food allergies among students in U.S. schools have become more and more common as well. And tragically, food allergy-related deaths continue to occur in and out of school.
Some school communities have become divided over policies set up to protect children with food allergies, such as peanut-free lunch tables and the like. However, food allergy education and awareness in our school communities is critical for the safety of kids with food allergies. These kids need to have their food allergies managed at all times and in all circumstances. Remember, allergic reactions can be life threatening.
To help, here are some basic Food Allergy Management Tips:
- Know how to prevent allergic reactions from occurring. There needs to be a responsible adult present when hosting a food allergic child, who knows how to avoid a potential allergic reaction. This is done by accurately reading food labels, avoiding cross contact, knowing about hidden ingredients, and communicating effectively about the food allergic child’s allergy. Children can be messy eaters and inadvertently serving food that is an allergen to other kids may put the food-allergic child at risk. If you are not comfortable with preparing separate food for a child with food allergies, it is perfectly acceptable to ask that safe foods be provided by the child’s parents. Some families may even feel more at ease providing their own food to make it easier on you, and also to reassure themselves (and their child) that the food their child will eat is safe.
- Emergency preparedness is a must. A person who can recognize allergic reactions and knows how to respond with the appropriate emergency medicine, must also be present. If you’re hosting the visit of a child with a food allergy, make sure you have a copy of the child’s emergency allergy action plan (a document that outlines what to do for an allergic reaction), and his epinephrine auto-injector (Epi-Pen or the like), if the child’s doctor prescribed one. (Here is a printable Food Allergy Drop-off Form). The parent of the food-allergic child can teach you how to administer an epinephrine auto-injector using a training device. If you are not comfortable with this responsibility, invite the parent to stay for the party or playdate.
If you prefer, there’s also a printable summary of Tips for Managing Food Allergies, as outlined in the points above.
Knowing how to avoid food allergens and always being prepared for an allergic reaction will not only help you safely host a child with a food allergy but will also help you do your part in creating a community of inclusion and support. Your children can also partner with you in this effort by gaining an awareness and acceptance of their classmates’ differences. With a solid understanding of food allergy management you can make a huge difference in a food allergic child’s feeling of acceptance—and possibly even save a life.
Please note that this post is intended to increase awareness and encourage you to obtain more information from additional resources. Before making any changes in management please discuss with the parents/healthcare providers.
Helpful Resources for Food Allergy Awareness:
- Schools at AllergyHome.org
- American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
- Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network
- Food Allergy Initiative
- The Kids with Food Allergies Foundation
- Anaphylaxis Canada (for those in Canada)
- Allergic Living Magazine
Michael Pistiner, MD, MMSc is a pediatric allergist with Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, and volunteers at Children’s Hospital Boston. He is the father of a child with food allergies and serves as a voluntary consultant for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, School Health Services. He is chairman of the medical advisory team for Kids with Food Allergies Foundation, and serves on the board of Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, New England Chapter. Dr. Pistiner is the author of Everyday Cool with Food Allergies, a children’s book designed to teach basic food allergy management skills to preschool and early school age children, and is co-creator of AllergyHome.org, a website that provides free modules designed to increase food allergy awareness in the community.