Back to School with Food Allergies

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“Hey Z, school starts next week. You excited? Maybe we should go buy you a lunchbox or something.”

“Yeah, mom, let’s go buy a lunchbox.”

This thrilling and über proactive conversation actually happened at my house this week. And it’s just because I love him so much that I’m going to go to Target and let him stand in the lunchbox aisle for approximately 30 hours so he can make his own hugely important, painstaking decision about the box that will carry his food all year. And this year? We’re doing it before school actually starts.

Before I come across as woefully unprepared, I should tell you that I had the important stuff done as soon as school was out for the summer. Yeah, this year, I kicked it up a notch.

Back to School with Food AllergiesHere are the things I do when preparing for Back to School with Food Allergies (elementary edition, middle school edition coming in a few short years):

  1. In June, I drop off the medication release and allergy action plan forms with my allergist. Why in June? Because the allergist’s office has something like 3,215 forms to fill out before school starts. So, it takes a while to get the forms back (and when you do, make copies of those forms!). And, honestly, I like to know it’s done and in place so I don’t have to worry about it in August. August has plenty of crunch time of its own.
  1. I gather all of the meds, label them, and place them in a gallon size Ziploc to deliver to the nurse as soon as she returns to the office, usually the week before school starts.
  1. As soon as I learn Z’s teacher for the year, I find his/her contact information and set up a short meeting to discuss Z’s allergies, accommodations, and actions that would be taken in case of an exposure that would cause a reaction.
  1. Each year, I sit down with the school nurse to set up his Individual Health Plan (IHP) and review the Allergy Action Plan. Sidenote: everyone should have a school nurse like our Nurse Tina. She is uh-mazing. It eases my mind and heart ever-so-slightly that her own children have food allergies. So, she’s incredibly aware and knowledgeable…it’s the little things, right?

Last year, I learned a little bit about 504 Plans. Up to that point, I had not heard of 504 Plans, and certainly did not know the difference between a 504 Plan and an IHP. My understanding is that a 504 Plan is essentially an IHP, perhaps with a little more detail, but holds legal weight if the plan is not followed and a reaction occurs. Up to this point, the IHP has worked well for us, but I’ll be looking further into the 504 this year, as we start preparing for middle school (yeah, I know…).

Once I have prepared for the year, I do what I can to be involved in the classroom. It gets a little tricky, juggling work obligations and helping in the classroom, but I do what I can to be involved. Being involved builds the relationship with the teacher, provides great insight to how the class is conducted, and allows great opportunity for minor adjustments throughout the year.

I know many families are preparing for Back to School right now. What does your family do to ensure a safe, reaction-free year? Please add to this list!


Tiffany Self

Tiffany Self is a wife, mom to "Z", and a lover of words. In an ironic twist, she is an English class dropout who now writes for a living. Tiffany is a freelancer in the Chicago suburbs by way of Seattle and Southern Oregon. She writes about her journey of parenting a child with multiple severe food allergies, asthma, and environmental allergies. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

2 Comments to Back to School with Food Allergies

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    • Kristin C

      Did you ever pursue the 504 plan?

      I am about to send my daughter to public school to begin Kinder in a couple weeks… Gah!

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