I remember the fear I felt when my son was in elementary school around Valentine’s Day school parties. I knew, from my childhood, that candy and food surrounded every party in the classroom. I also knew that it would take preparation and education to ensure that my son’s classroom remained safe during and after any party his class had.
My son started kindergarten in 2001, when food allergy awareness was definitely lacking. My initial thought was to remove all food from the classroom and have a food-free party! I thought it was a brilliant idea – crafts, games and fun. When I shared that with the teachers and the other room parents, you would have thought I suggested we starve the children for the month of February! So, food was very much a part of every year’s school celebration in addition to the kids bringing in Valentine’s Day cards, many of which included candy treats.
For my son’s entire elementary school years (all six of them from K-5), I was a room Mom in charge of planning every party. What a job that was, but I felt it so important to do this for his safety. This certainly helped for me to know what was planned for fun and for food. It also helped to steer the menu away from my son’s allergens – peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish.
The classroom teacher sent out a reminder the week before Valentine’s Day reminding every family to NOT bring in foods that contained the allergens of any child in the classroom as a candy attached to the Valentine’s card or as food for the party.
Despite this, there were several years where we had issues. One year, a Mom brought in beautifully homemade cupcakes that had peanuts sprinkled on the top. The teacher looked at me when they entered the classroom on party day, and I gave her the evil eye threatening to make a scene if she didn’t handle it right there and then. The cupcakes were removed from the classroom immediately.
Another year, one family who didn’t understand English very well, brought in sesame candy to celebrate the Chinese New Year along with Valentine’s Day and put it into every child’s Valentine’s bag to take home. Many children got into the candy during the school day, and sesame seeds went everywhere. Since this occurred in 3rd grade, the students were much more aware of the issues this posed for my son. The Principal had to get involved with this issue and brought the parents in to explain food allergies and why sesame covered candies can’t be sent in to school. I’m not sure they ever understood the issue!
By 4th grade, my son’s classroom had a dance party with fruit and punch as food and that was it! That was such a wonderful step in the right direction – I was thrilled.
Once my son went to middle school in 6th grade, there were no longer any Valentine’s Day celebrations or parties. I didn’t miss the party at all, and honestly, I don’t think that my son did either.
If you’re still battling an elementary school with parties, I’m feeling for you! We learned that even with reminders to families about not bringing in food allergens, mistakes can still happen. If at all possible, be in attendance at your child’s school to watch the food. And practice with your child before the day how to respond to food that doesn’t appear safe – tell the teacher, don’t eat it, and make sure to tell Mom/Dad! If you’re school is open to having parties without food, there are so many activities that can be enjoyed.
Here are more links for safe Valentine’s Day Candies, Kissing with Food Allergies and food free treats:
Food Allergies: Hot Tips For Kissing Safely by Allergic Living
4 Ways to Pledge Your #TealLove for a Child With Food Allergies This Valentine’s Day by Kids With Food Allergies