Ok mamas, I know how hard it is to let someone else take care of our littles. Add food allergies and it can be THE most stressful thing ever. In fact, I know many food allergy moms decide to homeschool their kids because of food allergies. But I know that isn’t possible for many of us (me included). So with a few years of school (and all of our preschool years) behind us, I thought I would share exactly what I would ask a preschool or daycare if I was to do it again today.
Let’s dive in!
To start, I would start with something general to get a feel for their food allergy knowledge. For example:
How do they manage severe food allergies?
This is a really broad question, and is meant to get an idea of how much they really know about allergies. What they choose to talk about here will help you get a feeling for how allergy savvy they are and it could give you an indication about whether they welcome kids with allergies or if it seems like they feel allergies are an inconvenience. By asking this question first, you’re able to decide if you even need to go further in your questioning or not (especially of they don’t seem overly welcoming to kids with allergies).
Some things to listen for in their response are:
How do they contain foods in all situations from prepping to snack time. Do they understand what cross-contact is? Will your child’s allergens be served to other kids? If so, how do they plan to contain the allergen to ensure your child doesn’t come into contact?
Next, if they answer in a way that seems knowledgable and helpful, you can get into more details with the following questions:
2. What training does the staff take with regards to food allergies and how often?
It’s super important that the provider understands cross contact especially since the possibility of cross contact is really high when you get a bunch of littles eating together. One really great training session was created by Food Allergy Canada. You can find it here. It talks about all the basic things a teacher should know and what to watch for.
Any food allergy training needs to happen EVERY YEAR. If teachers don’t live the food allergy life, then they need the ongoing repetition and refreshing of the information. It’s not enough to have a training once and then done. This is the same reason that CPR certification is required to be done EVERY single year to be valid. NEW teachers/caregivers that arrive after the training need to go through it before they every watch your child.
3. Have teachers practiced administering an EpiPen?
If not, I would offer to donate a few expired EpiPens so the teachers/caregivers can feel what it’s like to administer on an orange. This is invaluable so they aren’t afraid to do it IF the time came.
4. What is the snack policy?
Here you want to find out if parents are providing the snacks or if the school provides them. In my opinion, it’s best if the school provides them because then they only need to educate their staff. If parents provide the snack then each and every parent needs to understand what cross contact is and ensure that the food is prepped in a safe and clean area. To really understand whether it’s done safely is a tough one so it’s not worth the risk. Either way, how will they make sure that the snack is allergy-safe every single day?
5. How do they celebrate in the classroom?
Is there food involved during the celebrations? If so who will provide it and if allergens are present, how will they make sure your child is included.
One thing I had no idea about when my girls started preschool and school was that it’s not enough to just ensure that your child doesn’t eat their allergens. One of the MOST difficult things to deal with is our child feeling left out or lonely. Celebrations that focus on food instead of activities and fun are very difficult for food allergy littles to understand because it specifically excludes them. In my opinion, ANY celebrations should be non-food focused and activity based OR they should be safe for every child.
6. Are there curriculum activities that involve food?
Will they include your child’s allergen? If so, are they able to remove this from the curriculum or substitute with something else?
7. Where will your child’s emergency plan be kept, and how will they make sure each teacher and substitute teacher sees it?
When my girls were in school, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an emergency plan. Now, I use them like they’re going out of style. I send one for every field trip, to every teacher and always have an updated one at the school. The great thing is that these plans have a place to put a picture of your child on the top so teachers can see WHO actually has the allergy (this is especially important for substitute teachers/caregivers).
But emergency plans won’t be helpful unless they can be accessed and looked at by every teacher/caregiver that comes into contact with your child. In this way, it’s important to have it in a spot where teachers will look at it and use it. This question will help you find out where they keep it and how they make sure each teacher looks at it.
8. What is their hand-washing procedure?
Wouldn’t it be great if we knew that every kid in your child’s class never ate your child’s allergen? While this would be great, it isn’t possible to expect this. There is just no way to enforce it. Instead, the next best thing is to make sure that every kid has their hands and face wiped as they arrive and that they wash their hands before AND after every single snack. Not only does this help with allergies, but it reduces germ sharing too!
The last thing you want is to gloss over food allergies when you’re looking for a daycare/preschool. Understanding how much knowledge the school or daycare have in the beginning will save you lots of misunderstandings and frustrations later. That’s why I recommend you use these 8 questions to decide which preschool or daycare is right for you. Don’t be afraid to have high expectations when it comes to food allergies because knowing these things will only make the provider better.