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The prospect of school is looming.  I cannot ignore it any longer. Next September, D moves out of the protective bubble of nursery and into the big wide world of primary school. The application forms need to be in by mid January.

I’m guessing that (given a choice) parents might ordinarily choose a school on the basis of things like proximity to their home, or the OFSTED rating. And those factors are important to me too. However, the deciding vote will be in favour of the school that seems the most clued up about protecting a child with food allergies. So I have embarked on a tour of our local primary schools, both to have a look around and to broach the subject of D’s peanut allergy with the staff.

Once the appointments were in the diary, I realised that I needed to:

  • Compile a list of questions to ask the school. However, in order to do this, I first needed to know what measures UK schools typically put in place for allergic children.
  • Think about the things I could be doing behind the scenes, both before and after term starts, to make things safer for D (and therefore less stressful for me).

Although I’m still feeling like a novice on the schools front, I thought I would share some of:

  • The excellent advice I’ve been given by Nutmums.com readers who have school age children.
  • The handy tips I picked up at at a recent Manchester Allergy Support Group meeting on “Food allergy in schools”.
  • Links to the other useful resources I’ve found on this topic.

If you’ve already been through starting school with a nut allergy, and have any advice or tactics that may help me and other readers with pre-school children, do post a comment below – I would love to hear from you!

What measures do primary schools put in place for an allergic child?

It seems the starting point is the EAACI position paper from 2010: The management of the allergic child at school. This sets out the following “rights of the allergic child”:

“1. To be educated in a safe and healthy environment, with as few provoking allergens and irritants as possible and to breathe clean air in schools.

2. Not to be stigmatized as a result of their condition.

3. To be able to participate in all educational and recreational school activities to the same extent as their peers.

4. To have access to medication and other measures to relieve symptoms.

5. To have access to trained personnel who are able to treat acute reactions.

6. To have their education adapted to their condition if necessary (e.g. physical education).”

The position paper talks about a “co-operative partnership” between doctors, community and school nurses, parents, the school and the child. It sets out action points for the various parties. So, as parents, for example, we need to:

  • Tell the school about D’s allergies and provide the school with a written allergy management plan (obtained from the hospital).
  • Provide the school with a set of D’s emergency medication (and keep track of the expiry dates, so I can provide replacement adrenaline auto-injectors when needed).

In turn, the school’s responsibilities include:

  • Adopting the written emergency treatment plan.
  • Making sure all staff (1) can identify children with allergies and (2) are aware of the location of the children’s (individually labelled) emergency medicine kits.
  • Ensuring all staff are trained in allergen avoidance, recognition and treatment of anaphylaxis (with annual refresher training).

For more information on allergy management plans, see Anaphylaxis Campaign, Setting up a management plan, which links to plan templates on the BSACI website.

Will the school be “nut free”?

Selfishly: I would like D’s school to be “nut free”.

Rationally: I know that children have allergies to all sorts of foods, and I can see how making a school milk, egg, soya, wheat etc etc free would be unworkable.

There is also the argument that, by making a school nut free, you create a false sense of security and don’t prepare the nut allergic child for life in the outside world. Although I can see the sense in this, I think there’s something to be said for erring on the side of over-protection for a young child of four or five, compared to a child of, say, ten, who has a completely different level of awareness.

Of the three schools I have visited so far, two have been “nut free”, to the point where they ask parents not to include peanut- or nut-containing foods in packed lunches. The third school said they hadn’t needed to impose a “nut ban”, as it hadn’t yet been an issue: their pupils hadn’t yet brought in peanut butter sandwiches.

Is there a school nurse?

From talking to our local primary schools, it seems that in our area (East Cheshire) each school nurse works for several schools. So, the school nurse isn’t based full time at any one particular school. However, of the three schools I have visited, all aim to make sure that ALL staff (so teachers, teaching assistants, administrative staff, dinner ladies etc) know which children have allergies (and to what allergens), how to recognise an allergic reaction, where the child’s medication is kept and how to administer an adrenaline auto-injector. Music to my ears, to say the least.

What’s safer: school dinners or packed lunches?

In September, the Government announced that all infant school pupils in England will get free school lunches from September 2014 (see the BBC report and the Anaphylaxis Campaign’s response). My first thought was “we’ll stick to packed lunches, thanks all the same”. Then I started wondering: would it be safer for me to put my trust in the school dinner provider, and have D sitting amongst children eating the same food, or send him in with a packed lunch that I knew was safe, but then live in fear of cross-contamination from the child next to him eating a peanut butter sandwich or nutty granola bar?

My fears on this have been allayed somewhat after talking to the various schools. All three had ladies who prepared the school dinners on site, and one said that I could come into school, before D started, to talk to their cook about D’s dietary requirements. The schools also had a “no swaps” rule and had extra staff on hand at lunchtimes to police this.

When I attended the Manchester Allergy Support Group back in October, Judy Stafford (from the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital) gave an extremely informative talk on “Food allergy in school”. On the school dinners vs packed lunch debate, she suggested thinking about who it was who wanted packed lunches. Was this mum, thinking it was safer? Or actually something the child wanted (maybe for reasons unrelated to allergies)? Could mum’s fears be overcome, if the nut allergic child ate at a “nut free table”? Or, might it even be sufficient for the nut allergic child to have a seat at the end of a table, where it would be easier for the staff to keep an eye out for spills or attempted swaps?

The schools I have visited do not have separate nut free tables. At one of the schools, children could sit wherever they pleased: there was no segregation of those having school dinners and those with packed lunches. I think I will talk to the cook at whichever school we end up, and make a call on this nearer to the time.

Ideas for working with the school

A recurrent theme running through both the position paper and the support group talk is the need to work WITH the school. One Nutmums.com reader told me that she worked with her son’s school to put together a risk assessment, which set out all the steps that his school would take to minimise the risk of an allergic reaction. Her son was diagnosed as peanut and tree nut allergic during the summer holidays before starting Year 4 (ages 8-9). The measures the school put in place (and which I will be using as a guide!) included:

  • All staff trained on use of Jext pens.
  • Son to take in packed lunch and own snack for playtime.
  • Lunchtime staff to be able to identify son, and also ensure his table is wiped down before he sits down to eat at lunchtime (he was taken into the kitchen on the first day of school to say hello to all the dinner ladies!).
  • Son’s emergency allergy kit to be placed in office, clearly labelled as his and with his photograph on it (I put together a tupperware containing his Jexts, antihistamines, ‘blue’ inhaler and clear instructions for use plus lots of copies).
  • Procedure established for staff to go and get the allergy kit immediately in case of emergency.
  • Emergency plan laminated with son’s photograph on it and placed in an obvious place in every classroom and the school kitchen and staffroom (my youngest son told me he has a peep at his big brother’s photo every morning in his classroom before the register is taken!). The emergency plan states … what my son is allergic to, where his emergency kit is kept, how to recognise a reaction and what to do if a reaction occurs. It also sets out a vast array of emergency contact numbers from myself, my husband, grandparents and local auntie and uncle!
  • School implementing a “no nut” policy so parents are advised via school newsletter not to include nuts, nut products, peanut butter, nutella etc etc in packed lunches and snacks – this is a massive relief, and has been probably the main factor in allowing me to relax during the day. Parents are to be re-reminded about this at the start of every new term.
  • We are to send in bag of allergy friendly snacks so that when other children are handing out treats on birthdays etc, there’s a stash of goodies that my son can have so he doesn’t feel left out.
  • We are to be informed in advance of party days/class treats so can liaise with teacher to see what food is going to be provided and send in suitable alternatives if needs be.
  • I have to be a ‘parent helper’ on school trips wherever possible.
  • Children are also encouraged to wash hands before and after eating.

One other suggestion (from a teacher who herself has allergies), is to provide the teacher with a list of acceptable foods. The teacher would need to check the food label each time, but a “safe list” would give them a starting point if they wanted to do treats.

Feeling daunted? You betcha…

At the moment, if we take D out with his scooter, we have to walk on the outer edge of the pavement and steer him back towards the hedge when he starts veering towards the road. The speed is there, the control isn’t, and neither is there any proper conception of the danger of the oncoming traffic. When I look at older children zipping along on scooters by themselves, it’s difficult to picture D doing the same. I know it will happen. It just seems a long way off.

