When our daughter was 7, we found out that she had life-threatening allergies to horses, bees, and penicillin. In addition, testing revealed that her body has a hard time managing many foods, environmental allergens, and animals. In essence, her list of allergies includes close to 30 allergens. My kid is even allergic to celery. Yes, celery allergies exist. And no, I had no idea either until such an innocuous vegetable affected my kid.
After many appointments with her school nurse, doctors, and allergists, we came up with a plan to keep her safe in her classroom. While our lives don’t revolve around her allergies, and we’ve learned to adapt to our new normal, I still cringe every time holiday seasons roll around. Because classroom parties for kids with allergies can be a nightmare.
Before we had to deal with allergies as a part of our daily routine, admittedly, I gave very little thought to what I sent in for classroom parties or for end of the school year celebrations. I now know, though, that one of the hardest parts of having an allergy kid is wading through the minefield of classroom parties. There are the phone calls to the room parent at the beginning of the year to touch base and remind them that your child has special dietary needs. There are the emails to the teacher during the spring allergy season asking that your child be given special attention when the classroom party is being held outside because your child will break out in horrible welts just from contact with grass.
And there’s the anger that I feel toward parents who just can’t seem to get on board with the fact that allergy kids sometimes need a little help to feel included. I have received swift pushback from parents who can’t wrap their minds around a classroom party that doesn’t include cookies, juice, and other treats that children with allergies can’t eat, but I’m not hearing that. Parties should be safe for each student in the classroom. Nobody should be excluded or ostracized.
I understand it can be overwhelming to find a snack that doesn’t include specific allergens, especially when there’s several different allergies in the classroom. Simply put, look for brands that exclude the top 8 allergens: eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Brands like Enjoy Life are made without the top 8 and are gluten-free and non-GMO. Yes, they cost a bit more, but frankly, anything that is prepackaged and bought in bulk is going to cost more anyway.
If you are sending in food as a party treat, consider sending items like fruit snacks, fruit leather, and other gummy style candies (Sour Patch Kids, Skittles, Starburst, etc). Of course, always read the labels to confirm the ingredients, but generally speaking, hard candies like lollipops or gummy bears are a pretty safe choice.
Personally, I prefer to skip food altogether when it comes to providing a treat for my daughter’s classroom. Here are some of our favorite contributions:
1. Burn a CD of your child’s favorite music for the kids in the class.
2. Sudoku, crossword, or puzzle books. Kids still love Mad Libs as much as we did, FYI.
3. Inexpensive books from book services like Scholastic Book Club. Often, there are $1 book specials and bonus: You’ll benefit your child’s classroom with your purchase.
4. Stock up on boxes of crayons during back-to-school sales. Kids love a new box of crayons any time of the year.
5. Holiday-appropriate rubber stamps and ink pads. You can even add a note that says “Thumbs Up, Valentine!” or “Thumb Body Is Excited To Celebrate With You!” Come on, that’s cute. Admit it.
6. Jump ropes, inexpensive inflatable pool balls, or Frisbees. Anything that entices kids to move and be active is always fun.
7. Mechanical pencils. Seriously, my kids go bananas for these, and you can buy them in large multipacks.
8. Tokens to places like Chuck E. Cheese’s or other game-themed restaurants.
9. Glow sticks, especially at Halloween. Kids love snapping their bracelets and necklaces on a big night of trick-or-treating, and parents love being able to see their kids in the dark.
10. Silly stick-on mustaches or fuzzy eyebrows. Throw in an inexpensive pair of plastic glasses, and you’ll have kids giggling in no time.
11. Photo props on sticks. Craft stores sell large packs of funny props for selfies and classroom photos. These are a huge hit with tweens, and the pictures are always hilarious.
12. Fake bugs, bouncy balls, magnifying glasses, or any trinket that is age-appropriate. (Obviously, bouncy balls are choking hazards for little ones). Craft stores are a treasure trove of party favors and fun trinkets to add to goody bags.
Any parent who takes the extra step to make sure he or she is sending an “everybody” snack/treat to a classroom party is one that I want to hug. Even just the simple gesture of emailing the parent of a child with allergies for suggestions is greatly appreciated. Most of all, sending in a safe, allergy-free snack means you are potentially saving a child’s life, and that makes you a superhero. You can even wear a cape if you’d like. I won’t judge.