Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Food Allergy and Field Trips: How to Keep Kids Safe

Food allergies and field trips: this combination can be an occasion for worry, especially if your child has severe food allergies. With the advent of spring, an increase in field trips are on the agenda for many of our schools, but that doesn't mean that your child can't safely participate.

I've chaperoned many field trips over the years and I've learned a lot about avoiding potential food allergy field trip pitfalls. Even if you can't personally attend the field trip, you can still take steps to create a safer experience. As your child gets older, they will take on more of the responsibility to stay safe on field trips, but younger kids are always going to need an extra boost from the adults. Here are some things that have worked for me.

Get the field trip schedule well in advance. Your child's teacher should be able to provide you with this info, so be sure to check in  and ask if anything is coming up. That way, you'll have plenty of time to prepare.

Show them you are a parent who cares by speaking to the health office and/or nurse. Checking in with the health office (or nurse if your school is lucky enough to have one) is a must. Give a call to speak about medications and review emergency procedures. When my child was in first and second grades, I called a few days before and on the morning of each field trip, too, just to make sure everybody was on the same page with medication, etc. By the third field trip the school nurse told me she had all the info ready for me because she expected a phone call (she was very nice about it.) I don't think being a bit of a pest is a bad idea, especially as you establish yourself at a school. You want them to know you are on top of the situation, so never be afraid to show that you are a parent who cares.

Identify an adult helper. If you aren't a chaperone, you'll want someone to keep an extra watch on your child. It could be the teacher, another parent chaperone who knows your child or a health aide, whoever has the time and know-how about keeping your child safe. This person can give your child hand wipes (be sure to pack some for your child) after interactive museum exhibits, for example, and secure a clean spot to sit at lunch, preferably away from your child's food allergens. Discuss food allergy "hot spots" with the helper such as shared equipment or "touch" exhibits; before lunch, after lunch and after using shared equipment with other students.

Be a brown bag lunch expert. Many times, kids are not allowed to bring a lunch box on their field trip. (If this is really an issue, speak with the teacher. Usually you can get an accommodation for food allergies.) You will want to pack some paper towelling that your child can use as a place mat at the table, to protect their safe food from any allergens left over from previous lunch-eaters.

What if your child really wants to brown-bag it? Keep your child's cold lunch foods cold by using the old frozen juice box trick: freeze a juice box and use it to keep a turkey sandwich or pasta salad cold; as the day wears on, the box will thaw and the food still stays fresh. If your child likes them, peanut butter substitutes such as SunButter are helpful for a brown bag lunch, too. Just make sure that your teacher knows it's not peanut butter--I labeled my daughter's sandwich when she was younger. SunButter also makes individual packs so that the label is there for everyone to see.

Have your child eat lunch in view of the teacher. Many allergic kids will get an "honor spot" next to or near to the teacher at lunchtime so that the teacher can easily keep an eye on them.

Go over the safety basics with your child. Even young kids can learn to wash their hands before eating and say "no" to foods that they aren't sure about. Make sure that your young child understands that they should find an adult right away if they are having any difficulties; emphasize that they shouldn't keep to themselves or go hide in a bathroom stall if they feel ill. Role playing situations with your child will give both of you confidence.

Although caution and common sense is required, most field trips will go off without a hitch, so be sure to encourage your child to enjoy themselves while also staying safe. Field trips can be wonderful, but a certain amount of chaos will always reign. Being prepared and going over the safety procedures before hand is a huge step in making sure your child's field trips are safe AND educational.

How about you? What field trip tips have you found to be the most successful?


luna said...

Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips. All these will be of great help to all mothers.

Anonymous said...

what do you do when there will be no lunch on the field trip but also no chaperones except their teacher? we can't decide weather to send our food allergic 8yo daughter on a trip to the symphony. there will be little supervision!

Jenny said...

Where do you feel the supervision will be lacking? I suggest talking to the teacher about any supervision concerns. I would hope that 8 year olds have adequate supervision, food allergies or not! :) A talk with your child's teacher will help, as I say in my post: "Identify an adult helper. If you aren't a chaperone, you'll want someone to keep an extra watch on your child. It could be the teacher..." etc. Can your child sit next to the teacher for the symphony? My daughter often got an "honor spot" near the teacher, so to speak, just so that she could keep an eye on her, along with any other kids who had food allergies or other medical issues. At the end of the day you have to make the call about whether or not you want your child to attend, but it doesn't hurt to see if your concerns can be resolved. I hope it works out and best of luck!