Food Allergies in the Library

Girl Eating Peanut Butter Sandwich According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), one out of every 13 children has a food allergy. Thus, you likely have a child with a food allergy attending programming at your library.

Ninety percent of all reactions are caused by the following eight foods: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. In addition to allergies, many people are also gluten intolerant. While you are probably not serving seafood as a story time snack, it is important to take seriously the severity of food allergies, since the only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid those foods and even trace amounts can be fatal.

Parents are a great asset in advising you on what their children can or cannot safely eat, and they can suggest foods that can safely be served. If you are introducing a new snack, it’s always a good idea to check with parents even if you think a product is allergen-free. You may not catch all synonyms or hidden ingredients. For instance “caramel coloring” may trigger milk or wheat allergies, but when it is listed as an ingredient, the individual ingredients of the coloring may not be listed. Depending on the severity of the allergy, any food made in someone’s home may not be allowed, simply because there is no way to guarantee that it did not come into contact with an allergen, even if it is not an ingredient.

The challenge at snack time becomes how to handle the various allergies of multiple kids. Gluten-free doesn’t cut it for a wheat allergy, and gluten-free products may contain milk, nuts, or eggs. Always be sure to check labels for ALL allergens if you are dealing with multiples. Also, being free of an allergen doesn’t automatically make a snack healthy. While this post won’t be comprehensive, since I don’t know what particular combination of allergies you may be dealing with in your library, there are a number of online resources that can give you some suggestions to help you get started:

Allergy friendly snack ideas:

Gluten-free snack ideas:

Of course, you’re not necessarily going to want or be able to make snacks from scratch, and procuring packaged allergen-free snack foods in North Dakota can be particularly challenging, as the limited selection of small grocery stores in rural areas can be frustrating. If the library will be purchasing allergen-free products as well, perhaps the local store would be willing to place a special order for products the family would also purchase. Here are some ideas for products to look for in the grocery store:

If you can’t find products locally, you can always order online. Here are a few resources for purchasing food products online:

Please note that I have not purchased food products from any of these retailers. These are simply resources, not a recommendation or endorsement.

Allergens and Crafts

When having programs at the library, you may also want to be aware of the potential for gluten in non-food items, such as craft supplies. For instance, many play doughs have wheat or gluten. Whether or not they actually eat it, small children do have a tendency to put everything in their mouth. There’s also the chance that they won’t wash their hands before they eat.

Is food allowed in your library at all? How you use food in programs? Share your stories in the comments!

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