Spring has sprung and Easter will be here soon, bringing with it more opportunities for parties at some schools.
Based on my own experiences and my own observations at numerous school parties over the years, I have some suggestions about how to make parties safe for everyone, fun for everyone and definitely less stressful for parents, teachers and kids.
1. Speak to your child's teacher now. If your class has a party and wants to include lots of candy, now is the time to discuss it. Don't wait--if you act now you may have a chance to have a positive influence that will make the party more food allergy-friendly.
2. Keep the sweets list simple. If your school absolutely will not be swayed away from serving candy, then ask the teacher if you can supply a very short list of candies that are appropriate for nut allergies (or whatever allergy you are dealing with. This works best if there are not multiple, differing allergies in the classroom). For example, Gimbal's brand jelly beans are free of the top 8 food allergens and available at Walmart. Sweet Tarts candy eggs are safe for nut allergies (but check for other allergens). Other items for my short list include Yummy Earth lollipops (free of top 8 food allergens) and Surf Sweets gummy candies (check their web site for coupons). Smarties candies are always a standby, too--they are free of the Top 8 food allergens. I try to avoid chocolate treats simply because the nut allergy risk is always high for chocolate; calls to companies are usually required, so it's a good idea to keep the chocolate to a minimum for the school parties. (Plus, the kids with dairy allergies have problems with most chocolate, too).
The idea is to limit the choices or it gets too confusing and leaves too much room for error. DO give other parents some direction, though, so that they know what they can bring in, and not just what they can't. Your child's allergies, along with any other allergic classmates, will determine what is appropriate and safe.
3. Emphasize non-edible activities. There is too much food at school and frankly, most teachers are probably not enjoying the sugar buzz that the candy creates in the classroom. What about some fun, creative crafts? Younger kids love to make things! For example, this adorable bunny basket that I found on the web site for Family Fun magazine would make a great class craft for up to 4th grade. (Above that grade, the crafts aren't so appealing to kids, from what I've seen, anyway). Most parenting magazines will have fun kid crafts to do for spring, so ask your child's teacher if you can limit the food to one or two items (or nothing at all during class time) in favor of games and crafts. If you can, it's really helpful to offer your time preparing the crafts or supplying some of the materials.
4. Pool your resources and designate shoppers. Is there a great chance that someone is going to bring in something unsafe if multiple parents are shopping for the party? In my experience, yes, and that creates two problems. One: you now have unusable candy to deal with and screen and two, you are probably going to risk making some parents angry who took the time to buy food that isn't being used. That does not help food allergy parent PR! Instead of sending food, see if you can ask parents to send in a few dollars and then figure out who will shop for the party. Less is more.
5. Try not to segregate the allergic kids. Some schools deal with food allergies by allowing unsafe candy in the classroom and then limiting kids with allergies to designated areas. While I appreciate that they don't want the kids with allergies to come into contact with allergens, hence the segregation, this sends a terrible message to not only the allergic child, but the entire class. Basically, you are telling kids that a specific type of food (that may be eaten at home or any other time) is more important to include than their classmate. If your school tries to do this, please supply them with some of the suggestions I include above such as a short list of candy and non-edible crafts. Having kids with food allergies in the classroom can be a time to teach tolerance to the other kids. But segregating kids says otherwise. Think about it.
What has always worked best for me is lots of communication and being willing to step up and provide food, resources or supplies and/or showing up in the classroom if the teacher needs extra help. Things won't always go the way that we want them to, but by asking for change and advocating for less food-centric parties, you are making things safer for future parties.
What challenges are you facing as school party season heats up once again? What is your approach to parties?