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Preparing Teachers for Your Child’s Nutritional Requirements at School
Your child is beginning life in the big wide world. You have, no doubt, chosen or will choose your child’s school or daycare with safety in mind. Today it’s rare to find a place that hasn’t had to deal with children eating differently than the majority. Communication is the key to keeping your child safe in school or daycare. Don’t wait until the first day to discuss your child’s way of eating or food sensitivities or allergies with the teacher(s). You can start laying the groundwork as early as the April or May, prior to school starting. Here are 4 tips on how to prepare teachers for your child’s nutritional requirements at school.
Please note that this post is not intended to help parents whose children have anaphylactic reactions to foods, where a higher level of care is demanded.
I would suggest arranging a face-to-face meeting and going about the discussion in the following manner:
1. Tell the teacher that your child reacts to certain foods (being careful not to use the word ‘allergic’ when your child is not allergic) and that you would like his or her help in ensuring that your child is not fed problematic foods.
2. Describe your child’s symptoms or potential symptoms when they eat certain foods, whether it is unruly behaviour, troubles concentrating, nightmares or diarrhea. I feel it is important to describe the symptoms before describing the problem foods so that the first priority is placed on what happens to your child if certain foods are eaten. When you describe the symptoms, you will need to give enough detail so that your child’s teacher understands the gravity of the matter yet, at the same time, you don’t want to get into a whole long tale of your family’s woes. It is important that the teacher does not lose sight of the facts and doesn’t get into questioning your beliefs or circumstances.
3. Provide the teacher(s) with a complete written list of the foods to which your child reacts. With my daughters being allergic or sensitive to all of the common allergens years ago, I provided the teacher with a list of foods that my child could eat safely, as that was a shorter list than the former.
4. Develop an action plan together as to how feeding your child will be dealt with under different circumstances. Some of the questions you might ask are: Can you, the parent, supply your child’s meals and snacks? If so, where would those foods be kept in the school and how would they get to your child? Is there a “no food sharing” policy? How will you maintain good communication with the teachers regarding treats for special occasions? Does the teacher give you a day’s warning before an in-class birthday party? Have you made provisions for field trips? Ask about the different circumstances that might come up during the year; in certain instances, making and eating food may be part of learning about different cultures e.g. latkes.
The easier you make things for the teacher, the better off everyone will be. Suggest providing all of your child’s snacks, including ones for special occasions. Ask whether you should bring in the snacks at the beginning of each month, week or day. It would be helpful for you to bring in a selection of snacks that is kept in a cupboard or drawer for your child to choose from at any time. It would be a bonus if your child could bring in fresh snacks i.e. fruit or baked goods every day or every once in a while. You may want to ask whether the teacher would allow you to use the school fridge, microwave or freezer, which would give you even more flexibility.
Teachers may feel apprehensive or stressed about doing things differently for your child. That’s okay. It’s better to be like that, than carefree. You are on the same team. You might say “I know that people may feel a little nervous with my child at the beginning but that won’t last long. I’ll ensure that you have everything you need to make things run smoothly and easily and I’ll always be available when you need me.” Let your child’s teacher know how much you appreciate their efforts on your child’s behalf.
You will also need to place some of the responsibility on your child’s shoulders for making sure that they do not eat problematic foods at school. It is not all up to the teacher to make sure things run smoothly. You can read my post on Educating Kids to Make Healthy Food Choices for example, to learn how to teach your child to understand their own body and how it reacts to foods, so that your son or daughter stays onside with your plan of action, truly knowing it is for their own well being.
You may have your own stories of how you dealt with feeding your child differently. Please share your ideas so that others might benefit from your knowledge. The more our children can eat differently from the majority, the better off they will be!
Until next time,