In the same way, I struggle to picture D saying “no thank you” to a child in a playground who offers him a chocolate biscuit. D knows that nuts will make him poorly (“because I hab allergy”), that we need to check ingredients labels (“check label! no nuts!”) and that he has special medicine if he is ever unwell. But is he at the stage where he would say “no” to a food? I don’t think we’re there yet. But we need to be at that point, in ten months time.

What can we do at home to prepare and plan ahead?

Two key rules…

A reader told me that every morning, she makes her son repeat the following two key rules:

“1 – don’t eat anything that someone else gives him

2 – tell the teacher if he feels any sign of a reaction at all”

I think this is a tactic I will be copying wholesale!

Another suggestion is to build up your child’s allergy awareness generally, for example by talking to your child about checking food labels when supermarket shopping, or by explaining what’s happening at a restaurant (when you are reading a menu and checking the position on allergens with the staff).

Anticipating risk areas

What things at school pose a particular risk for the nut allergic child? And, crucially, what can you do to prepare for them and make them safer?

A key piece of advice which stuck in my mind following Judy Stafford’s support group talk was to always ask “what are the options?”, always looking at the situation from the perspective of what your child CAN do (inclusion) rather than what they CAN’T (exclusion). So, say there is a school party coming up where food is going to be served: what are your options? Well, firstly, you could talk to the school about the party food, as it may be that everything is already nut free. If not, you could:

  • Keep your child home that day, so they miss the party altogether.
  • Provide a packed lunch for your child to eat, whilst all the other children eat party food.
  • Find out what party food will be served, and provide a packed lunch with nut free versions of those foods (as far as possible).
  • Offer to do the shopping for the party, so that all of the food is safe for your child and they can dig in and pile food onto their plate like everyone else.

Other common risk areas for food allergic children at school include:

Birthdays. The birthday boy or girl might bring in treats to share with the class. Events such as Halloween and Easter pose a similar risk. One nut mum I know has instilled into her child that Haribos are safe, but anything else is off limits. The position paper suggests that “Food-allergic children may benefit from an individually labelled box, containing allergen-free ‘treat’ foods for class celebrations or rewards”, so it’s worth talking to the school about a treats box and to agree that you will be given a heads up on any impending food-related events.

The home corner. It seems common for infants school classes to have a “home corner”, where children can play house or play shop. Empty food packets are often used as props. One nut mum I know has been very pleased with the comprehensive way in which her sons’ school and nursery have dealt with their allergies, however the school has recently taken to using empty boxes of Crunchy Nut cornflakes as home corner props. Fortunately, her son (aged 5) can recognise the packaging and knows not to play with that particular box. However, I guess if your child was less aware, it would be a case of talking to the teacher and maybe offering to provide alternative props.

Water fountains. Rather than use the water fountain, could your child have bottled water on hand instead?

Sporting events and school trips. For any events where the child is going to be taken out of school (for example, for swimming lessons, to play football against another school, on a school trip), parents need to talk to the teacher in charge beforehand, to check:

  • On arrangements for food.
  • That both your child’s emergency meds and a person trained to administer them will be on hand.

(see the Anaphylaxis Campaign’s advice on Out-of-school activities).

At the support group talk, Judy Stafford mentioned that you could consider volunteering to be a parent helper, however you need to bear in mind your child’s age, as this can be socially awkward for the child as they get older. Judy also suggested that, if you know there is a residential trip coming up in year 6, you could do some groundwork beforehand, for example:

  • Going on school day trips.
  • Have sleepovers at grandparents’ or a friend’s house.

At the support group talk, it was suggested that someone could also test your child by offering a peanut-containing snack. (Although that sounds a good idea, when D gets a bit older I think a potential flaw might be if he then holds a grudge against the “tester” as having been trying to poison him!)

Christmas party. See above – you might, for example, send in safe food for your child or get involved in organising the food for everyone.

Cookery lessons. Home economics classes (or whatever they are called now!) sound like a potential food allergy minefield. However, it seems that a food allergic child need not necessarily be excluded from cookery classes or clubs, but there will need to be some discussion with the teacher beforehand as to how things can be made safe. Recipes could be adapted to be nut free. The child with allergies could use their own designated work space and utensils, for example with baking tins which can be easily differentiated (for example, a different shape or colour).

My list of questions for the initial appointment

It has been a relief that all of the schools I have visited so far have had experience of allergic children and already had systems in place to care for pupils with allergies. However, I still have more to visit, and, in case they are less forthcoming, these are the questions I will ask:

  • Do you have experience of other children with allergies?
  • If D joins your school, will we put together an action plan? What would you like me to provide?
  • Can all staff identify those children with allergies? (Do you have their photos on a wall?) Where are their emergency medicines kept?
  • Do you have a school nurse? Do all staff know how to use an EpiPen / Jext pen?
  • Is the school “nut free”?
  • What are the arrangements at lunchtime? Is there a nut free table? Are swaps forbidden?
  • As regards school dinners, would it be possible to come in to talk to the cook about D’s dietary requirements?

Further information

 

Buy Nut Free Chocolate View More

Finding nut free chocolate can be a bit of a challenge. Factor in multiple allergies, the hunt becomes harder still. While there are dairy free and nut free brands out there, what if you’re avoiding nuts, dairy, egg, gluten … and soya? Now, there’s a challenge.

Step forward iQ Chocolate… 

iQ Chocolate is “free from all 14 allergens, including nuts, gluten, soya, dairy, and refined cane sugar… and made in a nut free environment”.

When I asked about their approach to “may contains”, co-founder Jane told me “iQ chocolate is free from traces of allergens.  The top 14 allergens are not allowed anywhere in the factory.  We don’t use any lecithins – a tricky thing to do – but we managed to find a way that we could replace emulsifiers with cocoa butter. So, in our plain dark chocolate there are just 3 ingredients – cocoa beans, cocoa butter and coconut blossom sugar”.

Here iQ Chocolate founders Jane and Kate share the iQ Chocolate story…

BEYOND RAW – iQ Chocolate

Woody Allen said “You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.

Surely not!

Buy Nut Free Chocolate BarsWe, Jane and Kate (founders of iQ Chocolate), want to live for a very long time AND enjoy the journey.

When we first heard that chocolate could be healthy, we were in a very corporate world of people and management development, with a desire to do something that makes much more of a difference to health and wellbeing. One very ordinary day, munching our way through a bag of cocoa nibs, we asked the most obvious question – Why is it that such golden nuggets of nutritional benefit have lost their soul and become demonised? One of the world’s most nutritionally dense foods, in its natural state, had somehow become bent out of shape, and was now seen as partly responsible for the obesity and diabetes crisis, currently plaguing the developed world.

This question became something of an obsession.

Firstly, we discovered that all beans are not the same.  There were some fascinating stories coming out of the cocoa farming world – from the group of women who had started a cocoa plant nursery, growing and selling young cocoa trees to farmers – to the farmers themselves, being re-educated in the lost skill of cocoa farming.

We tried and tested various beans, with the help of the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at Aberdeen University. At the same time, we were wrestling with the art and science of making chocolate from the bean. Start up gear was a hair dryer, colander, tin dustbin lid and a washing machine, set at 1400 revs. We got there, in the end, and became Scotland’s first bean to bar chocolate maker.

Health Claims

Just as we were entering the market, the EU food regulations were also changing. With a much needed EFSA clamp down (to protect the consumer) on overstated health claims, we knew this was in our favour. Terms like Superfood were now being regulated.  This was also in our favour. With over 20 Health Claims, iQ Superfood Chocolate passed with flying colours.

We thought that everyone would get what we were trying to do. The reaction to – “Would you like to try some healthy chocolate?” – to our dismay – was often met with sceptical laughter.

However, the tide has turned! Customers finally really “get” what we were trying to do.

Free From

Now, with the Free From trend gaining momentum, and the growing concerns regarding other health related conditions, such as diabetes, iQ Chocolate has finally come into its own.

iQ Superfood is Free From all 14 allergens – including nuts – and refined cane sugar.

There is more ….

iQ - Nut Free Chocolate Brand in the UKIn addition to the current health benefits, being raw, organic, vegan, Free from all 14 allergens and low GI, we know there is much more to be revealed about iQ Chocolate.

Ongoing studies with Queen Margaret University, including the positive impact of iQ on sporting performance, and the impact (a positive one!)  on cognitive decline in old age, are really important to our customers (and, on a personal level too!)

