Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Working Around Food Allergies at Class Parties: Some Fun, Food-Free Ideas for Everyone

Skip the label reading, wasted money on the "wrong"
product and enjoy a food-free class party.

I'm re-posting a popular blog from last year. Many people have told me they used these ideas, so for those of you new to nut allergies or to The Nut-Free Mom blog, here you go. :)

School is back in session and that means that classroom party season is back in full force. As parents of kids with life-threatening food allergies, school parties 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. It's a nice change of pace, too, from all of the candy, snacks and sweets that are offered to kids on a daily basis.

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.

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.
For nut-free Halloween ideas including snacks (for home parties or if your school insists on serving food) I hope you’ll check out my Pinterest boards for Halloween treats, nut-free school lunches and more. They’ve been a hit with parents of both allergic and non-allergic kids.
It’s hard to believe, but the holidays are just around the corner. If you’re dealing with a nut allergy diagnosis and would like some guidance on dealing with relatives, foods and other issues that affect your new, nut-free lifestyle, check out my e-book on Amazon and on other devices such as the Nook or yourcomputer/iPad.

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