Surviving Daycare with Food Allergies

daycare and food allergies

Today was a BIG day. Today was Noah’s first day at his brand new daycare. And….cue the tears from mama. Noah’s been at the same daycare since he was 12 weeks old, and Friday was his last day. Noah was SO incredibly loved by every person at his old school. So leaving all that love, and our complete comfort zone for the last 2.5 years was even more difficult than I expected. But, I knew it was time. Daycare with food allergies is a difficult combination.

 

But, I wanted to share some tips for things to consider when looking for daycares, or schools when dealing with food allergies to hopefully make the transition a little bit easier:

  1. Location – When looking at daycare, it’s important to consider proximity to either work, or home. When we first started daycare, it was basically in our backyard. Literally a quarter of a mile down the road from our old house. Even after we moved, we were only 15 minutes away from daycare. But, my employer has a phenomenal daycare facility basically on-site, it’s just 45 minutes from home, not 15. So, we always struggled with where to put Noah: close to home, or close to work? We ultimately decided to keep him close to home, which had soo many benefits. If we ever worked from home, or if David and I took a day for ourselves, we could still so easily run him down to daycare for the day. It was so convenient!  But, when we made the decision to have him close to home, food allergies were not even a blip on our radar. After our diagnosis, we flip flopped countless times on what to do. For over a year we stayed, and prayed daily that nothing would happen. My work is 45 minutes away, so in the event that something were to happen, 45 minutes is a life or death situation when it comes to food allergies. I felt like I would essentially not have any say in the care given to my child if God forbid something happened. Talk about terrifying. So, that was ultimately the deciding factor for us to switch. And we couldn’t be happier
  2. Food Allergy Policies – With the rise in food allergies, there are many daycares that are increasing their policies surrounding food allergies. Several schools are even becoming peanut/tree nut free. Which is SO wonderful for a food allergy mom to a peanut allergic child. However, it’s important to understand all the policies they have when it comes to food allergies. Understand their outside food policies, where they store their epi pens, what training the staff receives, etc.
  3. Trust your gut – Just like I discussed our decision to switch allergists, I firmly believe you have to trust your gut or mother’s intuition to do what’s right for your family.  If you’re being pulled one way, there is probably a good reason for it. Trust it and follow it.
  4. ASK QUESTIONS –  Once we started considering switching daycares, I had a whole host of questions to ask the new director. Now that I was a more experienced allergy mom, and an experienced daycare mom, I had such a better idea of the questions to discuss. The below list is just a sample of things you’ll want to consider asking any future daycare providers in how they handle food allergies.
    1. What are their policies regarding outside food? Do they allow anyone to bring outside food into the facility? Or is it only kids with specific dietary needs?
    2. Does outside food need to be dropped off in the kitchen? (having a second set of eyes on food is a huge benefit and extra precaution!)
    3. Is food stored in the classroom?
    4. Is food involved in any classroom activities?
    5. Where are epi pens stored?
    6. What training does the staff receive with regards to food allergies?
    7. With high turnover in daycare facilities, how to they update/train new employees coming into your kid’s class?
    8. Do they currently have allergy kiddos in their school?
    9. What is the course of action in the case of an emergency?
    10. Is there a policy to wash hands upon entering the classroom? (this is never something I considered before our new school, but it’s hugely beneficial!)
    11. How do they ensure anyone walking into the classroom knows of the child’s allergies? For example, our new daycare uses placemats with the kids pictures, and lists their allergens, and they are a different color if there are restrictions. Someone would easily notice that Noah’s red placemat is different from his non-allergic friend’s blue placemat.

These are all questions I feel are highly important to understand how a particular daycare handles severe allergy cases. From experience, understanding the “outside food policy” is huge. At our old daycare, they had a “NO outside food policy” unless you had a medical reason. Which was great. However, it wasn’t strictly enforced, which caused a lot of stress for me. Parents in the rush of the morning would SO often drop their kids off with breakfast, and they would eat it in the classroom. And then I would have to play “bad cop” and tattle on the parent to the director to have the food removed. So, while the policy in theory was great, rules are only effective if properly enforced.

In contrast, our new daycare does actually allow kids to bring outside food, if that’s their preference (usually for dietary needs). But, ALL food must be brought straight to the kitchen, and all food is served from the kitchen, including breakfast. Something as simple has having a second set of eyes on all ingredients makes a huge impact. So, understanding all the policies and protocols/procedures is crucial in the hunt for a daycare to keep your little one safe.

Daycare is hard, regardless of food allergies. But, food allergies just add an additional level of stress and complexity. With open dialogue with the directors, teachers, and kitchen staff it IS possible to have some piece of mind when your child is in the care of someone else. I am extremely optimistic about our new adventure at our new school, and feel completely confident in our decision!

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