On average, one in 13 children in the US live with a serious or potentially life-threatening food allergy. Many others are living with food intolerances or food-related conditions such as diabetes or celiac disease. For these children, having to sit at a separate table for lunch, being the only child who does not get the birthday treat or having to miss out on special activities can lead to a sense of otherness and isolation.

Celebrations can help to foster important relationships and are vital to a child’s socioemotional development. It is imperative that food-related conditions do not exclude participation in these events. Children without these conditions may also benefit by learning to appreciate and develop empathy for differences. So, what can we do to make the world a safer and more inclusive place?

Inquire about food restrictions

If you are planning a party, ask parents or caregivers if there are any food conditions, which products are safe for the child and where to buy them. Although the family of the child will often initiate this conversation, your interest in keeping their child safe will be appreciated. Double check ingredient lists as it is common for products to be manufactured in a facility that also processes allergens. Take pictures of food labels to share with parents or caregivers before purchasing to verify. Politely ask other guests not to bring foods that might contain allergens.

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Consider allergy-free snacks for all

Offer the same treats for everyone to prevent any child from feeling different or isolated. Some companies are dedicated to producing items that are free of the nine major allergens. These are great options for classroom events or to pack for your own children when visiting a shared play space such as the library, playground or a museum. If you are offering a substitute treat for a child, ensure it looks as special as the original.

Be mindful of cross contamination

Even a trace amount of a food may cause a severe reaction. Here are some ways to prevent cross contamination:

• Before guests arrive, thoroughly wash all surfaces with a clean cloth.

• Encourage hand washing before and after playing and having meals or snacks.

• Always separate allergy-free foods from others and wash your hands between handling the two.

• Keep treats covered or in the original packaging until ready to be eaten.

• Use designated serving utensils for allergy-free and non-allergy free dishes.

• Offer utensils for chips, veggies and other finger foods.

• Get children involved: discourage sharing of food and talk about food safety.

Offer non-food goodie bags

Offering non-food party favors promotes inclusion and teaches children that food is not the only source of entertainment. Great alternatives to treats include glow sticks, bubbles, markers, pop-its, rings, bouncy balls or stickers.

When planning for your next party, fundraiser or field trip, please ask yourself “What am I doing to ensure all children are safe and feel equally valued?” Implementing these small measures can help create big smiles for the many children impacted by food allergies and food related conditions.

This year, May 8-14 marks Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) national food allergy awareness week. For more information, visit foodallergy.org

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners and spray the liners with nonstick cooking spray. Squeeze shredded zucchini of excess water with a paper towel. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a separate bowl, mix oil, honey / maple syrup, vanilla, egg on medium-low until smooth. Add in the zucchini, banana (or applesauce) and milk; mix again. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate chips. Evenly divide batter into prepared liners. Bake 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. After five minutes, transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Enjoy!

Nutrient analysis per serving: 160 calories, 6 grams fat, 3 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber.

Jenna Krall is a Gundersen Health System registered dietitian

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