Watch this space!

Contact details

http://www.iqchoc.com/

Contact: http://www.iqchoc.com/get-in-touch/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IQChoc

Twitter: @iQchocolate

Allergies on the Road View More

Today’s allergy entrepreneur sharing her story is Amelia Atkinson, the founder and creator of Pillows & Pitstops, a website that helps travellers find recommended stop-offs on their journey. When my family drives from Cheshire to Cornwall, our food options normally comprise a packed lunch, or scouring the service station signs for an M&S or McDonalds. Is it possible to enjoy (rather than endure) a journey when travelling with food allergies? As someone with allergies, who is also a fellow nutmum, Amelia believes it is. Here she explains how Pillows & Pitstops can help…

Allergies On The Road

We parents of allergic kiddies have two things in common:

  • We’d all rather have the allergy ourselves than subject our children to it
  • We all feel a little bit sick when trying an independent new-to-us eatery. Do they really understand the severity of what we are telling them?

Idealistic – Stay at home, eat our own packed lunches and wash our own cutlery.

Realistic – We will have times when we want, or need, to grab-and-go, eat on the hoof.

Learning to live with an allergy includes understanding that our on-the-run eating isn’t quite as spontaneous as others can enjoy. But it is also accepting that, in most cases, there are options for eating out and places that do really get it. You just have to find them.

So what can we do on journeys? Do our kids with allergies have to stick to The Car Picnic? Or can we share with them the joys of en-route detours to great leg-stretching open spaces, local handmade food serveries and beautiful countryside?

Plan ahead. Allergies shouldn’t stop you enjoying your journey as much as your destination, you just need to plan your route and the timing of breakfast/lunch/potential wee request to head straight for a gorgeous place that speaks your language. (You certainly don’t want to drive 10 minutes off route to discover ‘Gluten Free’ is a foreign phrase to the only café around).

I’ve found some great Allergy Friends…

The Elm Tree, just off the M1 near Chesterfield, has a great menu with each allergy given a number and each dish allocated the relevant digits. And a children’s play area to boot!

Bellis Brothers Farm Shop on the Wrexham road (a North Wales route) has an entire gluten free menu that’s not far short of the standard one.

While Tebay Services on M6 (Cumbria) have even been known to go and make food especially for particular allergies. NB. Along with Gloucester Services they are two of a kind – not your average service station!

As a fellow allergy sufferer and mum of one too, I want to encourage you all that with careful planning, catering for allergies on the road doesn’t need to be disheartening with a feeling of Groundhog Day.

Plan in advance

Choose your spot

Call in advance

Enjoy the comfort of sharing your burden

And RELAX

I run a website where you can find great places to stop along your very OWN route. www.pillowsandpitstops.com will present a map crammed full of recommendations to suit you and will always mention if they are sympathetic to allergies.

We’d always love more suggestions of any little gems you’ve found too. But we do try to steer clear of chains. We support our local businesses!

Amelia Atkinson

Contact details

http://www.pillowsandpitstops.com/

Contact: http://www.pillowsandpitstops.com/Home/Contact

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pillowsandpitstops/

Twitter: @PillowsPitstops

 

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Hands up: who had the jitters before their child started school? I did. Would he enjoy it? Would he make friends? Would the staff teach him well? Would he accidentally eat peanut? Would he have a severe allergic reaction? Would the staff spot it and administer the EpiPen in time?

As the parent of a child with a life threatening food allergy, you have all the regular starting school nerves, with a few extras thrown in. Whilst location and OFSTED ratings might be important, top of your wish list is a school that is allergy savvy. Reaction is the 4th R your child can well do without.

My son (D) started Reception class in September 2014. He had anaphylaxis (a life threatening allergic reaction) to peanut aged 20 months, which resulted in a week in hospital, with four days in intensive care. Since diagnosis, it feels like we have, slowly but surely, been getting more and more of a grip on his allergy: building confidence at playgroups, playdates and parties. Although he went to nursery, for me, school seemed a much more daunting prospect. He was leaving the safe bubble of his preschool room, where everyone’s food was prepared by the nursery cook, to run among 300 other children in the playground, many of whom have packed lunches, who could offer him a potentially lethal snack they had in their pocket.

Despite my initial worries, our first year went very smoothly. Here are the measures we put in place with our school, and the unexpected challenges which cropped up:

Doing your homework before school starts

Before we started, an allergy nurse impressed on me the importance of parents working with the school. So, at the end of the summer term before he started, we met with my son’s new teachers and the head of the kitchen team. This gave us the opportunity to fully explain his allergies and to learn about the safeguarding procedures the school would put in place.

On top of labelling uniform, my holiday homework included:

  • Obtaining an up-to-date allergic reaction action plan from the hospital.
  • Putting together two sets of emergency medication (for D, this included an EpiPen, inhaler and spacer and antihistamine). One set would be kept in D’s classroom, the other in the staff room.
  • Making a note of the various expiry dates, so I could provide replacements when needed.

I also followed a fellow nut mum’s advice of drumming into D two key rules: 1. only eat your own food and 2. tell a teacher if you ever feel unwell. We did this by “playing school”, with me pretending to be a friend offering round sweets and him saying “no thank you”. Despite this, I know that, at the point he started Reception, we were not 100% there. At one party, I had to pry a piece of cake out of his hand, whilst being told (indignantly) that it was fine for him, as it wasn’t from a friend, “Batman gave it to me”. At another, when he had to turn down chocolate, I was again mean mummy in his eyes, as he HAD checked with his (4-year-old) friend, who had promised it didn’t have nuts in. These incidents make me very grateful that our school has a nut free policy and lunchtime assistants who police the “no swaps” rule.

Nut free policy

Opinions differ on whether schools should be nut free. My view is that a nut ban is appropriate in a primary school where a pupil has a life threatening allergy. Yes, the real world isn’t nut free: but he wouldn’t be left to fend for himself in the real world aged 4. While it may not be practical to ban all allergens, if the school can safeguard at least some allergic children, that must be a good thing.

Word of warning: if your school has a nut free policy, make sure it’s publicised, for example in the school newsletter. As well as packed lunches, the nut free policy needs to cover things like coffee mornings and cake sales.

Allergy training and action plan

You need to know that ALL school staff know about your child’s allergy (and they would be able to recognise an allergic reaction, locate his medical kit, administer the EpiPen and call an ambulance).

For our school, the school nurse trains all staff annually on how to deal with an anaphylaxis emergency. When my son started, she ensured the procedures followed the latest version of his allergic reaction action plan.

School dinners

Before starting school, I assumed D would have packed lunches. However, he has been able to have school dinners. Our council has a “no nuts” policy and the school kitchen team double check the ingredients and for “may contain nuts” warnings. The school’s other safeguarding measures include:

  • All lunchtime staff know who D is (his photo is on the kitchen wall, with details of his allergies).
  • The lunchtime staff wipe down his table before he sits down to eat.
  • D goes first in the lunch queue, which reduces the cross contamination risk if one of the meals that day is something that “may contain nuts”.
  • A “no swaps” rule.

Safe treats box

Birthdays, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, end of term, someone’s been on holiday, someone’s mum has been baking… in the first term especially it seemed that every other day the children would emerge with treats. A “safe treats box” has worked really well for us: whenever there are class treats, a teacher gives D a nut free alternative from his box.

Chocolate coins in Christmas cards were a new one on me. D comes out of school with a card, opens it up and out pops a coin. Again, I’m mean mummy for taking it off him. He was even less impressed when Father Christmas himself was handing out chocolate “may contain nuts” coins at the Christmas Fair (“doesn’t he know I can’t eat nuts?”). Likewise, lots of children emerge from the classroom and grab a snack from their mums. This has all got easier as the year has gone on and I’ve been able to let the mums know about D’s nut allergy. Stress reducing tip: have some safe goodies in your own bag!

Unexpected dangers in the classroom

So, the school staff are allergy aware and EpiPen trained, there’s a nut free policy and the school dinners are nut safe. Where are the unexpected risk areas? These are the ones we’ve encountered so far:

  • Water fountains – D has his own labelled water bottle, which hopefully another child won’t use by mistake.
  • The home corner and junk modelling – school have made sure there are no packets from nutty foods.
  • Musical instruments – this hasn’t arisen yet, but we’ve discussed with school that, when it does, D would need his own recorder.
  • Cookery activities – each time D’s class do an activity involving food, his teacher runs through the ingredients with me beforehand.

