Children with food allergies, or food sensitivities, have a harder time than other children when it comes to school celebrations. An allergy is different than a sensitivity.

An allergy to a certain food, e.g., eggs, dairy or peanuts, means if the person eats, or even comes in contact with an allergen, their body reacts in a way that can be life threatening. This is called anaphylaxis. The person may experience some, or all, of the following: swollen face or tongue, difficulty breathing, rash or hives.

The person needs immediate medical attention. Though an intolerance, or sensitivity, can cause some of the same signs and symptoms as a food allergy, people often confuse the two, according to Dr. James Li, MD, of the Mayo Clinic. Many people with food allergies carry a device called an Epi pen. This is administered to counteract the effects of the allergen in the body. Medical attention is still required following use of an Epi pen.

A food sensitivity is generally not considered life threatening, though for the person with the sensitivity, it is still unpleasant. For example, if a person is lactose intolerant, if they eat dairy products they will experience digestive discomfort, such as abdominal bloating. These people know to avoid foods made with dairy, or dairy foods.

For the child with a food allergy or a sensitivity, navigating the school celebration maze is challenging at best. For the parent of the child it is just as challenging. What do you pack for lunch? What do you provide for a classroom celebration? With a little planning and communication with the teacher and other parents, the child with a food allergy or food sensitivity can participate equally in school celebrations.

More and more children are presenting with gluten intolerance, i.e., intolerance or sensitivity to foods containing gluten, which includes wheat, pasta, bread and some grains, lactose, eggs or nuts, or peanuts. If the child has a gluten intolerance, many cookies and muffins can be made with a flour replacement, with little or no taste difference.

In the case of lactose, foods such as smoothies made with milk, yogurt parfaits, etc. are off limits. However, some smoothies taste just fine made with almond milk or soy milk, unless either of these foods is a known allergen. Smoothies can also be made with just fruit juices and frozen fruits. Non-dairy yogurt can be substituted for yogurt made from cow’s milk.

In the case of tree nuts, or peanuts, these can usually be eliminated from a recipe as they are often listed as optional.

There are still many snacks which avoid allergens and sensitivities. Good options include gluten free crackers and hummus, sliced fruit, vegetables with a bean dip or non-dairy ranch dressing, slices of lean turkey or chicken, muffins made with a wheat flour replacement, fruit or gluten-free crackers with sunflower butter.

Informing your child’s teacher at the beginning of the school year is important. This will allow him or her to keep an eye out for foods containing allergens, and also communicate with other parents as to appropriate snacks they can bring into the classroom. Also, if there happens to be a snack your child cannot have, you can also provide snacks the teacher can keep in the classroom for special occasions.

With a little planning everyone can happily participate in the childhood experience of classroom parties and celebrations.

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