Valentine's Day means fun parties and delicious treats at school. But it may not be a holiday to love for the estimated 5.6 million children with food allergies in the United States. That's one in every 13 children.
"On average, two children in each classroom of a school likely have a food allergy," says April Clark, a registered dietitian with the Food Allergy Center at Children's Health℠. "Even if your child does not have a food allergy, it's likely that a classmate does. That's why it's helpful to choose allergy-friendly Valentine's Day treats and candies for children to hand out – and it's easy to do."
If your child's school has a Valentine's Day celebration or allows students to hand out goodies, here are some allergy-friendly ideas to keep all students safe.
Avoid common food allergens
Unfortunately, some common allergens are frequently found in candies and snacks that kids love. The eight most common food allergens include:
- Tree nuts
If you aren't sure what food allergies are present in your child's classroom, it's best to steer clear of these common allergens in your Valentine's Day treats.
Read food labels
You should read every food label on any snacks or treats your child plans to share. Many candies and treats have special packaging for Valentine's Day, so it's important to always double-check ingredients. Fortunately, the FDA requires that the most common allergens be listed on all food labels, making it easy to see if a food contains a certain ingredient.
"The food label must state or list what allergens are in the food, in simple terms like milk or peanuts," says Clark. "This is a clear signal that allergens are present to consumers."
Food labels may also tell you if an item is manufactured in a place where common food allergens are present. It is best to avoid foods containing these warnings to ensure there is not cross contamination of a product with the common allergens.
Ask the school or teacher about food allergies
Since it can be hard to steer clear of all allergens, make sure to check with your child's teacher or the school if there are any food allergies present in your child's classroom. If your child is headed to a celebration outside of school, ask the host or parent. If your child has a food allergy, make sure you've communicated with your child's school ahead of time about safety precautions for special events and parties.
"You can always ask if there are any food allergies to be aware of in your child's class," says Clark. "If you know there are children with allergies, talk to your child about not sharing their food with others, and how it puts other students at risk."
Bring non-food Valentine's Day treats
Allergy-friendly snacks are not the only way to share goodies for Valentine's Day. Your child can also give non-food valentines to spread the love.
Some great non-food kids' Valentine's Day ideas include:
- Bouncy balls
- Glow sticks
- Other small prizes or items
- Small pieces of jewelry
- Stamps, crayons, markers or pencils
You can likely find these items at just about any store, including dollar stores, party supply stores or online.
Be prepared for an emergency
If your child has a food allergy or if you are chaperoning a party, be sure you know the signs of an allergic reaction:
- Dizziness or fainting
- Hives or a rash
- Swelling of the lips or tongue
- Trouble breathing
- Vomiting or nausea
The school nurse or the parent of a child with an allergy should have antihistamines or injectable epinephrine available for quick use if you notice these symptoms.
Want more ideas for allergen-free meals?
Download the Parents' Guide to Allergen-Free Lunches for kid-friendly recipes that are free of the top eight food allergens. Download now.
Learn more about food allergy treatments
The Food Allergy Center at Children's Health is the only academic-affiliated pediatric food allergy center in North Texas. We offer comprehensive testing, diagnosis and management for food allergies and access to groundbreaking research and clinical trials aimed to develop new therapies for children with food allergies. Learn more about the Food Allergy program and services.