This lesson helps raise awareness and promote safety about food allergies. The youth will practice packing an imaginary picnic lunch, paying attention to their friends’ dietary restrictions. They will think of treats that everyone can enjoy at special events.
This lesson is about raising awareness and promoting safety about food allergies. If there is a child in your group with food allergies, we suggest you talk to the parent and the child before the lesson to review what will be covered and make sure they are comfortable with it. We encourage you to invite the parent to attend the lesson and be involved.
Before facilitating this lesson, you may want to review the following information about food allergies. These facts can be shared with young people during your discussions.
- Any food can cause an allergic reaction but most are caused by eight foods:
- tree nuts (such as walnuts, pistachios, pecans, almonds and cashews)
- milk (all dairy)
- fish (such as salmon, tuna)
- shellfish (shrimp, crab, lobster).
- Anyone could develop a food allergy or sensitivity to any food at any time. Even if you have eaten the food several times before.
- Symptoms of an allergic reaction may range from minor, such as itching and hives, to anaphylaxis, a whole-body reaction that can include stomach pain or cramping, trouble breathing, confusion, cough, trouble swallowing, fainting, nausea, vomiting and more.
- If a person is having a food allergy reaction, they need help right away. Depending on the symptoms, they may need an antihistamine (such as Benadryl®), epinephrine (given through an auto-injector such as an EpiPen®, EpiPen Jr® or TwinJect®), or both.
- 911 needs to be called any time a dose of epinephrine is used or when you are worried about someone’s safety.
- Kids with food allergies often have anxiety about food. They may feel left out at meals or parties, or get teased or bullied because they are different, yet it’s actually fairly common to have a food allergy. One in 13 kids under the age of six has a food allergy.
- Some people are so sensitive that even the smell of the food can trigger a reaction. When this is the case in the school setting, make the classroom a safe zone where no one can bring the known allergen. (For example, a “Peanut Free Zone”.)
- Ask young people what they know about food allergies. Share some of the facts listed above including the most common food allergens (nuts, wheat gluten, eggs and fish) and that people can develop food allergies at any point in their lives.
- Before doing the lesson activities, have a brief discussion about what it might feel like to have a food allergy. What do you think it would feel like if you couldn’t eat something that everyone else is eating?
Activity: Be the Chef!
Be the Chef! Create a safe and fun picnic for all.
Let’s pack the picnic. Explain that everyone is going to pack a lunch for an imaginary picnic with your friends. Some of the friends have food allergies. Tell the youth that the most commons foods your guests will be allergic to are the following: peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, pistachios, pecans, almonds and cashews), milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish (such as salmon, tuna), or shellfish (shrimp, crab, lobster).
To pack a safe and fun picnic for all the friends, they will want to select items for their picnic basket that are the safest for friends with food allergies.
List of foods for picnic basket:
Green light: Carrot sticks, Apples, Red pepper slices, Oranges, Bananas, Pears, Grapes, Strawberries, Pickles
Yellow light: Cookies, Hard candies, Chocolate, Crackers, Bean dip, Rice cakes, Guacamole, Beef jerky
Red light: Peanut butter sandwiches, Hard boiled eggs, Cheese sticks, Bagels with cream cheese, Chocolate chip-walnut cookies
Instructor note – Items in the yellow light category will have ingredient lists on the label and need to be read carefully to see if they are safe. They may have been made in a factory where other allergens are handled and therefore they shouldn’t be considered completely safe.
Afterwards, talk about the activity. Ask how easy or hard it was. How did they feel about the choices? How did they feel about packing something they knew would be safe for their friends? Share with them that even if they don’t have allergies themselves, their message to their friends who do can be: I care about you; I don’t want you to get sick.
Activity: Allergy-free Holidays and Special Events
Young people like to celebrate holidays and special events. If a holiday, birthday or a special event is coming up on the school calendar, review these tips with the youth and then brainstorm ways your group could include the ideas to create a successful, allergy-free fun event.
- Hold the chocolate. Add some chocolate-free, peanut-free treats to your bowl. Nearly all chocolate treats on the market are made on equipment shared with peanuts and tree nuts (and are unsafe for those with milk allergy). Take a look at the chocolate-free options – such as Dum Dums® suckers, DOTS® and Smarties®. (Remember to always read labels and check with parents before giving any food to children with food allergies.)
- Mix it up! Change the focus to non-food treats, such as holiday-themed pencils, notepads, stickers, goofy erasers or fun rings.
- Wash your hands! If young people with food allergies come in contact with food from sticky fingerprints, it can make them sick, too. Washing hands after you eat is a great way to prevent unsafe foods from getting on shared tables, desks, school supplies, and toys or games.
- If your parents bake something to bring in to share, ask them to supply the recipe along with any packaged ingredients they used to make the recipe.
Remind the youth that many young people have food allergies, so thinking of those friends or family members when you give out special treats shows that you care about them and don’t want them to be sick.
Continuing the Conversation
Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English or Spanish, so that families can continue discussing ways care for friends and family members with food allergies.
Related Health Powered Kids Blog(s)
What you need to know about food allergies
Food Allergy Awareness for the School Year
Additional Instructor Resources
Food Allergies and How to Manage Them
Check out Anaphylaxis101.com for additional resources for teachers, parents and young people.
Visit FoodAllergy.org for more resources and consider posting this child-friendly poster in the classroom.