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the food allergy app—

from Allergy Force

  • Writer's pictureGayle Rigione, Allergy Force

Kids with Food Allergies: Making holidays fun & inclusive at school


Food allergies were not as much of a ‘thing’ back in the early 2000’s as they are today. Being the mom of THE kid with food allergies in the Kindergarten classroom back then was nerve wracking. Holidays and celebrations were particularly challenging for our family to navigate.

While I would have preferred his Kindergarten classroom to be food free, with eating confined to the cafeteria, at the time I was realist enough to know that would be an uphill battle and I just couldn’t take a battle on at that time. We were brand new to town and to the school; we needed to settle in, find our footing, find our community. Cowardly? Possibly. Pragmatic? Definitely.

Even with a 504 Plan in place, I was plagued with uncertainties:

  • Did I explain everything clearly enough to his teacher?

  • Would his teacher make sure he only ate the food he brought from home for snack and lunch?

  • Would she give me the promised heads-up on class parties so I could send in a special {safe} treat?

  • Would she be able to the connect the food allergy dots when planning crafts for the class?

  • Would his teacher recognize signs of an allergic reaction?

  • Was the school nurse someone I could trust to be there when it mattered most?

  • When he set off for school, would he be safe? Be ok?

To quell my anxiety, I became a dedicated volunteer, always raising my hand to help with class projects.

In December, his teacher planned a special craft to celebrate the holidays – decorating mini ‘gingerbread’ houses made from graham crackers and empty milk cartons. I spoke to the teacher about the project and my concerns about the planned materials — from the graham crackers to the candy decorations to the frosting ‘snow’ used as ‘glue’ for the decorations. The project had potential to be a food allergy minefield for my little guy. Not wanting to be that mom, but needing to protect my son, what to do?

“The middle ground is there. If you can’t find it, then you create it.”

I made his teacher my ally to make the project work {i.e., safe & inclusive} for my son and I volunteered time and materials to make the project fun for the entire class.

  • I raised my hand to assemble the houses for the classroom ahead of time, working with another mom. We used graham crackers that were safe for my son.

  • When parents were asked to donate candy for the decorations, they were asked avoid candy with peanuts or tree nuts. I donated generously — all vetted candies that would be safe for my son.

  • When parent volunteers made the frosting ‘snow’ in the classroom, chock full of egg whites, I was there, cans of safe frosting for my son’s use in my bag.

  • My son was specially seated on the end of a row, slightly apart from the throng of kids in the middle of the room, distanced from flying frosting. I stayed in his vicinity, watchful.

  • When it came to choosing candy decorations, I helped my son pick from the safe candies I'd donated, with plenty leftover for his classmates to share.

The kids could hardly wait to decorate their little houses with colored sugars, licorice ropes, candy canes, peppermint drops, chocolate kisses, gumdrops and frosting ‘snow’. The small adjustments we made to make the project possible for my son? My son didn’t notice. No one else noticed, either. They were all too intent on creating their gingerbread house masterpieces.

Being the allergy family is a balancing act – while you cannot ever compromise your child’s safety, you don’t want to isolate them from sharing fun with friends, and you don’t want to dampen their classmate’s fun, either.

The middle ground is there. Sometimes you just have to look for it. If you can’t find it, then you create it.



About the Author: Gayle Rigione is CEO and Co-founder of Allergy Force, the food allergy app. She’s also an allergy mom. She’s lived the heart stopping moments when her son ate the wrong thing, second guessed reactions and spent the night in the ER. These experiences inspire her to create tools for people with food allergies that make life safer, easier. Whatever you do, do it with a full heart. Audentes Fortuna Iuvat

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Photo Credit: Thank you to Michelle McCain for use of the 1st post image and to Dario Mingarelli on Unsplash for use of the 2nd image.

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