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Why teaching all kids to be food allergy smart is so important

By Jackie Nevard from My Food Allergy Friends

Did you know that Australia has one of the highest reported incidences of food allergies in the world and that one in 10 babies born here will develop a food allergy? Chances are there are one or two kids at your child’s daycare centre who have life-threatening allergies.

What does this mean for you as a parent? Obviously, we can’t ban all foods so we need to understand how to navigate food allergies when packing our child’s lunch box when they start daycare. Many centres are already nut free, so this means no Nutella spreads, peanut butter, muesli bars or nuts should be in your child’s lunchbox. Sticky spreads like peanut butter can be easily smeared onto toys, books, desks, and door handles and can pose a problem to a child with allergies.

Nut allergies are not the only food allergy

Nine foods have been identified as causing 90 percent of allergic reactions. Foods like milk and eggs can also cause a severe reaction called anaphylaxis which can be life-threatening. Even young children need to understand food allergies so they can help keep their little friends safe.

Without realising it, you could unknowingly be including foods in your child’s lunch box that are potentially dangerous to children with allergies. We can’t restrict all foods that cause allergic reactions so instead we can educate. Teaching your child the five simple food allergy smart rules can significantly reduce the risk of a child having an allergic reaction.

The lovable characters Thai and Rabbie in my Food Allergy Friends book series, teach preschoolers about allergies. The books help explain simple concepts like how some foods can make other kids sick, how some children have a special cake at birthdays so they don’t get sick from eating eggs and milk. A good time to teach children about food allergies is birthday parties. In one of my books, the character, Thai, takes his own party food, birthday cake and has his own safe lollies to eat. You can help your children understand how some kids have to be careful and how they can help keep their friends safe.

How can young children be Food Allergy Smart?

Education is the key. Children will learn about food allergies by spending mat time discussing food allergies in a fun, interactive way, and by using stories and games that illustrate the main principles.

The 5 Food Allergy Smart Rules

  • We don’t share our food at kindy
  • We don’t touch other people while they are eating
  • We wash our hands after eating
  • We tell our teacher if our friend is sick
  • We include our friends at parties

There are so many things you as a parent can do before your child starts daycare.

  • Teach your child not to share food while at daycare.
  • Explain how everyone at daycare washes their hands after eating and how this keeps kids with allergies safe and shared toys clean.
  • Include children with allergies when your child has a birthday party. Many allergy parents will bring a ‘safe party box’ with food and cake their child can eat.
  • Talk to your child about nut spreads like peanut butter and Nutella and how some kids can’t eat them. Keep foods like these for eating at home so children with allergies remain safe.
  • Check out Pinterest for nut free lunch box ideas.
  • Find alternatives to giving chocolate or candy canes at Easter and Christmas. Always check with your daycare before handing out food.
  • Never be afraid to ask questions. Allergy parents are so grateful when their child gets invited on a playdate or to a birthday party and are only too happy to help.

The Internet has so many great ideas about healthy, nut free lunch boxes, but remember it’s not just nuts that can cause anaphylaxis. Teaching your own child about food allergies will really help create a safer environment for everyone.

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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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