Packing school lunches for kids with food allergies

Is your child, or someone you know, allergic to peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, eggs, fish, or wheat? Chances are high that someone close to you has food allergies – and 1 in 2 Canadians knows someone with a serious food allergy. Serious food allergies are those that can cause severe physical reactions once the allergen is consumed. If your child has a food allergy, it is very important to monitor the food they come into contact with.

Packing school lunches when children have food allergies

Allergic Reactions

If you or someone close to you has the following symptoms, an allergic reaction may be taking place:

  • hives on skin
  • swelling of the skin
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • coughing
  • dizziness
  • anaphylaxis (the most severe reaction)

Anaphylaxis is when the allergic individual quickly develops these symptoms and more, usually with swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat. If left untreated (by an injection of epinephrine or adrenaline), anaphylaxis will lead to death.

Common Food Allergies

Children are often diagnosed with food allergies from the time they are quite young, and learn to cope with their allergy early on. However, adults can also develop food allergies, and in fact, the number of people affected by allergies has risen steady in the past decades. Here are some of the most common allergy-causing foods:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (including hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, and more)
  • Soy
  • Seafood (including fish and shellfish)
  • Sesame
  • Wheat
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Mustard
Food Allergies at School

Because the number of children with severe food allergies has grown so much in the last decades, many schools have adopted allergy-free lunch policies. This means that parents might be restricted from packing many foods for their children’s lunches because they might cause allergic reactions in other students. Some schools may also keep allergy-intervention medicines (such as the Epi-pen) on site in the case of a severe allergic reaction.

Packing Food

Foods that are commonly discouraged at school are those that contain nuts or fish, which includes many foods, and some you may not expect:

  • Granola bars
  • Veggie burgers
  • Dishes from many international cuisines that rely heavily on nuts, such as Mexican, Mediterranean, African, and Asian dishes
  • Barbecue sauce, hot sauce, gravy, glazes, or marinades
  • Dishes that contain nut butters, oils, or flours

Because packing school lunches can be confusing for parents when they have to take so many different factors into consideration, Alberta Health Services has put together a helpful guide for parents wondering what to send with their kids to school. The guide gives recommendations for meals (foods such as bison stew, bannock, and applesauce, or pork congee, snow peas, and fruit) and snacks (mini pitas, cut up vegetables, samosas). It also shows you how to read food labels to decide if a given food contains nuts.

View the Alberta Health Services’ guide to Peanut and Tree Nut-Free Meals and Snacks in the attached images below, or view more allergy resources at the following links:

The Back to School Allergy Checklist for parents of children with allergies

Tips for Talking to School Officials about your child’s allergies

Signs and Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

Winter Nut Free Allergy Recipes

25 Kid-Friendly Gluten-Free recipes

Nut-free School Lunch roundup

CIES Guides are a volunteer-led project made possible through contributions from the community. Thanks to Whitney Loewen for help with this guide. 

If you want to suggest a correction to this guide, or want to submit one of your own, please contact us.