Monday, November 7, 2011

Potential food allergens in preschool and school activities

So we're looking into pre-schools. I can't believe this is happening already!

Our son's on the cusp between school year ages... he's a December baby, so if he goes into school next September, he'll still be a two year old, going on three. Should we wait a year? Not? Will he be the littlest one, or the older kid in class?  Considering the difference we've seen in the past year, and the fact it's accelerating, how can we estimate where he'll be in a year?  So many decisions. 

Not least of all, though, is how we will address his allergies.  One of the pre-schools we visited, while wonderful in so many ways, had a snack zone wide open for the children.  What a great thought normally... let children self-select snacks and the times when they're hungry.  But when I looked at that area, they included crackers and other foods I know to be harmful for our son.  And when I asked the director about their allergy policy, it was met with a thoughtful "well, when we've had peanut allergic children, we just make sure the kids didn't bring them to share." 

I asked whether the staff had any experience with other allergies, they admitted they didn't but were willing to work with us.  While we appreciated that, it made me worry... if they haven't addressed this issue in the past, they don't know the breadth of what they're dealing with here. 

So many nuances to consider... and would all the other children understand why they can't have cheese sticks? crackers? pretzels? tuna? chocolate chip cookies?  We can keep him healthy at home, but what will we do when kids start sharing things with him?  And what if he has free access to food that he is too young to understand he can't have?

Around the time we were having these conversations, I came across this interesting article on the Food Allergy Education Network's facebook feed.   And it became clear to me there's a lot more we have to consider beyond just food when it comes to his pre-school.  This is a list I will be sure to share with any place our son goes! 

Sigh - maybe we need an additional year's preparation just to get ready for pre-school!
But forewarned is forearmed, and I'm so glad to have this information.

Note!  This is a cut-and-paste from Kids with Food Allergies ( ... a wonderful site with great information for all families, educators, or child care providers who need information about living with food allergies.  I've attributed below as their site does as well.  My hope is that others can benefit from their efforts as I have.   
Read on..... 

Potential food allergens in preschool and school activities

Unexpected sources of allergens in school
Food used in lesson plans may need to be substituted depending on student food allergies

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, "food used in lesson plans for math or science, crafts, and cooking classes may need to be substituted depending on the allergies of the students". 1

Below is a list of some unexpected places you can encounter common food allergens, along with alternatives and precautions that can be used. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list; it is a general guide only and is not inclusive of every potential food allergen. Please verify all ingredients yourself by contacting the manufacturers as ingredients may change.

Activity/Materials Allergen(s) Potentially Safe Alternatives and

Appropriate Precautions
Play-Doh® (commercial or wheat-based homemade)Wheat Crayola® Model Magic®

Modeling clay (NOT modeling dough)

Moon Sand

Wheat-free, gluten-free dough from

Homemade rice- or buckwheat-based play dough

Other sensory materials such as goop, slime, and ooblick

Use a safe homemade playdough or ooblick:

- Rice playdough (free recipe)

- Cornstarch playdough (requires membership)

- Edible playdough (requires membership)

- Ooblick recipe: 1 1/2 cups corn starch, 1 cup water, food color (optional). Mix the ingredients together; as children play with the mixture it will be solid when they squeeze it and liquid when they release it.
Macaroni art (wheat) Wheat, egg Rice macaroni

Quinoa macaroni
Counting/sorting beans, grains, pasta, M&Ms® or other small foods Potentially all Counting/sorting foam, wood or plastic beads, or other small non-food items. Read ingredient labels to choose food items with safe ingredients.
Sensory tables that use grains, pasta, candies or other small foods Potentially all Use non-food items or read ingredients to choose food items with safe ingredients
Tempera paint (homemade and some very high-end commercial) Egg Commercial finger paint Crayola® Kids Paint

Most commercial paints suitable for children
Finger paint Pudding finger paint may contain milk. Laundry soap or laundry starch mixed in with finger paints to make them thicker. Laundry starch may contain corn, laundry soap may contain allergens. Read ingredients to find milk-free finger paints. Laundry starch or soap can be omitted if avoiding corn. Read ingredients to find a safe laundry soap.
Crayons May contain soy Read ingredients to find soy-free crayons
Crayola® Wonder Soy Use a non-soy based ink
Craft paste May contain wheat starch Elmer's® Glue sticks

Read labels to determine if wheat starch is present.
Shaving cream May contain milk Read ingredients to find a milk free shaving cream
Ooblick, oobleck, goop, slime May contain corn Create mixture using tapioca starch instead of corn starch, or read ingredients to find a safe version
Bird feeders Peanut butter

Wheat in birdseed mix

Nut oils in seed mix
Consider making a hummingbird or butterfly feeder instead, using sugar, water and food coloring.

Use soy nut butter or sunflower butter

Regular Crisco ® (contains soy oil) or other safe hard shortening


Seeds or seed mix without wheat seeds or nut oils
Planting seeds Legume seeds (such as beans, peas or peanut)

Corn kernels

Egg shells or egg containers that are sometimes used as "pots" to germinate seeds
Any other seeds

Use other safe pots to grow seeds
Baking projects Potentially all You can share lots of safe recipes and request to participate in any baking activities.
Paper mache (Papier-mâché) Wheat Elmer's ® glue solution

Buckwheat flour solution
Birthday and holiday celebrations Potentially all Non-food celebration (songs, goodie bags, stickers)

You can provide safe cake or cupcakes for the class.
Making butter Dairy None
Making maracas or shakers Some legumes Fill maracas or shakers with rice, popcorn, or sand.
Projects using empty egg cartons, milk cartons, yogurt containers, etc. Egg

You can provide safe empty containers for the class.

One place to purchase new egg cartons is
Hand-washing (teachers and children) Soaps, liquid soaps, hand wipes, diaper wipes and hand lotion may contain many allergens including wheat, dairy, soy and/or nut extracts including shea nut.

Cloth towels may contain food residue.
Read soap, liquid soap, wipe and lotion labels to determine if allergens are present and choose a safe brand.

Use paper towels to dry hands.

Use safe wipes to clean hands.
Musical instruments Allergens will be present on mouth-blown musical instruments. Remove mouth-blown musical instruments from classroom.

Provide a designated set of mouth-blown instruments for your child's use only.
Play kitchen Empty "real" egg cartons, cereal boxes, etc. will contain allergens. If used, you can provide safe "real" containers to replace allergenic ones.


1. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (1998). Anaphylaxis in schools and other child-care settings . Accessed August 2007,

Download a copy of this article here:
Potential food allergens in preschool and school activities

Thanks to KFA member Lara A. for providing her assistance in developing this document.

Originally published August 2007. Updated August 2008.

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