Your child’s school is nut-fee. Now what?

(BPT) – The notice arrives: Your child’s school does not allow any tree nuts on the premises. Or perhaps you’ve just learned this year’s classroom is a designated peanut free zone.

This can be frustrating for all parents, especially with all those confusing food labels and dealing with finicky eaters of your own. These banned foods are, after all, inexpensive, nutritious and shelf-stable proteins perfect for the lunch box.

However the statistics are clear, the number of children suffering from food allergies is rising, growing 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, according to a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But no one is sure as to what is causing this increase. The CDC estimates that 4 to 6 percent of U.S. children have some form of food allergy, and 90 percent of food allergies are caused by one of these eight foods: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts (such as pecans, walnuts, pine nuts).

Ultimately, we need to remember that the bigger picture is to keep allergens out of the school to save lives – and spare your child the trauma of witnessing a classmate suffer from a severe reaction. Here are five ways to navigate in-school food allergies.

Practice safe hygiene: In some cases, touching shared surfaces at school can transfer particles that can trigger a mild reaction in allergy sufferers, such as itchy skin. If your child eats peanut butter toast for breakfast at home, for example, be sure hands are washed thoroughly before leaving for school.

Lunch alternatives: Pack some creativity along with ice packs or thermoses to create some tasty but healthy lunches that can be kept at a safe temperature all morning. Some kids might enjoy hummus and fresh veggies on bread or a tortilla. Or pack fun separates so kids can assemble their own entree, such as small soft tortillas with taco toppings, such as cheese, diced chicken breast and lettuce. Leftovers may be your surprise noontime hit, especially if they include fare like pasta, pizza and homemade soup and chili.

Read labels like a pro: When tree nuts or peanuts are not allowed in school, read the label on the packaging before sending it to school. It may seem like common sense can steer you clear from danger, but allergens can be found in many not-so-obvious foods, especially breads and baked goods. Food manufacturers are required by the Food and Drug Administration to list the presence of any of the eight most common allergens at the bottom of an ingredients list, making it easier for all parents. Packaged food may also include a voluntary advisory that reads, ‘manufactured in a facility that also processes peanuts,’ or ‘may contain tree nuts.’

Snack safely: Some food companies make it a practice to keep certain allergens, like tree nuts and peanuts, out of their facilities and will label this on the package to assure their customers. Sending safe and shareable treats that are easy to identify takes the burden off your child’s busy teacher, and the kids with food allergies will feel included on treat day. One nutritious and delicious snack that is safe for those who suffer from the eight most common allergens is MadeGood Granola Bars or Minis. Dried fruits give them natural sweetness and flavor, they are made with whole grains – no wheat – so they are also gluten free. In addition, each serving contains the same nutrients found in a serving of vegetables. To learn more, visit madegoodfoods.com.

Have the no-bullying talk: The nut ban can seem like a challenge when sending your child off to school, but don’t share your frustrations with your child. In fact, this is a great opportunity talk about how important it is that everyone feels safe. Food allergies are not a joke, yet one-third of students with a food allergy report they were bullied because of their allergies, according to Food Allergy Research and Education. Have a talk with your child about what’s safe and appropriate and what isn’t.

There is much to think about when it’s time to send your child to school. But a few simple steps and a little knowledge will help you do your part to keep all children safe at school and focused on learning.

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