Allergy friendly and inclusive class celebrations It's as easy as 1, 2, 3... October 13, 2015 14:01

Allergy friendly and inclusive class celebrations

It's as easy as  1,   2,  3... 

 Food treats are still common in many class rooms and kinder’s today whether it’s to celebrate a birthday, or whether it’s a teacher sweet treat, fundraiser or class party.  But why risk it?

Food treats, to celebrate birthdays for instance, exclude those children who have food allergies, coeliac disease (gluten free diet), food intolerances and diabetes, and other special dietary requirements.

1.      Minimise risk


Food free celebrations are an easy and fun way to help minimise risk in the class room and keep kids safe.

If a teacher decides to serve food treats in the classroom, they should be safe for all children. But, unless you live with food allergies or coeliac disease, it’s difficult to understand everything involved in serving safe food.

While healthier treats are a better avenue, they still pose a large risk for those with food allergies and even coeliac, as muffins and even cut fruit are often prepared in kitchens where allergens are present and therefore may have cross contamination/ contact risk.  

A young student of mine with anaphylaxis, had a serious allergic reaction from a contaminated drinking glass. Unfortunately a serious reaction from cross contact is not uncommon.  As an allergy parent, I have heard many stories where the cause of the anaphylactic reaction at school or childcare was caused by food brought in by a parent.  Around 25% of the reactions that occur at school, the student had not yet been diagnosed with food allergy. These reactions range from mild to severe and even fatal.

So, why put anyone under such pressure?

 2. Include all children
If you have 5 little friends in a group play date at your house, and you only have 4 icy poles, would you serve the icy-poles and make one child miss out?  

Actually, something similar did happen only the other day in my kid’s class: the teacher emailed me late in the day to say the icy pole was in the freezer at school, as she wasn’t sure if it was safe, and if I wanted to pick it up? So, my child had to sit and watch on a hot day, as the rest of the class joyfully ate their icy poles. This type of thing happens a lot to kids with allergies.

When an entire class is participating in an activity, and one child is left out, what message is this for children?

Firstly, it isolates a single child from the rest of the class. This sets them up as different, sets them up as targets for bullying. We know children with serious allergies already have a very high rate of anxiety, for them food can kill. And we know children with allergies already experience a higher rate of bullying.

By including children with allergies, and other health issues, we are leading by example. Schools can be a safe and supportive environment in which students at risk of anaphylaxis can participate equally in all aspects of the student’s schooling. We can encourage and educate our students to be inclusive.

If we adopt food-free celebrations ALL CHILDREN can be included in all school activities. Easy!

3.     Food-free celebrations in the class room

It’s an easy lesson in inclusion. Here are a few food-free celebrations ideas that I have heard about that are FUN and EASY: 
  • Non-food treats such as coloured pencils, stickers, colouring pages, always popular with kids.
  • Read a book to class, and donate the book to the school class room.
  • Instead of lolly bags, teachers could create a birthday ticket for instance, “sit by a friend” or “teacher helper “, or other pre-approved activities.
  • Class parties could be fun games or special activities, or extra recess /playground/ free time for all children.

  • Parents can choose not to send in any treat, the child’s birthday can be acknowledged without treats, and parents shouldn’t feel pressured to do so.  Class can sing happy birthday for instance.

It’s an easy equation to teach kids. Food free fun in the classroom equals inclusion and less risk. Schools can demonstrate allergy awareness, inclusive policy and equality in the class room. It’s easy! And fun!

 After all, we teach children in the playground not to exclude, to include everyone in play. So, surely we can lead by example in the class room too and include everyone. Better to exclude the food than the child.

Encouraging food free celebrations reflects an inclusive and caring environment which most schools strive to achieve. And, food free celebrations make life a bit easier at school….who doesn’t like easy? Let’s keep our schools safe and inclusive for all students.



·         Hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) have doubled over the last decade in Australia, USA and UK.

·         Allergic reactions frequently occur away from home.  One in seven schools and one in 30 childcare services in Western Australia (WA) report having observed at least one episode of anaphylaxis in the preceding year.

·         Anaphylaxis can also occur in children not previously identified as being at risk of anaphylaxis.

·         In one US school’s study, 55% of adrenaline autoinjectors (AAIs) for general use were administered to individuals not previously identified as being at risk of anaphylaxis, with similar findings (55%) in WA schools. A more recent survey base study of American schools reported that 21.9% of episodes of anaphylaxis occurred in individuals with no known allergy at all.

Coeliac disease

·         Coeliac disease affects approximately 1 in 70 Australians. The rate of diagnosis for children is rising.


  • The NHS and NDSS data are the best available sources for monitoring diagnosed diabetes prevalence in Australia, yielding prevalence rates of 3.6% in 2004-05.

  • The total number of Australians with diabetes and pre-diabetes is estimated to be approximately 3.5 million. About 1.1 million Australians have been diagnosed with diabetes. For every person diagnosed, it is estimated that there is another person who is not yet diagnosed.

    Reference links