Take Heart: You CAN Celebrate Valentine's Day with Food Allergies

Celebrate Valentine's Day with Food Allergies

Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, which generally means classroom parties and candy. For kids with food allergies, it can also mean danger – and a learning experience. Nicole Smith, FAACT Vice President of Government Relations, found that being a part of the party planning helped to ensure safe foods coming into the classroom. Her son Morgan, FAACT Teen Advisory Council member, shares what worked in his classrooms – and what didn’t.

Morgan: Valentine’s Day has been a very interesting experience, especially with school. Let’s go with what worked first. In third grade, my teacher asked that all the Valentine boxes be put in the hallway so there would be no problems with M&Ms and other candies that were brought in with the Valentine cards. My fourth grade teacher asked that no candy be brought in and said that she would supply safe candy. This definitely worked.

In fifth grade, my teacher asked that no candy be brought in and she would supply none either. She was tired of all the sweets brought into school.

What didn’t work? In second grade, a kid brought in peanut M&Ms with his cards. He knew only a little English, so that was technically a misunderstanding. He brought in his cards early, so my teacher was able to send the candy and the cards home and ask his parents to help him bring in something safe.

In sixth grade, our classrooms didn’t have any parties. Students could sign up for a candy stick to be sent to a “special someone.” I didn’t sign up for one or receive one. By the time seventh and eighth grades hit, parties were replaced by other types of school fundraising events or celebrations like a Valentine Hat Day.

In high school, Valentine's Day isn't an extraordinarily big deal. There aren't any classroom parties either and candy isn't widely distributed through the school. Most of the time, friends just bring in candy to share with everyone. I, of course, abstain from this candy unless it's labeled. Honestly, the incorporation of food really eases out after elementary school and is basically non-existent in high school. Some teachers may offer candy to their students. If that occurs, they have always consulted me before distributing it. If they didn't, I would have just not eaten the candy and kept a watchful eye on the food surrounding me.

Nicole: Isn’t it amazing how many holidays and celebrations involve food? We never realized how much food is a part of the American culture until we had a child with food allergies. With Valentine’s Day, we had to always be mindful of the various ways that our son could come into contact with his allergens.

Many children at our son’s elementary school brought in candy along with Valentine’s Day cards. Yearly, we reminded our son and his teacher to watch for unsafe candy coming into the classroom. It’s always best to prepare for this prior to the event and ensure your child’s teacher knows what to do.

We’ve found that many common candies are not safe for kids allergic to peanut, tree nuts, or milk. Reminding teachers to ask students to bring in safe treats, or none at all, increases awareness of food allergies. One year when my son was in preschool, a parent was asked by the teacher to please bring in safe candies, upon which she commented, “You mean he’s still allergic?” Yes! Every day of the year, he’s still allergic!