You’re prepping for a kids’ party, and your games are Pinterest-perfect. Your decorations are festive. Your cake is immaculate. You’ve made snacks that are as enticing and adorable as they are nutrient-rich.
Don’t forget to consider food allergies.
Food allergies lead to more than 30,000 emergency room visits a year. More than 4.1 million children in the US have food allergies. That means there is likely a food-allergic child or two in most classrooms—and potentially at most parties.It's always a good idea to check in and see if there are allergies so you can be prepared. Click To Tweet
Start with a simple question
The first step in preparing for allergies is one of the easiest: Ask.
“It’s always a good idea to check in and see if there are any kind of allergies so you can be prepared,” says Carolyn Buenaflor, associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Healthy Habits program. The program takes healthy snacks and nutrition education into local classrooms. Staff members often deal with the potential for allergies.
“We ask parents—but we always check in with students too. They tend to know what’s happening and if they have allergies.”
They get specific: Can the child just not eat the food, or should they not touch it? Can they even be in the same room as the food?8 foods account for 90% of allergic reactions. Click To Tweet
Tips for hosting a food allergy-friendly party
- Eliminate peanut butter and other nut butters. They’re among the most common allergens for kids, Buenaflor says.
- Know the most common food allergens. More than 160 foods can cause allergic reactions in people. The FDA identifies these as the 8 most common, accounting for around 90% of allergic reactions to food:
- Fish (like bass, flounder, and cod)
- Shellfish (like crab, shrimp, and lobster)
- Tree nuts (like almonds, walnuts, and pecans)
- Keep separate utensils. When you prepare food, use separate pots, pans, utensils, and other tools for allergen-free foods and other food. Do the same when you serve the food. For some children, even a very small amount can cause a serious reaction.
- Clean everything. Before preparing or serving allergen-free food, wash all surfaces, pots, pans, utensils, and appliances with hot, soapy water. Wash your hands too.
- Read the ingredients. Most labels carry allergy warnings, but look at all the ingredients to see if anything in what you’re serving was made with a common allergen. At bakeries, ask about allergens or if products were baked in a facility or with tools that carry a high risk of cross-contamination.
- Share the ingredients. Post ingredient lists near the serving table or have a list ready to share with parents and kids. Kids may have severe allergies to foods that aren’t among the most common.
- Welcome food brought by allergic kids and their families. Severe food allergies can be scary and kids may have had bad experiences at other parties. If a parent asks you if they can bring something they know is safe for their child, encourage them to do so and have a plan to serve it without fanfare so the kid doesn’t feel singled out.
And if you’re the parent of a kid with food allergies, Buenaflor has a tip for you too:
- Keep an EpiPen at the ready. Kids who have allergies should always have an EpiPen injector close by to treat an allergic reaction. A smart idea Buenaflor has seen in action: Tagging the pen with simplified instructions for use, so even those who haven’t used one before can figure it out fast in case of an emergency.