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Safe & Healthy Classroom Snacks

Wondering how to provide classroom snacks that meet school safety guidelines? Here are a few tips for Life as MOM Contributor Jessie Leigh.

healthy and safe snacks
With elementary school-aged children, there always seem to be lots of occasions to celebrate. Various seasons and holidays bring with them fun parties and gatherings. Some classrooms allow birthday celebrations. Often, parents are called upon to provide snacks and treats for these events.

More and more schools are implementing wellness initiatives, too. This adds another thing to consider as we try to plan what foods we should bring into the classroom. The cupcakes thick with frosting that we may have sent in the past? Aren’t welcome in some schools. While, yes, that is a bummer in some ways, there are good things to these initiatives, too, and we need to remember that.

Finally, at least in my neck of the woods, it seems that more and more children are being diagnosed with food allergies. When I was a kid, I remember one– ONE!– child in my class who ever had an allergy. My children, however, have never had fewer than three children in their class with at least one food allergy. I believe some of this is due to better testing and more awareness. I believe a lot may be due to our changing food production and agricultural methods. Either way, allergies play a big role in planning treats.

Here are a few things to consider as you plan what to offer for the celebration.

Consider skipping the baking.

I know, I know. This rule kills me, but I find it’s generally a good idea to skip the baking if there are any significant allergies in the class. While I would happily leave all nuts out of a treat I make, that doesn’t take into account the cross-contamination that could occur simply because I do not have a nut-free kitchen. Frankly, I don’t know if I have a single mixing bowl I can guarantee has never held peanut butter. Even though I would scrub and be careful, I can’t guarantee the safety of something I make and, with life threatening allergies in the school, I typically reserve my baking for groups of children in which I know exactly what they can and can’t have.

Embrace packaged goods.

I really don’t love buying packaged snacks. They can be pricey and the ingredient lists are sometimes sketchy. But, at the same time, it’s the fact that they have ingredient lists that makes them desirable. Ask the parents of any child facing a food allergy and they’ll tell you that they appreciate being able to see the list of ingredients. Make sure you keep all the packaging with the item, e.g. don’t just dump the granola bars in a bag.

Healthy Fruit and Cheese

Photo Source: Jessie Leigh

Keep it super simple.

One of my favorite snacks to provide for any and all kid events is so simple, it’s almost silly– I make a plate of fruit and cheese. Those foods tend to be very popular with children and they don’t even need “ingredient lists.” People know what’s in an apple. These are healthy, kid-friendly foods and it’s easy for both children and adults to see if there’s something there they shouldn’t be eating.

Offer to provide paper goods or water.

Sometimes, it’s just too hard. Honestly, with all the restrictions and guidelines we’re expected to follow, overwhelm can set in. Even if you’re one of the most dedicated snack-providers in the class, it’s okay to occasionally say, “I’ll bring the napkins.” Those items are just as needed and it’s totally fine to take a step back from the food planning and prep for an event or two.

Talk to the other parents.

More than anything else, I must recommend this. Communicate with the other parents, particularly those with the children who have allergies. I have learned so very much from the other parents and, truly, it’s made my job so much easier. One mom could tell me which brands of bread didn’t contain dairy so I could make safe jelly sandwiches for the class. Another told me she was completely comfortable with her nut-free daughter having Hershey’s kisses because they were safely manufactured. Another flat out told me not to worry about it because her son wasn’t allowed to eat anything anyone else sent in. These are all things you might not know until you ask. I have never, ever had a parent get mad at me for asking questions– people appreciate it when you care enough to want their children to be safe.

Do have food allergies in your family? What tips can you offer for sending safe classroom snacks?

– A mother of three, including a 24 week preemie, JessieLeigh is a determined advocate for even the tiniest of babies. She can be found celebrating life’s (sometimes unexpected) miracles and blessings at Parenting Miracles.

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Comments

  1. One thing that many people are not aware of is that for any food, there is someone somewhere who is allergic to it. In my extended family we have relatives who are allergic to almonds, peanuts, fish, bee products, bananas, milk, cheddar cheese, chamomile, wheat, anything that has touched latex and fructose. That last one is a tough one, as it includes not just things made with high fructose corn syrup, but all fruits, many vegetables (including broccoli), and Splenda. I keep a list of who is allergic to what, and tailor what I make for family holidays to who is going to attend. We also label label label everything, and read labels for all ingredients. In my immediate family there is only one food allergy, and that is mine, to chamomile. Pretty easy to avoid.

    • That is very true, Sandra. People really can be allergic to anything. The severity of the allergy can vary immensely, too. Certainly, we should always take allergies seriously, but some can have far more dangerous effects than others. The range is vast.

  2. The Safe Snack Guide at SnackSafely.com is a pretty good resource. Although if the child is SUPER sensitive, it may not be that helpful (the mom of a highly sensitive kid in my son’s class says her daughter can’t have pretty much everything on the list). But for mild allergies, I think it’s quite useful.

    And I agree, I would never be offended if someone cared enough to ensure (or even try to ensure) that they were bringing something safe for my child. I would gladly answer a million questions if it means my child is included! However, I HAVE been offended when someone I thought should know better didn’t even apologize for bringing in an unsafe item, even after being reminded.

  3. In my experience, parents are very appreciative if someone takes the time and care to ensure their child has something safe to eat along with the other children. Even more appreciated is the substitution of a non-food treat. My daughter’s birthday treat for her class last week was glow in the dark bracelets for Halloween. At her birthday party the goodie bag included Play-doh, bubbles and balloons instead of the usual assortment of candy. Each year her class has three parties for Christmas, Valentine’s Day and an end of the year celebration. Most of the parents brings candy and other goodies. I have taken to bringing non-food items. The kids seem to like these alternatives as well. The origami Christmas trees were a particular hit.

    • Yes! A great reminder, Janet. We get notes at the start of the school year that specifically request that any birthday treat we send be non-food. It definitely makes it simpler and safer.

  4. As a mom with 3 kiddos who can’t eat gluten, I just send a jar of their favorite treats to school at the beginning of the year for occasions when treats come in that they can’t eat. Even if a homemade treat were “gluten free”, we couldn’t trust that it wasn’t cross contaminated accidently, that’s how sensitive the gluten issue is. Our school only allows items bought at the store in closed packages, so that makes things easier, but for the most part, my kiddos look forward to their special treat from their personal jar because we made sure it was their absolute favorite candies that they only get on special occasions.

    I don’t expect people to understand the gluten free issue, it’s very complicated, but I sure do appreciate it when they don’t insist to accommodate my children when we have already provided for them. It can be very dangerous if even a tiny bit of gluten makes its way onto their food. It can get awkward to firmly tell another (well meaning) parent no because they keep insisting that they can make something gluten free. I have to look out for the health of my children, though.

    We are pretty much over the “have to eat what everyone else is eating to feel part of the group.” Now my kids focus on the occasion more than the food. (On the flip side, I always make sure their take-along cupcake looks amazing when they go to a birthday party, and that their jars at school are filled with their favorite things — don’t you love that mom guilt?)

  5. SEPERATION over PRESENTATION!!!! Seperate plates for every food item means that the kids allergic to citrus can have the cheese because it didn’t touch the oranges. The kid allergic to milk couldn’t grab any fruit off of your lovely platter if it was touching the cheese. Somethimes a disposable pan filled with grapes means the snack looks ugly but it is safe. And don’t be put out if a kid rejects something you’ve worked really hard on making. They may have been sickened before by well meaning folks and we should commend them for playing it safe.

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