Navigating High School with Food Allergies
Hi everyone! First of all, I just wanted to say I hope you are all doing well during this difficult time! We will get through it together :)
My name is Lauren and I am a freshman in high school. I am allergic to dairy, egg, and kiwi, and have had food allergies my whole life. High school has definitely been a new experience for me in terms of handling food allergies, but I have found so many ways to make dealing with them easier. Throughout this article, I will provide tips and tricks to having a full social life and navigating high school with food allergies.
One of the hardest things to do as a high schooler is find a way to carry your epi-pen that still looks normal. Some people have fanny packs that they use, and others have straps which they use to attach the epi pen to their leg. For me, none of these options really work since I have other medicine I have to carry as well. So, I found a mini backpack! In my case, there are so many people at school who carry backpacks for medicine, it isn’t at all weird to have one. I got a small black one for subtlety, and it has worked really well.
The toughest part of the day for me has been lunch. Since my food allergies are so severe, I am unable to sit anywhere in the lunch room except for a designated table. This table is for people with food allergies and I invite a few friends to sit with me. But, I am one of only two kids in my entire school who have severe food allergies, so it’s been tough getting more than a few people to sit there. From what I have noticed, most people think that the entire table is just for people with food allergies, so they don’t think they can sit there. We originally had signs on the table that said none of the top 8 allergens can be there, but, in my case, it is ok for the foods to be there as long as there is no steam and that person is not sitting directly next to me. So, if you use a designated table like me, my suggestion is to have some sort of sign saying reserved on a few seats that you and a few reliable friends can sit there with no problem. I always have the seat next to me and sometimes the seat in front of me if my friends are drinking a glass of milk or have eggs, but that is just my allergies. You can fill the rest of the table with your friends or have anyone sit there! Also, make sure you tell your friends about this so that they are aware of the table and let them know they can invite whoever they want to sit with you!
Before the start of the school year, I always go to a meeting with my mom and all of my teachers. This way, I can get acquainted with my teachers before the school year starts, and they can be aware of my food allergies. We explain the severity of my food allergies and then the teachers ask questions about certain projects they can think of throughout the year that might incorporate something I am allergic to. If this project having my allergens in it is necessary for the class, we tell them to go ahead and do it, and I will usually go to the library during that class time or to another teacher. If it is not necessary, they can usually find a way around using food for it and it all works out. Another thing we ask them is what kind of chalk they use. Lots of chalk has milk in it, and when it produces dust I can’t be around that. So, it is a small but important detail to ask about.
Finally, the social life! Everyone knows high school is a time to go places with your friends, and a lot of the time that place is a restaurant. I never eat at restaurants because of the severity of my food allergies, and I don’t want to put myself even at a small risk of having an allergic reaction. I have found that in the early years of high school, friends do not usually go out to restaurants but instead hang out at each other’s houses or go someplace else. When I go to one of my friend’s houses, I always have to ask to avoid the kitchen since I don’t know what food residue is in there or on the kitchen table. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you are going somewhere in your friend’s car, I always wipe down the seatbelt in case there is food residue on it. If my friends do decide to go to a restaurant, I remind them of my food allergies and sometimes they will change their plans so that they can include me. But, other times, they don’t: for example, if it is before school dance or some other occasion they want to celebrate. If they don’t change their plans and you feel comfortable, you can pack a meal and bring it to the restaurant with them. Make sure to wipe down the table and seats, and maybe keep some space apart from your friends and their meals. I have been able to have a very full social life even with my food allergies!
Whenever you feel that you are missing out on socializing because of your food allergies, think about all of the times that you have been able to do things even with your allergies! There is usually a way around most plans so that you can be included and safe. I hope that this article was helpful to you in finding new perspectives on thinking about your food allergies. Good luck in high school:)