Boy oh boy have I been around this block more times than I can count. In our 20+ years of being a food allergy family with 4 kids, where 3 have allergies or special diets… I’ve had to handle class parties monthly for multiple children and the great news is: we never once had a problem.
Today I’ll be sharing tips with you on how to manage class parties when your child has food allergies. This information applies if your child also has a food intolerance or follows a special diet, however, you may not need all of the steps presented.
Step One: Refer to Your Child’s 504 Plan
Some parents plan ahead when creating their 504 plan to include class parties. If you’re one of those parents, refer to the plan and kindly remind the teacher in writing what the agreement is. From there, implement the plan.
If you’re not sure what a 504 plan is or you want to better understand the one you have, RAISE has an Expert Interview resource with Kristin Osborne who specializes in the subject.
Step Two: Find Out If a Food Free Party is an Option
When initially drafting the 504 plan, or even when communicating with the school, find out if class parties can be food free. A fun alternative: for each party, parents chip in $5 that goes towards an in-class activity for the kids. Perhaps it’s a special painting lesson/kit, or it could be several puzzles or LEGO sets the kids can work on in groups.
After a hands-on activity the kids can watch a movie and enjoy their time together, all without food. This allows for the regular snack/lunch procedures to take place, and alleviates the added food-based stressors of a class party.
If your child is contact and/or airborne allergic, push for food free events.
Step Three: Have Open Communication with Your Child’s Teacher
Communicate in advance with the teacher. For example, If your 504 plan states that the classroom must be nut free, make sure they remind all parents that foods sent must be nut free. Then, make sure all parents are given a list of ingredients to avoid, as many may be cooking at home. If possible, provide an alternative/substitute ingredient too. To help make things easier, RAISE has a Top 8 Free Product List. You can also refer to this Allergy Friendly Candy article.
Whilst this may seem overwhelming the first time you do this, it WILL get easier with each party. The written letters and lists are all reusable, and will only need minor updates each time.
Step Four: Talk to Your Child
Talk to your child about the class party (especially if they’re new to the diagnosis). Ask about their feelings, and if they’re comfortable in the environment. One of our kids asked to skip a class party one year and we let them stay home that day and have a good time. There’s no crime in not wanting to show up, especially if your child is self conscious about their diagnosis or struggling with inclusion.
Skipping a few parties, in my opinion, isn’t something to be concerned about. However, if you notice a pattern of food aversion, anxiety, fear, and other related issues, seek help. Start working with your child ASAP to manage their mindset et al to ensure they’re not excluded regularly. The patterns they have in childhood will carry into adulthood. If you’re starting to see anxiety in your child, have a listen to the Allergy Seminar: Overcoming Food Anxiety Etc. & Enjoying Life on RAISE for some tips.
In our case, I made sure Kid Two was VERY comfortable (read: confident) bringing food everywhere. I also made sure he was HAPPY with the food and it was super cool. As an adult, he’s so used to bringing his own food and has no ill feelings towards his diagnosis.
Kid Three on the other hand struggles with this. In his teenage years we learned that in addition to being Mr. Low/No Sugar, GF and DF was better for him. He refused to bring food anywhere as he didn’t want to be seen as different. It’s not been something that’s easy to correct given his age and mindset.
Step Five: Plan & Make Food to Send
Usually when food is involved, groups of students are assigned to bring something. 5 kids are on drinks, 5 on mains, 5 on dessert and so on. Whatever your child is assigned, send what they can have. If you’re anything but beverages, pre-portion your child’s into a separate container. This prevents any cross-contact issues during the party.
Don’t feel obligated to make what everyone else is sending. Your child will be fine with access to one dessert instead of 5. Instead, focus on foods that make your kid HAPPY. If you have a safe restaurant in the area, maybe order their favourite menu item for lunch.
Even if your child isn’t assigned dessert, send dessert. If you’re like us and have a freezer stock, send several types so your child feels like they won the free-from lottery.
If you’re planning to cook/bake something, have your child help you prepare the special treat(s) if they’re old enough. This builds memories and gets them excited about the event. Check out the GF + Top 9 Free Bakery Chocolate Cake (cupcakes are great for parties!) if you’re looking for an idea.
Step Six: Implement a Plan in The Classroom
If you can (especially if you’re new to all of this) volunteer to help in the classroom the day of the party. Thru grade 5, I was at almost every class party for the kids. It was a lot of work, but it was an added layer of safety.
You may need to move their desk away from others if necessary… this is a delicate thing however. The desk needs to be far away enough to create an extra barrier, but not so far away that your child feels like an outsider. The age will also determine how far to move the desk, if at all, since kids are less messy eaters as they get older.
Step Seven: Enjoy The Party
Sometimes we get SO busy planning and stressing, we forget to enjoy the party. At school, class parties are like, one of THE COOLEST things ever, so make sure your child gets to live and thrive in the moment.
Some little things I did when the kids were in school to be festive: festive clothes, soda in their lunch, extra dessert, decorations for their desk, and sending their absolute favourite food.
What’s funny is that after the first few parties, I became KNOWN for awesome desserts and was always asked to send some for the class. I’m totally cool with that. It means that free-from is winning 🙌
Step Eight: Clean Up Plan
There should also be a clean up plan in place. Make sure desks are cleaned, trash is removed, and hands and faces are washed. The needs of your child will determine how the clean up plan is written and implemented.
Make sure door handles are also wiped down after the kids have cleaned up.
Step Nine: Assessment
Anytime you’re new to something, it’s important to assess how successful things were. You’ll also be able to see if something was unnecessary.
After the party, take time to go through all the things you did to make it happen. Was your child safe, well fed, happy, and included? If so, I’d call that a HUGE success.
If you’re able to be present at the party, it will also greatly help the assessment step. You’ll even be able to know if you’re truly needed, or if your child’s teacher has everything under control.
These are the best tips I can share with you when it comes to class parties and food allergies. Remember, it’s a party. Make sure your kiddos have a great time, as these are some of their top memories from grade school.