School trips

Whenever D goes out of school (for example, to a church service or on a trip), his teachers carry a set of his meds. For added peace of mind, I have so far been able to volunteer as a parent helper on school trips (however, he might not be so keen for me to do this as he gets older). One of the bonuses of free school meals is that, for school trips, his classmates all have nut free packed lunches prepared by the school kitchen.

Out-of-school clubs

One aspect I’ve found challenging is out-of-school activities. D has been able to attend a holiday football course, which was run by a teacher. However, I tend to volunteer as a helper at events such as after school film shows or end of term parties, which are run by fellow parents. If his dad or I weren’t available to help out, this is one thing he’d have to miss out on.

End of year report

Preparing for starting school took extra leg work behind the scenes. To begin with, you have to think through all the risk areas and organise medical kits, action plans, safe treats boxes. Then, throughout the year, you are liaising with the school and going along (when you can) to after school activities and the various trips. However, I can vouch that there are confidence-inspiring schools out there. In some ways, our first year has been better than expected: I never thought D would have school lunches or that I would be able to drop him off at a holiday club.

In fact, the biggest challenges have been the social life that comes alongside school: playdates and parties. Suddenly your child’s social circle expands and you’re faced with taking a deep breath and saying “he’d love to come … and that date sounds fine … but I just need to let you know about his peanut allergy … and how are you with using an EpiPen?”. I’m hoping these occasions will become less stressful too, as he gets older and knows to say no thank you if someone offers him food. Even if that someone is Batman.

Buy Nut Free Easter Eggs View More

Here we go again: time for a nut free Easter egg hunt! Easter Sunday this year is 27 March 2016, so the countdown is on for tracking down nut safe versions of Easter goodies.

This year is the first year that my son (now 5) has gone into Easter aware of the chocolates he, usually, can and can’t have. Cue excitement when he spots a Galaxy egg … cue me explaining that, although plain Galaxy is usually safe, alas the large eggs are “may contain nuts”. Ditto for the Cadbury creme giant egg. Ditto for Maltesers. Ditto for Smarties. His response? “Awww, not fair!”. I’m inclined to agree.

However, luckily, my son and daughter are still firmly in the Star Wars and Frozen zone, so I’ve opted for Kinnerton again this year (see main picture). With stormtrooper and Frozen Fever Kinnerton eggs in our local B&M for £2.99 each, it really would have been rude not to!

I’ve listed below the other nut free Easter chocolates I’ve seen so far, including those recommended by fellow nut mums and dads on the Nutmums facebook page (thanks everyone!). Please do post a comment below with any more recommendations.

As ever, please do check the labels each time and contact the manufacturer if you are at all unsure whether something is safe.

Cadbury

If you look at the Cadbury website, they’ve got 15 Easter products listed as at 25 February. When you apply their nut and peanut filters, the choice shrinks to two: the regular Creme Eggs
and Creme Mini Filled Eggs.  (NB. the “Mini Eggs” – the little ones in the shells – are “may contain nuts”.)

Cadbury creme eggCadbury creme mini filled egg

(Images courtesy of Cadbury)

The Cadbury site doesn’t (as at 25 February) list the company’s range of large chocolate eggs. However, having read the product descriptions for the Cadbury eggs on Ocado, I am yet to come across one which is not “may contain nuts”. If anyone knows of a large, nut safe Cadbury egg, do post a comment, I’d love to hear from you…

Cadbury National Trust egg hunt

(Image courtesy of Cadbury)

Cadbury are supplying the National Trust and National Trust for Scotland Easter Egg hunts this year. I’ve tweeted to ask which Cadbury products are used. It would be nice if the prizes weren’t “may contain nuts” and the hunts are indeed a place for everyone.

Campervan Cookies

Nut free Campervan Cookies card

(Image courtesy of Campervan Cookie Co)

Campervan Cookie Co has a selection of awesome looking Easter cookie cards, which can all be personalised. Their website states that their “products are made in a nut-free environment”.

“Choices” by Celtic Chocolates

Choices Easter bunny

(Image courtesy of Free From For Kids)

Celtic Chocolates do not use nuts in their factory and none of their ingredients contain nuts. A selection of their Easter eggs and Easter bunnies are available online from Free From For Kids and Holland & Barrett.

Cocoa Libre

Cocoa Libre easter chicks

(Image courtesy of Cocoa Libre)

Cocoa Libre have gift packs of 10 rice milk chocolate chicks available online.

D&D Chocolates

DandD nut free Easter egg basket

(Image courtesy of D&D)

D&D Chocolates produce dairy free chocolate and carob, with their website confirming that “All our products are handmade on nut free premises”. The Easter range this year includes eggs, mini eggs, lollies, bunny shapes, fondant egg halves, plus a selection of Easter baskets filled with goodies.

Galaxy

Galaxy golden eggs - Nut Free Mini Chocolate Easter Eggs

(Image courtesy of The Grocer)

Mars has launched Galaxy golden mini eggs for this Easter (for details, see article in The Grocer – and thanks also to Jess for posting about this on Facebook). I’ve spied them on sale at our local Co-op and the golden mini eggs did not have a nut warning (however, the Galaxy caramel mini eggs did).

Haribo

Haribo are selling bags of jelly chick, bunny and lamb shapes this year (see Haribo Easter Hunt Multi Pack).

Holland & Barrett

Holland & Barrett have a dairy free Good Egg “for those seeking to avoid dairy, gluten and nuts” – check out the no added sugar version too.

 Jelly Bunnies

Bassetts jelly bunnies

(Image courtesy of Free From For Kids)

Bassetts are making jelly babies in the shape of bunnies this year. Thanks to Lucy for this tip – who has seen them in Co-Op. They are also available online at Free From for Kids.

Kinder

Certain Kinder products appear safe, for example:

However, some products (such as the Kinder mini eggs) contain hazelnut.

Kinnerton

Kinnerton’s range of nut safe Easter eggs and chocolates this year includes Peppa Pig, Avengers, Match of the Day, Paw Patrol, Shopkins, Super 4, Frozen, Me to You (that teddy with the blue nose!), Star Wars, Thomas and The Simpsons.

Kinnerton is stocked in Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda, Morrisons, Mothercare and Wilkinson. Joanne has spotted a good range in her local Asda – including a Gogglebox egg (see pictures below – thanks Joanne!). My local B&M and Poundland stores tend to be good, and I’ve spotted a Peppa Pig egg hunt bag on Ocado

Joanne Easter Gogglebox and MOTD

Joanne Kinnerton selection

I’ve heard from Mark (thank you!) that Iceland have Kinnerton lightsaber tubes filled with foiled mini eggs. On a Star Wars note, if anyone spots these stormtrooper chocolates in a shop, please do let me know! [Note added: I’ve heard from Diane that ToysRUs stocked the stormtrooper chocolates at Christmas.]

Kinnerton Easter nut free net of stormtroopers

(Image courtesy of Kinnerton)

Finally, if none of the character eggs appeal to your child, Candice’s top tip is to remove the outer packet and put the eggs inside cardboard eggs from Ikea, filling any gaps with sweets.

Magnum eggs

B&M Magnum easter egg

(Image courtesy of B&M)

Big thank you to Angela who has posted that both B&M and Iceland have (nut safe) versions of Magnum Easter eggs this year.

The Ocado Magnum Signature Chocolate Egg with Bars also appears nut safe from the online product description.

Malteser (made by Mars)

As with Cadbury Creme Eggs, with the “Malteaster” range, the nut status varies from product to product. Whilst the Malteaster Bunny 5 pack lists only egg as a “may contain”, the Malteaster Luxury Easter Egg, for example, may contain nuts.

Marmite

Marmite easter egg

Yes, really! The Daily Mail has reported that Unilever has partnered with Kinnerton on a Marmite Easter egg. Available from Ocado. (Thanks Angela!).

Nut Free Chocolate People

Nut Free Chocolate People make “Delicious chocolates without any nuts or nut traces”, available to order from their website. Check out their Easter page to see their range of eggs (in milk, dark, orange, mint, without soya, and white chocolate) plus a selection of Easter themed chocolates.

