Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Food Allergy and Classroom Parties: The Food-Free, Stress-Free Approach!

Does this look familiar? If you're spending too much time trying to find safe,
edible, affordable party treats for school, read on.
School is back in session for many of us and that means that classroom party season is back in full force. As parents of kids with life-threatening food allergies, this can mean the following things: late night baking sessions, marathon grocery store trips in search of allergy-friendly, tasty foods (that won't break the bank) and dealing with the sometimes mystifying efforts on the part of party planners to include some type of edible treat  -- no matter what! Even if several kids in the class have food allergies or intolerance, this unfortunately does not deter some determined foodies. To me, it just seems easier-- not to mention safer-- to skip the food rather than try to come up with a food that fits multiple allergies or food intolerance. I've had moms tell me that they were asked to home bake a treat free of numerous allergens-- even ones they don't personally deal with -- just so that party planners didn't "have to" opt for a non-food or limited food event.

I get that food is fun and social. But in school, except for lunchtime, it isn't necessary. In this day and age, a better option for parties is non-edible treats, games, crafts, etc., especially because the foods designated as safe for the top allergies can be expensive and difficult to find. Not everyone has the budget or the time to seek these out these specialty items.

With school underway again, I'm sure that many of us will be facing class party issues with regard to food. Our elementary school does not allow any edible or non-edible birthday treats, but we do have food for class parties several times a year. Even so, the "food-free" aspect of kids' birthdays takes a huge weight off of our shoulders, so this is a good thing to propose to your school.

I want to offer some solutions for food-free class parties, because with 1 in 12 kids suffering from a food allergy, it's bound to affect more classrooms with each passing year.  Plus, many kids' allergy health plans have "food-free" classrooms as part of the requirements. Clearly, all of us could use some alternatives to edible treats.

Here is a list to explore and please feel free to share it with your child's teachers. To gather these supplies, instead of sending individual parents out to buy food for parties, why not ask parents for a set amount of money and then designate "buyers" for these items? Set a budget for parties and go from there whenever craft items or non-edible treats are needed.

Food-Free Class Party Ideas

Crafts. These are always a hit. If you are not one of those naturally "crafty" parents, you can find some wonderful ideas and deals online. I love the crafts page at Family Fun magazine, since you can search according to age, event and season, among other things. Check out Oriental Trading Company online for some other festive craft ideas for fall like this small pumpkin faces craft kit and this kit for a turkey headband.

Games. Your teacher will undoubtedly have some fun game ideas, but again, online sources abound. I really like the Class Parties website and its suggestions for crafts and games.

And if you're one of the creative parents, even better. For example, one mom in my daughter's class had the kids team up to write their own Halloween stories and then act them out. The kids loved it! Plus, I've seen some really great seasonal games at Target and other discount stores. Last year I bought an inexpensive but cute "Halloween bucket" game for my youngest daughter's classroom. Use the season to spark your imagination and ask your kids for input. You'll soon see that you don't need food to have a good time.

Non-edible treats. Why not skip the traditional sugary foods and give students small toys (available at places like Oriental Trading Company or local party stores for low prices, especially if you buy in bulk), stickers or personalized pencils. One of my favorite online sources is the For Teachers Only website. Personalize pencils for the class with their names or a message like "Happy Thanksgiving." The cost might even be cheaper than food depending on seasonal sales, etc.

You can find other affordable novelties at the always entertaining and resourceful website for Oriental Trading Company.

Share printed recipes. Is your school having a World Cultures Day? A food-free alternative would be to have students bring in printed recipes and tell the class the stories behind the recipes. You can learn so much from hearing these stories and if kids make the foods at home, maybe they can be given a chance to discuss them at a later date. This approach takes the focus off of managing so many homemade, unlabeled foods which in turn, helps teachers as well as allergic kids.

For reasons of time and general health as well as food allergies, many schools are choosing to limit the food at parties, but if you can offer some replacements, that's a great step in the right direction.

For more on organizing class parties around food allergies, read and share this article I wrote for Chicago Parent magazine.


Gratefulfoodie said...

Fabulous tips..I've already forwarded a few to my daughter's teacher!

Jenny said...

Thanks, Grateful Foodie! Hope your child's teacher finds the tips helpful!

Best, Jenny

The Atomic Mom said...

I used to hate any food themed things as a school teacher. I always found them to be a HUGE and unnecessary distraction. Now that I'm a food allergy mom ... it's self explanatory. No one is going have any less fun if there is not food, but it's hard to change a long held cultural mindset.

Jenny said...

I totally agree! It is a cultural mindset to be overcome, but smoking used to be the norm on airplanes and restaurants and now...it's not. That's why I like to show the teacher how they can actually make it easier on themselves by skipping the food. I so appreciate the teachers who have done this, especially because they often hear from parents who want to push food all day long.