Sunday School and other children’s Bible classes at church often give out snacks for the kids. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this and sometimes the lesson plan actually calls for some special treat. However, some kids in your Sunday School class may have food allergies or special dietary restrictions that impact what the child can eat and, consequently, what you should give kids during class. How do you keep track of these and handle them appropriately?
I’ve been on both sides of this coin.
As a parent of four ADD/ADHD kids who went on the Feingold ADD diet to address their hyperactivity, we were off corn syrup, artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives for several years. But that diet was submarined every week by the treats my kids got as an award for behaving. They would come home hyped up on Corn Syrup and artificial color, and they’d get another ‘award’ for MIS-behaving.
As a Sunday school teacher for three-year-olds for about a decade, there were kids who came into our classroom that had certain allergies or dietary restrictions. Often we were not told, and we’d offer kids snacks, only to have the parents upset later when they picked them up.
And, there’s the clue – we were not ‘told’. Word of mouth is the worst way to communicate something as important as a life-threatening allergy. The worker you tell might not remember, and won’t be there for the entire period. And the kid won’t know or won’t tell. My own kids didn’t tell anyone they weren’t supposed to have candy. Go figure.
So, here are some thoughts on how to avoid having to apologize…
Tell the Parents
Anytime there’s food with a possible allergen to be served, place a note about it to the check-in door and tell the parents with a letter or note as they bring in the child. This would not have applied to our ADHD diet, since artificial color and corn syrup aren’t allergens. But the parents of kids with allergies will thank you. Just to be safe, you may want to inform parents of ALL food to be given to children.
Add a column to the sign in sheet that indicates known food allergies or dietary restrictions. If this is stored in the Database for each kid, it can be pre-printed on the form to keep the parent from having to add it each week.
Many churches ‘label’ the younger kids with a 4×4 thermal sticker that has the child’s name, security number, and parents’ names. This label might also have a place for a known allergy. If not, use a color marker to mark the sticker when they check in, if they have an allergy. Train your leaders to mark them, and to look for the mark or the text, before giving them anything to eat.
Highlight the Instructions
When a special snack or allergen-type food is provided, highlight it for the workers so they know to look for kids with allergies.
Alternative or Avoid
If at all possible, don’t give nuts, bananas, gluten, or strawberries to the kids, as these are common allergens. Regardless, provide an alternative for kids with restrictions, so they don’t feel left out.
Encourage Parents to Provide
In our case, we sometimes went the extra mile to provide our own snacks, treats, etc. so our kids had a snack or treat without feeling left out. Suggest this to the parents who have dietary restrictions, then make sure the workers know to substitute with what the parents provide.
Train the Workers
None of this matters if the workers don’t know the risks and what to look for. So make sure they’re on the same page. The bottom line is that we want to provide a safe, comfortable environment for our children to grow in grace and learn about God.