Nut Free Chox

Nut Free Chox have Easter lollies, jars of Easter chick- or egg- patterned buttons, and orange filled half Easter eggs – see their Seasonal page for details.

Plamil

Plamil dairy free bunny bar

(Image courtesy of Plamil)

Plamil products are made in their “own factory which never uses dairy, gluten or nuts”. For Easter 2016, they have full Easter eggs and half eggs, plus chocolate bunny bars.

Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s Freefrom Chocolate Easter Egg and Freefrom White Chocolate Egg are each described online as “egg, gluten, wheat and milk free” and appear nut safe from the online product description.

Prestat – for those avoiding peanut only

Prestat may be worth a look if you are only avoiding peanut. Their website (and the Ocado product description for their Prestat London Gin Egg ) states “Our kitchens handle many ingredients including cream (milk), nuts, gluten, eggs and flour so even products that do not contain these as ingredients may contain traces of them. We do Not use any genetically modified ingredients and we do not have peanuts in any products”.

Special Edition Chocolate

Special Edition Chocolate have a range of handmade Easter eggs, bunnies, hens and chicks available to order online.

Special Edition Chocolate nut free Easter bunnies

(Image courtesy of Special Edition Chocolate)

Tasha’s Dairy Free Delights

Tasha’s Dairy Free Delights has a range of handmade Easter chocolates using Plamil’s “Lots of this, none of that” chocolate.

Tesco Help for Heroes egg

Help for Heroes Easter egg

Tesco has a Help for Heroes egg – from which they will donate 100% of profits from the sale price to the Help for Heroes charity. (Thanks again, Angela!)

Vermont Nut Free Chocolates

Vermont Nut Free Chocolates sell “gourmet chocolates guaranteed safe for those with any nut or peanut allergy”. They have a wide selection of Easter eggs and chocolates, and what’s more, they ship world wide (thank you Elaine for this top tip!)

Waitrose

Waitrose and Ocado are selling the Woodland Friends Easter egg hunt box again this year.

Are there any more?

As ever, if I’ve missed any, please do spread the word by posting a comment below. Happy Easter everyone!

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My 5-year-old son’s ideal year would be one week long, comprising Easter, his birthday, Halloween and Christmas Day. And repeat. No sooner has he reached the bottom of his Santa sack, he’s asking me when it’s time for Easter eggs. By Easter Monday, he’s fixating on the guest list for his birthday party … and his birthday’s not until August.

Christmas, Easter, birthdays and Halloween demand a fair amount of time and attention in any family with small children. However, that’s even more true in food allergy families, who have the added organisational challenge of tracking down free from versions of cakes, chocolates and treats.

So, now Halloween’s out of the way, it’s time for me to embark on the annual search for nut free Christmas food. Here’s a list of the nut free Christmas goodies I have spied so far this year. Thanks everyone, for all the recommendations already posted on the Nutmums Facebook page – top of my Christmas list are the Wilkinsons chocolate coins spotted by Cheryl (see below). I’ll keep adding to this page as I hear of any more nut free Christmas treats.

As ever, please check the labels for yourself each time and contact the manufacturer if you are in any doubt whether something is safe.

Nut free advent calendars

  • D and D

The D&D website states that “all our products are produced in a totally nut free, dairy free and gluten free unit”. They sell both advent calendars and advent chocolates.

  • Kinnerton

Kinnerton, the king of nut free character confectionery, promise that all of their ” yummy creations … go nowhere near a nut at any time in our factory”.  This year they have advent calendars in Peppa Pig, Avengers, Inside Out, Doc McStuffins, Frozen, Hello Kitty, Me To You bear, Star Wars, Thomas, Superman and Batman, and The Simpsons.

I grabbed Star Wars and Frozen calendars when I spotted them in Matalan recently. The kiddos should be happy with this … unless they see these light up versions, which Kinnerton have introduced this year:

Kinnerton nut free light up advent calendars

(Image courtesy of Kinnerton.com)

  • Nut Free Chocolate People

Last year, I splashed out on a wooden advent calendar. I will be filling it again with advent chocolates from Nut Free Chocolate People. (If you are tempted to do the same, do check their cut off date for advent orders!)

  • Plamil

All Plamil products are “dairy free and gluten free, and produced in [their] own ‘no nuts’ factory”. Dairy free advent calendars available to order from their website.

Nut free chocolate coins

  • John Lewis

From the John Lewis website, the chocolate coins from Albert Premier Chocolaterie look nut safe. In previous years, John Lewis have also sold nut free coins from the Chocolate Alchemist, which were nut free. I’ll report back if I spy these in store!

  • Chocolates for Chocoholics

Their website states:

“RECIPE: NO NUTS          FACTORY: NO NUTS

HOWEVER THERE IS AN INFINITESIMAL (TEENY WEENY) CHANCE OF CROSS CONTAMINATION”

If that doesn’t put you off, they have bags of coins, a teddy bauble and a tree and wreath cracker.

  • Nut Free Chocolate People 

NFCP have bags of 6 chocolate coins, which can be hung as a Christmas tree decoration.

  • Wilkinsons

I have it on good authority that Wilkinsons chocolate coins are nut-safe (50p a bag, 3 varieties) – see photo below. Thank you so much Cheryl for this top tip and photo – I’m part of the stampede for this one!

Wilkinsons nut free chocolate coins

Nut free selection boxes & boxed chocolates

  • Kinnerton

Kinnerton also do selection boxes for some of their character lines. Their website states that they are stocked in Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda, Morrisons, Mothercare and Wilkinson. I tend to find their goodies in local garden centres and discount stores – this year, I bought their Star Wars and Frozen 9 piece selection boxes from my local Poundland. If you can’t find them offline, Amazon are also worth a try.

  • Nut Free Chocolate People

NFCP sell boxes of 12 or 24 nut free chocolates.

Nut Free Chocolate People christmas chocolates

(Image courtesy of Nutfreechocolatepeople.com)

Nut free tree decorations

  • D and D

D&D sell dairy free Christmas tree decorations in packs of six.

  • Nut Free Chocolate People

Nut Free Chocolate People sell chocolate filled baubles and foil wrapped chocolate coins.

  • Tasha’s Dairy Free Delights

Tasha’s Dairy Free Delights has a range of handmade Christmas chocolates. Tasha’s use Plamil, and will soon be using Plamil’s “Lots of this, None of that” chocolate (which they explain is also soya free). I understand that you can specify your choice of chocolate, when you place your order. Check out their Christmas tree decorations here.

Other nut free Christmas chocolates and sweets

  • Cadbury

The Cadbury website now allows you to filter by both “peanut-absent” and “nut-absent”.  The Christmas products aren’t showing at the time of writing … but one to keep an eye on.

Cadbury Snowbites are now available on Ocado – nut safe according to the product description.

  • Choices by Celtic Chocolates

Celtic Chocolates do not use nuts in their factory and none of their ingredients contain nuts. Their dairy free chocolate santa and white chocolate santa are available online from Free From For Kids.

  • Cocoa Libre

Cocoa Libre make dairy free chocolates which are “also wheat, gluten and nut free and suitable for coeliacs and vegans”. Louise, founder of Cocoa Libre, recently posted on the nut free chocolate page that:

“My husband is allergic to peanuts! I have had all my products lab tested to make sure they are completely free of traces so you can enjoy in confidence!”.

They now have rice milk chocolate penguins and dark mint chocolate penguins in stock.

Cocoa Libre nut free chocolate penguins

(Image courtesy of Cocoalibre.co.uk)

  • D and D

D&D Chocolates have a range of Christmas products, in chocolate or carob, that are nut-, dairy- and gluten free.

  • Kinder

From their Ocado product descriptions Kinder Mini Mix, Kinder Santa and Kinder Christmas bars all appear safe.

  • Kinnerton

Check out the Kinnerton website to search for products by character. Amazon also have Kinnerton chocolate satsumas. Oh, and, if you are after a white chocolate Olaf, Asda is worth a look (thanks Gemma!).

Asda Kinnerton white chocolate Olaf

(Image courtesy of Asda.com)

  • Malteser

Again, Maltesers MerryTeaser Reindeer , Christmas Tube and Gift Box are all looking good from their Ocado product descriptions.

