by Karen Bransgrove
What’s the harm in serving a little snack? After all, the children are getting a little restless and placing food before them seems like a great idea to take up some time. Nothing wrong with that, right?
Before we use the privilege of serving snacks or drinks to the children in our care, we need to make sure steps have been taken to prevent any possible dangers or illnesses that might be caused through food allergies. Yes, even children have allergies and the challenge is that often times, they don’t know when to say, “I can’t have that.” So it’s up to us as teachers and caregivers to keep them safe, sound and as healthy as possible.
Prevention is the best medicine
Taking steps to be aware of existing allergies is a great beginning! Here are a few simple ideas that can make a world of difference:
- As parents sign in their children to your classroom, give them the opportunity to share with you any food allergies their child may have. Making it a permanent part of your sign-in procedure will lessen the chances that miscommunication will occur.
- Allergy stickers can be made or purchased to place on the child who has a particular allergy. You can even write their specific allergy on the sticker. It’s a good idea to also place an identical sticker on their sign-in page. This helps draw attention to the special need for any new volunteers that day.
- Get in the habit of posting a sign on your door to share the news of what will be tasted or eaten that day. This makes the parents aware of any potential problems.
- While it can certainly help with church budget shortages, it may be best to only use regular snacks purchased by the church or teacher. In doing this, it is much easier to assure that someone doesn’t innocently send a “forbidden” snack to the children.
Knowing that the snacks in your room follow certain rules will help prevent any mistakes about which child may receive which snack. The following is a list of items to NOT have in your classroom.
- Be sure that none of your classrooms keep peanut butter.
- Do not serve any snacks with peanuts, other kinds of nuts or nut oils in them. This includes staying granola bars, mixes and round cereal pieces with honey/nut flavoring.
- When serving drinks, it is safest to stick with water. We rarely drink enough water these days. However, if you choose to serve a different drink, stay away from those containing red dye.
You may occasionally have a child who has an allergy to soy products or milk products. Certain cheese crackers and snacks contain milk products which can affect some children. While these are items which may not be commonly served in a classroom, it is good practice to acknowledge the allergy with a sticker. In addition to this being good practice and assuring the well-being of the child, the parents realize that you seriously care for their family and are doing your best to assure their health and safety. This goes a long way in caring for parents who must deal with the added stress and challenge of a child with allergies. They see you as a partner and you immediately build credibility with them. God may open doors down the road in using your relationship with this family in dealing with spiritual and eternal matters as their child matures and grows.
Be prepared for the unexpected
You never know when you might have a child visit that was brought by a friend instead of a parent. This makes it difficult to be aware of allergies. By not having frequently-problem foods in your classroom, you have a much less chance of running into problems that day. When you later contact this visitor, make it a point to ask the parents about any possible allergies and record your findings on your sign-in sheets or roll pages for future use. This will assure the best atmosphere for the child while allowing the parents to see your diligence in caring for and about their child.
Celiac on the rise
One other disorder that should be addressed with allergies is Celiac. Once thought of as a rare childhood syndrome, it is now known to be a common genetic disorder affecting more than two million people. For more information go to http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac. Great care needs to be taken in tending to these children and their eating habits. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, which is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. While gluten is found mainly in foods, it can also be found in products such as medicines, vitamins, and lip balms.
It is possible to have children with Celiac and have them thrive right along with other children. Because some symptoms and reactions can be life-threatening, I have taken on the practice of asking these parents to please bring their child’s snack whenever possible. At the times when this is not possible, fruit is usually a safe alternative for them. However, be sure you check with the parent first before serving them anything to eat.
Food preparation is vitally important with Celiac children as well. They need to be sure their plate, fork or cutting board has not been touched by anything containing gluten. While this may seem impossible and quite a challenging feat, let me assure you it can be done. We have successfully hosted some of our children who live with Celiac at pre-teen camp. I went over the menu with the parents, who then chose similar food items for their children and purchased by the family at gluten-free stores. Our kitchen staff took extreme care in preparing this special food separately from the regular camp food, using separate knives and cutting boards all week. We never had a problem and the pre-teens had a wonderful week.
Serving children who deal with allergies is a necessary and rewarding part of our ministry. They too are created by a loving, Heavenly Father. They too have needs and desires to belong and fit in. They too have the need to be in a safe environment. As you examine your ministry area, be ready to make the necessary changes that can assure these children and their families a great, life-changing experience in their spiritual lives because their physical needs were met.
Karen is the Preschool and Children’s Minister at Riverside Baptist in Denver, CO. She also serves on the board for the Mile High Children’s Ministry Fellowship. She lives in Littleton, CO.