Food allergies are hitting the headlines frequently nowadays, and with good reason. UK hospital admissions for food allergies have risen by seven times since 1990. Today, around five to eight percent of children in the UK are estimated to have a diagnosed food allergy. As well as children within the school, family members can also be affected – as can members of staff. This can make food a tricky area for PTAs to navigate.
There are two aspects to food allergy management. The first is strictly avoiding the food(s) the child is allergic to, to prevent a reaction. The second is adapting activities so the child can be included in all aspects of school life as much as possible – including PTA events.
Food allergies can turn events that are supposed to be fun and enjoyable into a source of stress and anxiety for parents and children. In addition to the worry of a reaction, bullying is a concern. At least a third of children with food allergies have been bullied due to their allergy. PTAs play an important role in promoting inclusion for children with food allergies. Here are some practical steps you can take.
1. Reduce the amount of food at events
The easiest way to manage food allergies at PTA events is to eliminate or reduce food as much as possible. Some non-food fundraising ideas include a scavenger hunt, silent auction, car wash or clothes swishing night.
Can you think of any PTA events where you could replace food with a non-edible alternative? For example:
At Easter, instead of a traditional chocolate egg hunt, have a picture trail around the school grounds, where children collect a prize at the end.
- For Santa’s Grotto, wrap up books, toys or other gifts as an alternative to chocolate selection boxes.
- Replace your chocolate tombola with a jam jar tombola, where jam jars are filled with small prizes such as hairbands, stickers, rubbers etc.
- For stall prizes, give away pencils, keyrings, notepads or other small goodies.
2. Providing suitable food
Of course, selling food is one of the biggest earners at fundraising events. Plus, it’s fun to enjoy food together. You wouldn’t want to eliminate it entirely from all events. So how can PTAs sell food safely?
Firstly, whenever possible, provide food that is individually packaged and labelled. For example, buy individually wrapped sweets. This helps to prevent cross contamination and makes it easier to check food labels. If you are serving food, keep the packaging in case anyone asks about ingredients. You could also display an allergen chart for people to refer to.
Secondly, provide allergy friendly food whenever you can. For example, if you’re serving hot dogs, buy a few gluten-free buns. Keep them wrapped and separate until needed. Make sure you let people know they are available by putting a sign up saying ‘gluten-free buns available on request’. Or if you’re selling ice creams at an event, provide some fruit-based lollies as an alternative. Look for products that do not contain any of the top 14 allergens.
Before any event you are running that involves food, ask the headteacher for a current list of allergies in the school. If people are buying tickets or signing up in advance, ask them to state any dietary requirements. Or send home a survey to all families at the beginning of each year.
Whenever possible, get the parents of the children with food allergies involved in planning PTA events. Even if they aren’t part of your committee, consult with them. As well as helping you find safe products to buy for an event, they may also be able to spot potential pitfalls that wouldn’t occur to someone who isn’t used to living with food allergies. Invite them to come along to the event and supervise their child.
Parents of children with food allergies are used to spending extra time and energy advocating for their child. They will be very motivated. If you can show them that you are making an effort to consider their child’s needs, you can easily win them over and possibly gain yourself a new volunteer. You could even ask them to be your PTA’s official food allergy rep.
It takes time to learn and understand the requirements of individuals with food allergies. Work out what the needs are for your school community and . Oover time, you can make your events more allergy-friendly. Communicate with parents as much as possible and ask for help where needed.
Parents of children with food allergies do not expect you to make events all about them, and in no way do they want to take any fun away from your child. However, all children have the right to be safe and included in all aspects of school life, including PTA events.
How do you make your PTA events allergy friendly? Share with us on Facebook @PTAExpertbyParentkind and twitter @Parentkind.
Our blog is a place for a range of opinions and debate on parents and their role in their schools and their children’s education. Whilst we think this debate is really important, we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.