  • Nestle

The Nestle Nut Avoidance List (October 2015) includes:

  • After Eight Bitesize Dark Chocolate Mints. (NOTE: After Eight wafer thin mints have recently changed to be “may contain nuts and peanuts”, as Nestle have changed the production site (thanks Angela, for this information). I’m not sure if the bitesize version are still safe – so please do check the packet, or with Nestle, if you are thinking of buying. For anyone who would like to see After Eights safe once more, check out Angela’s petition).
  • Various Matchmakers products.

Nestle also make giant tube versions of, for example, smarties,  milkybar buttons, jelly tots, fruit pastilles etc. I’ve also spotted an Aero white festive block on Ocado.

  • Nut Free Chocolate People

Check out their Christmas chocolates page, for details of their boxed chocolates, Christmas chocolates and snowman chocolates. They also sell chocolate bars which can be personalised with Happy Christmas messages.

Nut Free Chocolate People personalised Christmas barsw

(Image courtesy of Nutfreechocolatepeople.com)

  • Plamil

Plamil products are made in their “own factory which never uses dairy, gluten or nuts”. They have chocolate snowmen – available in trays of three.

  • Special Edition Chocolate

Special Edition Chocolate have some fantastic looking Christmas products, described as “Suitable for gluten free, vegetarian and nut free diets”.

Special Edition Chocolate nut free snowman

(Image courtesy of Specialeditionchocolate.co.uk)

  • Tasha’s Dairy Free Delights

Tasha’s (see above) has a large range of Christmas chocolate, including Christmas shapes, filled candy canes and lollies.

  • Waitrose / Ocado

Waitrose have brought out a Woodland Friends Chocolate Net of Robins.

Nut free Christmas biscuits

  • Cadbury

As mentioned above, the Christmas products haven’t yet been added to the Cadbury website. One to watch.

  • Campervan Cookies

A big thank you to Lisa for this recommendation! The allergy advice on their website states:

“Our cookies contain gluten, milk, wheat and egg and are suitable for vegetarians. All our products are carefully made in our own cookie workshop, which is a nut-free environment.”

Check out their selection of Christmas cookies.

Campervan cookies

(Image courtesy of Campervancookies.com)

  • Sainsburys

Cadbury Festive Friends are back for 2015 and safe according to the Sainsburys product description.

I’ll also be buying the Sainsbury’s Family Biscuit Selection again this year.

  • United Biscuits

The McVitie’s Family Circle Biscuit Selection also look nut safe.

Nut free gingerbread

  • Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s have a Bake Your Own Gingerbread House, which looks good from the website description.

  • Waitrose

Waitrose have a nut safe Gingerbread Activity Kit and Ocado stock Lovemore Free From Gingerbread Men (packs of 6).

Nut free mince pies & mincemeat

I have yet to find a box of ready-made mince pies which aren’t labelled “may contain nuts”. If anyone finds a safe box, please do post a comment below!

I’m resigned to making my own – cheating with JusRol pastry and one of the following fillings (all of which have no nuts in the ingredients and no may contain warning):

Nut free Christmas dinner: gravy, stuffing and sauces

  • Free & Easy

I like Free & Easy’s caramelised red onion gravy (free from wheat, gluten, dairy, nuts and more). They also do a gravy sauce mix.

  • Friendly Food and Drink Company

The Friendly Food and Drink Company make preserves, jams and relishes that are free from gluten, glucose, nuts and (with the exception of their curds) dairy. Their Christmas range includes Christmas Chutney, Cumberland Christmas Sauce and Christmas Jam.
Friendly Food and Drink Christmas chutney

(Image courtesy of Friendlyfoodanddrink.co.uk)

  • Paxo

Paxo Celebration sausage meat and thyme stuffing mix has no nuts in the ingredients (only “may contain” is milk).

Nut free Christmas puddings

There are a few nut free Christmas puddings available in the supermarkets (most I’ve seen are alcohol free too, though…)

Nut free festive cakes

  • Just Love Food Company

Just Love Food Company produce nut safe celebration cakes, available to buy from UK supermarkets. They also produce a Christmas range, available to order via email Karen@justlovefoodcompany.com or via their Facebook page.

Just Love Food Company Christmas cupcakes

(Image courtesy of Just Love Food Company)

  • Heavenly Cake Company

The Heavenly Cake Company lets customers build their own free from cake, to which you can add a personal message or, for example, top with their Christmas topper.

Are there any more?

As ever, if I’ve missed any, please do post a comment below. And if you are searching for a nut free version of a specific product, without luck, do post a question on the Nutmums Facebook page – someone might be able to help.

Happy Christmas everyone, when we get there!

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Today, Caroline, founder of Nut Free Chocolate People, shares how her son’s nut allergy diagnosis led to her family opting for home schooling. While acknowledging it’s not for everyone, here she talks about how home educating has been successful for her two boys…

Unaware of the option to do anything other than send our children to school, we really struggled with the lack of flexibility our primary school had with our medical conditions.  The response to my son’s medical confirmation of a nut allergy was disbelief.  We already had a note on his file of a suspected nut allergy, but a further allergic reaction had led to us seeking medical confirmation.  I duly informed the head teacher that his nut allergy had been confirmed and his response was “We won’t believe it until we have a note from your GP”.

Why?  Why would any parent make up a severe allergy? Why wouldn’t a head teacher believe them?  This set the tone for all of our ‘discussions’ with the school.  Sadly I use inverted commas due to the fact that there were no discussions.  They just didn’t want to know.  We had other medical issues which resulted in the involvement of the school attendance officer, who to her credit tried her best, but in her own words she had no jurisdiction with the school, so any suggestions she made could be ignored.   And it was.  I look back and wonder why we banged our heads against this brick wall for so long.

Discovering home schooling

It was my son who suggested we tried Home Schooling (which tends to be the American term, we certainly did not replicate school at home).  I had no idea it was a legal option & spent a weekend reading books & researching the possibility of doing this.  As a parent with a full time job it would mean big changes in our household, but I asked myself the question ‘what is more important than my children’s happiness, health & education?’

The answer became more obvious with each chapter I read.  We would have total freedom from the constraints of the rigidity of the school system.

If the boys were unable to work from 9 to 3 then so what?  We could work from 2 to 8 if we wanted!  Monday to Friday term time only? No!  All year round if we wanted to.  Without a national curriculum to adhere to our educational journey could go wherever it took us (and some fabulous journeys we had too, together, me sometimes not knowing anything about the subject matter so learning all about it with the boys).

Taking the leap

The following week both boys were de-registered from school and our new life together began.  I read that home educating is like jumping off a cliff and finding you have wings.  Well we took that jump and gosh did we fly!  I won’t say it was without its problems as I’d be lying.  We had to get used to spending time together again, something we had never really done except during holidays.  I’d worked full time since my youngest son was six weeks old, so it was a learning curve.  There were days we’d all have lunch in separate rooms just to have a break from each other, but gradually we found that we all actually liked each other & enjoyed spending time together.

There was a huge range of activities open to us, and sometimes we had to watch that we didn’t go out every single day as that soon got very tiring; we went to socialising activities, study groups, activities of all types, educational visits and also set up a few of our own groups.  The activities are too numerous to mention but included French sessions, writing workshops, science sessions, rock climbing, ice skating, gymnastics, animation classes, teen group, drama & music groups.  We had meetings with other home educators in five different local towns and cities and developed a network of parents who supported each other along with children who learned and played together.  We had Not Back to School picnics, Christmas parties, Easter and summer get togethers.

The education of each child was personal to them and we quickly found the best way for them to learn. Like most home educators who have been schooled we started following a timetable & kept a close eye on the national curriculum but as we grew in confidence these were cast aside, and something very interesting happened.  The boys wanted to learn all year round, they didn’t want to stop at 3 o’clock, for three weeks at Christmas or six weeks in the summer. And they started finding pleasure in reading again.  Where once they hated reading the school novel that had been chosen for them, they devoured the books that interested them, skipping way beyond their ‘reading year’ because it didn’t matter anymore.  And the greatest thing was the worry of someone else not taking our allergy concerns seriously no longer applied.  We had far greater control over this.  If we were out at a group meeting and someone had nuts, or peanut butter sandwiches I could talk direct to mum (usually but not always) and we would deal with it together.  The same goes for bullying; there’s very little of it in home ed groups as 99% of the time parents are present.  Bullying doesn’t happen so much when mums and dads are on hand.

