Sharing a sweet treat on your birthday is great fun, but in an early childhood setting it can be more complicated than simply working out how many pieces you need to cut the cake into.
If your centre or home-based service has children who have food allergies or intolerances, what seems like some harmless baking could be a potential health risk.
Common allergies in children include gluten, egg and nuts.
While the most severe allergic reactions can have major implications such as anaphylactic shock, even mild allergies can cause problems.
Symptoms can include itching, hives, vomiting and diarrhoea and food allergies can also exacerbate other problems such as eczema and asthma.
Food intolerance, while less severe than an allergy, can also cause problems such as nausea and stomach aches.
While catering for children with allergies might mean a little extra work there are simple practical things that you can do to make sure their experience is a good one.
Explain clearly to other parents and children, if they are old enough to understand, that the allergic child cannot have certain foods and may not be able to share lunches or any treats which are bought in. It is important to explain to the children that this does not mean the allergic child is bad or that the child is unfriendly, but simply that their body does not like certain foods. If a child has a severe allergy you may need to consider banning some foods completely.
Make sure children wash their hands before and after eating so that traces of things like nuts or dairy are not transferred to toys.
If you are doing baking activities with children or making play-dough, look for allergy free recipes, for example wheat-free play-dough so that all the children can join in. If this is not possible make sure children with allergies are given tasks that will mean they do not come into contact with potential hazards.
Ask parents only to bring shop bought cakes for sharing at birthdays so that you can check the ingredients list before serving them. Another option might be to ask parents to consider getting other treats like fruit kebabs to share on special occasions which are still fun but which are less likely to cause allergies.
Encouraging these healthier choices can help children with allergies but will also benefit all the children at a centre by highlighting healthy eating choices and encouraging a healthier lifestyle.
It is also important to make sure that allergies are also covered in the centre’s paperwork. Make sure you have a clear policy for allergy management and that parents clearly state any allergies their child has on the enrolment form and provide any medication they might need.
You will also need to train staff to deal with any allergic reaction from the mild to the severe.
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