Involving the whole family

An added bonus for us was that my elderly parents came to live near us in the last few years of their lives.  Their worry that they would be one more chore for me to do along with teaching the boys soon evaporated when we took them along to groups with us!  The joy on my 88 year old dad’s face when he came with us to a planetarium visit stays with me to this day.  He had a wonderful time, and told everyone that he could tell that you are never too old to learn, and that he had learned new things that day.  The boys also had the chance to share a very special day out with their grandparents when we went to the 65th anniversary of the World War II Dambusters mission; where their granddad was interviewed by local TV about his time in the RAF.  My mum and dad loved being involved in the boys’ education and could talk to them about their joint experiences.  I am so very grateful we all had that pleasure. My husband also got involved with the boys’ education and ran workshops teaching skills to groups of students.  He came to meetings, educational activities & shared stories with other home educating families.

Exams and qualifications

People always ask me about exams, so I’ll just include a little about this aspect. There are lots of options available if you decide to home educate.  Some people put their children back into school for exams, some go to college, some do distance learning & some have managed well without any formal exams or qualifications.  We elected not to do any as the exam system didn’t suit our circumstances.  We decided not to ‘hot house’ the boys, and decided together when we felt they were ready for an academic challenge.  They both chose to study with the Open University from about 14 and took several courses (in different subjects) which resulted in them having a level four qualification at 16/17.  (equal to a completed first years study at university).  We researched courses & universities & found one they were interested in (different subjects).  We went to open days and talked to the appropriate faculty staff at the university who were delighted to extend unconditional offers.  The attitude  was that the boys were used to self motivated study & were used to working at degree level.   I believe one of the Oxbridge unis also accepted a home educated child without formal qualifications fairly recently, so instead of being a stumbling block it can actually set your child apart, make them memorable & pull them out of the need to have goodness knows how many GCSEs and A levels to be even considered these days.

Of course I realise this path isn’t for everyone, but neither is school. Sometimes we try to make something fit when it just won’t.  And sometimes having options is the best situation to be in.

The home educating family

For my part I met people I would never have come into contact with. There is no typical Home Educating family, nor is there a typical reason for deciding to home educate.  Reasons include medical, religious, lifestyle, problems with bullying, parents disagreeing with the rigidity of the national curriculum, and just that school doesn’t suit their child’s needs. We encountered professional couples, single stay-at-home parents and families from both ends of the financial spectrum. Sometimes all they had in common was wanting the best for their child.

Some educated partially in the school system and partially home educated, some had been in the school system and some wouldn’t touch the system with a barge pole.  It certainly provided a broad view of society to all of us, and one, I think, benefited the children too.  They are polite, considerate, sociable and self motivated young men I am proud of, and it was an honour and a privilege to be able to share such a special time with them.

Someone once said to me that you don’t stop being a home educator when the children ‘finish’ their education, and I think it’s true.  You realise that education really is for life, for sharing & for the whole journey.

 

 

Thanks very much for sharing your family’s story, Caroline!

Contact details

Nut Free Chocolate People

Email: caroline@nutfreechocolatepeople.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NutFreeChocolatePeople

Twitter: @NutFreeChocolat

 

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My family’s “free from story” has recently been featured on the Holland & Barrett website. In the post, I talk how we were thrown into the nut free world when my son had anaphylaxis at 20 months old and the massive learning curve in those first few months after diagnosis, when we were trying to figure out how to keep a nut allergic toddler safe and well.

In this post “Going on holiday with a nut allergy”, I share my tips on holidaying with a nut allergic child. This was originally published as a guest blog for Holland & Barrett.

PLANNING AND GETTING ORGANISED

As any parent knows, holidaying with small children requires a lot of organisation. Holidaying with a food allergic child requires organisation and then some! Prior to taking a child with a severe nut allergy on holiday in the UK, you would be wise to look up your nearest supermarket, chemist and hospital and research safe local restaurants in advance. Holidaying abroad requires even more preparation.

TRAVELLING ABROAD – FLYING ‘NUT SAFE’

At one of our first allergy appointments, we were told that flying might be a risk for our son. For example, if an airline hands out bags of peanuts and each passenger opens their bags at roughly the same time, we were advised that the peanut dust thrown into the air might be enough to trigger an allergic reaction.

The prospect of your child suffering anaphylaxis during a flight doesn’t bear thinking about. Yes, you could administer the EpiPen, but the shot of adrenaline can be only a temporary fix. Getting your child to a hospital for emergency treatment would be a challenge if you were 35,000ft, mid Atlantic.

CONTACT THE AIRLINE IN ADVANCE – WHAT TO CHECK

You need to make arrangements with the airline, to keep the flight as nut safe as possible. A 2013 US study identified various safeguarding measures a nut allergic passenger could take, which would reduce the risk of a reaction mid-flight. Measures included not using the plane’s pillows or blankets and asking for a nut-free buffer zone (where passengers within a certain number of rows do not eat nut products during the flight).

When we travelled to Portugal last year, my approach was to confirm with the airline by email that:

  • We could bring our own safe food on board (rather than trusting an airline meal to be nut-free).
  • A note had been added to our booking, alerting check-in staff, security and cabin crew of the allergy (and of our need to carry EpiPens).
  • They would restrict the sale of nuts on the flight and make an announcement asking passengers not to eat nuts or nut products.
  • We could pre-board, so that I could wipe the tray tables, arm rests and area around my son’s seat with travel disinfectant wipes.

Even taking these precautions, there is no guarantee the flight will be 100% nut-free. However, they helped me have peace of mind that I had controlled the risk as much as I could.

TRAVEL INSURANCE – CHECK IF YOU ARE COVERED OR HAVE TO PAY EXTRA

Yes, check whether a travel insurance policy covers anaphylaxis. Some either don’t, particularly where a child has been hospitalised for an allergic reaction in the previous 12 months, or charge a huge premium for anaphylaxis cover – around £100 is not unusual.

CARRY A EUROPEAN HEALTH INSURANCE CARD (EHIC) WITH YOU

It’s also worth applying for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), so you are entitled to free, or reduced cost, healthcare in Europe. The card does NOT replace travel insurance – you need both. But if you’re holidaying in Europe and you’ve got an EHIC, you’ll be entitled (in most European countries) to the same treatment that local citizens are entitled to – extremely useful in emergencies. It’s completely free and valid for up to five years.

EMERGENCY MEDICATION

It’s a good idea to have a spare set of EpiPens, in case the first set is used (or lost) during the holiday. If you are going somewhere hot or very cold, have you got an insulated EpiPen case to carry them in? You may also need a doctor’s note, explaining the need for EpiPens, to show security staff at the airport.

READING FOREIGN LABEL TERMS FOR ALLERGY SUFFERERS

Although you may now be a pro at deciphering food labels in the UK, you need to learn how to do the same in a foreign country. If you travel within the EU, the top 14 allergens must be highlighted in the ingredients list in the same way as in the UK. If you are travelling somewhere that is popular with British tourists (or ex pats), you may find labelling in English. If not, you need to swot up on the translations for your allergens. I found it useful to know the translation for the phrases “contains” and “may contain” too.

DON’T GET ‘LOST IN TRANSLATION’ – CARRY TRANSLATION CARDS

If you are travelling to a non-English speaking country, could you explain your child’s allergy to a restaurant manager? If your child suffered anaphylaxis, do you know the emergency number to ring and enough of the local language to summon an ambulance? This is where translation cards are invaluable. You can order translation cards from a professional provider (such as Allergy UK). They describe your child’s allergy in the local language and detail how to describe an anaphylaxis emergency. Make sure the whole family has a few copies just in case and also, practice saying the phrase/condition in the local language. Keep a set in your hotel room too – next to the phone in case of an emergency.

‘I HAVE A NUT ALLERGY’ WRIST BANDS AND NECKLACES

On that note, particularly if your child might be attending a kids club, it’s worth considering getting your child a waterproof wrist band or necklace medallion with ‘nut allergy’ on (these can be ordered online in advance and often in various foreign languages).

PACK SAFE FOOD SUPPLIES

It’s a good idea to pack some safe food in both your hand luggage (for the journey, with sufficient supplies if you are delayed) and your suitcase (just in case the range of safe food at the local supermarkets is limited).

EATING OUT

It pays to research the potential restaurant options in your resort online, in advance. I emailed our hotel prior to departure. We set our expectations at eating in for the entire holiday, so were very pleasantly surprised when the hotel manager talked us through the safe food options on arrival.

WHAT TO DO AND WHERE TO GO IN AN EMERGENCY

As well as knowing how to call an ambulance, it’s reassuring to know the location of the nearest hospital, chemist or doctor. You can research this in advance and could keep a map handy with each location marked.

IN SUMMARY…

Going on holiday with a nut allergy can be daunting. When we holidayed abroad, I felt thrown completely out of our comfort zone. We went from feeling confident (in so much as you ever can be) in managing our son’s allergy, to going back to that sense of trepidation you have in the first few weeks post diagnosis, where everything is new. We will definitely holiday abroad again. It would be a shame to let the food allergy shrink our family’s horizons. Travelling abroad safely can be done, with extra energy and additional organisation.

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The Nutmums nut allergy friendly restaurant directory is growing – with ten new reviews added this week! The restaurants, pubs, cafes and ice cream parlours listed have all been road tested by fellow nut mums … who were so impressed with the confidence-inspiring service they received, they felt compelled to spread the word!

Check out the latest reviews for:

If none of these are near you, Nutmums.com can help you find a safe restaurant recommendation in the following ways:

  • Search the nut allergy friendly restaurant directory. Once you’ve entered a location and clicked “search”, you can filter the results by clicking “radius” to find restaurants closer to home.
  • If it’s a chain you are after, then browse the list of Nut allergy friendly restaurants: national chains.
  • Click on the “Eating out” option on the home page. The drop down menu lists different areas of the country. (And the list of areas is continually growing, as new reviews for different areas of the UK are received).

Eating Out

Where do YOU eat out with your nut allergic child?

Whether it’s a branch of a national chain or your local independent cafe, I would love to hear your success stories!

Let’s spread the word about nut allergy friendly restaurants, cafes or pubs. If you have found somewhere which caters well for the nut allergic customer, please recommend them to the Nutmums community by posting a review here.

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Great news! The Just Love Food Company has launched a fantastic new product: individually wrapped cupcakes.

The cupcakes were a big hit with my children on the taste front and, from my perspective, they are ideal for taking to my son’s friends’ parties and including in his safe treats box for school.

The Just Love Food Company’s nut safe promise

As a family, we are big fans of the Just Love Food Company’s cakes for birthdays and special occasions. They made my son a fantastic bespoke Spiderman cake for his birthday last year and I’ve just bought one of their “decorate your own” cakes for my daughter’s birthday this week.

If you haven’t already heard of the brand, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Founded by Mike and Karen Woods in 2010, two of the couple’s three children have nut allergies (read their story here). They therefore understand first hand what shopping for a nut allergic child involves and, specifically, the difficulties nut allergic children can face joining in with food-centred social occasions such as birthday parties.

The company makes a nut safe promise, explaining:

“We know that even the smallest trace of nut contamination can have a detrimental effect, so whilst we can never make a 100% guarantee (although we try 100% of the time), we have taken every possible step to make sure they are the safest on the market and safer than making it at home.”

As Mike sums it up:

“My children eat these cakes and I wouldn’t want to put my own children at risk.”

The company is, I believe, currently the only manufacturer of nut free cakes in the UK which are sold in the supermarkets. Their celebration cakes are available in Asda, Sainsburys, Tesco and Nisa.

The new cupcake range

As I’ve written before, since diagnosis, my go to cake brands are the Just Love Food Company (for birthday cakes) and, for small cakes, I used to buy Fabulous Bakin Boys cupcakes and muffins. That all changed last October, when Fabulous Bakin Boys announced their products would no longer be nut free.

Since my son started school last September, I’ve been amazed at the speed he has rattled through the contents of his safe treats box. Someone’s birthday? Their mum sends in cake and D instead has a treat out of his safe box. Halloween. The same. Ditto Christmas. The safe treats box idea has has worked well for us. However, it seems far more inclusive if he can enjoy a similar treat to his friends, where possible. 50 children munching cake and the boy with a peanut allergy with some chocolate buttons? Although he might enjoy his treat, he’d stand out less if he could have a cake too.

Step forward the Just Love Food Company with their new cupcake range. The cupcakes are £20 for 48 (which includes shipping costs) and are currently available directly via their website. For the ingredients list, see below.

The company are selling the cakes in quantities of 48 (4 boxes of 12), to keep the shipping costs as economical as possible. If 48 seems a daunting prospect, just to say: they are suitable for home freezing. (In fact, my son’s teacher has put a few in the school freezer ready for the next celebration day!)

If you would like to order, please contact the Just Love Food Company via their website.

Fingers crossed we see them on the supermarket shelves soon too!

Ingredients List for Individually Wrapped Cupcakes

SPONGE: Sugar, Free Range Egg, Wheat Flour(Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Vegetable Fat: Palm Oil, Rapeseed Oil;  Water, Dried Skimmed Milk, Raising Agents: (Disodium Diphosphate, Sodium  Hydrogen Carbonate Wheat Flour); Humectant: Glycerine; Whey Powder (Milk), Salt, Potassium Sorbate, Natural Flavouring(Vanilla).

SWEET FILLING: Sugar, Margarine [Vegetable Oil (Palm, Palm Kernel, Rapeseed), Water, Salt,  Humectant (Glycerine), Natural Flavouring (Vanilla).

ICED SUGAR DISC: Icing Sugar, Sugar Gum [Glucose, Vegetable Oil (Palm, Rapeseed), Water, Sugar, Humectant (Glycerine), Stabiliser (Gum Tragacanth)],

 

Allergy Advice:

For Allergens including cereals containing gluten see ingredients in bold

Due to Manufacturing methods during production, this product may contain traces of Soya

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Are you confident that the staff at your child’s school could (and would) deal with an anaphylaxis emergency?

I was. The headteacher has assured me that everyone is trained in how to spot an allergic reaction and how to administer an EpiPen. In fact, the school nurse came in to give refresher EpiPen training to everyone in January. However, in light of what I have now learned about one school catering company, I will be double checking that “everyone” means everyone and there aren’t any external staff responsible for my son’s well being at lunchtimes.

Last October, I heard from an Oxfordshire nut mum whose children went to a school where Caterlink provided the school dinners. She was appalled to discover that Caterlink’s Nut Allergy Guidelines stated that staff should “not administer medication under any circumstances”:

Caterlink nut allergy guidelines emergency action

Indeed, Caterlink’s Allergy and Special Diet Guide (at page 15) advises staff “You could save a life”:

Caterlink

The “What to do in an emergency” section (at page 40) reiterates the message: do not administer medication under any circumstances.

Our nut mum contacted Caterlink, setting out her concerns (for full details, see Do your school caterers know their auto-injectors from their antidotes?).

The company has responded that:

“Caterlink staff are not required (by law) to administer or store Epi-pens in the dining room. There are also many variables of an allergic reaction and I do not wish for Caterlink staff to second guess when or if they should be administering an auto-injector.”

This has been challenged by our nut mum, who believes a policy that reads “staff are not obliged to give emergency medication”, would be an improvement on the existing “do not administer medication under any circumstances”. Pointing out that if Caterlink are concerned staff do not have the knowledge to deal with an anaphylaxis emergency and would be ‘second guessing’, then a well researched policy would be a step in the right direction.

The other points she raised have been acknowledged by the company, who pledge to make changes ‘in line with the upcoming Food Information Regulations’. Although they give no indication of what these changes will be or when they will be made.

Our nut mum is not impressed:

“Caterlink do not seem to realise the huge responsibility they have in keeping allergic children safe and the part a good policy and good attitude can play in this. It would be a simple thing to get the right information to staff and give them the confidence to act in an emergency, yet it appears to be low down on Caterlink’s list of priorities.”

You would hope that, in a life threatening emergency situation, people would do whatever they could to save a life. However, you only have to think of the death of Emma Sloan, after a pharmacist refused to dispense an EpiPen without a prescription, to realise that, for some, written rules and regulations will hold sway.

If your child’s school dinners are provided by Caterlink and you agree that it would be preferable for the guidelines to state that “staff are not obliged to give emergency medication” (rather than “do not administer medication under any circumstances”) then you might also want to raise this with your school and the caterer. That way, if there was an anaphylaxis emergency and only a member of the catering team was available to assist, there wouldn’t be a nagging doubt at the back of their minds that giving the EpiPen was against policy.