Every parent knows how much organization is needed in packing a schoolbag and lunchbox for the new school year. So you can imagine my panic when after a fun-filled summer in New York City, we arrived home to Paris just in the nick of time for the two boys to start school. Getting them ready was like running a zombie marathon.
- School supplies, check.
- Cartable, check.
- Lunch box, check.
- Food allergies, check.
- Jet lag, check.
For me, not only did I have to pack my boys’ cartables (schoolbags), I had to prepare my picky little eater’s very first lunch box. This was no easy feat. My four-year old son is allergic to wheat, sesame and eggs. He does not have a true allergy to milk, but it triggers his eczema, which we discovered at the tender age of three weeks old.
From the age of four months to the present, a battery of blood tests and skin prick tests revealed the severity of his multiple allergies. So, eating the school’s lunch is not an option at all. We have taught our son to be hyper-vigilant with his food, otherwise he could have an allergic reaction ranging from eczema or hives to a life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
For those of you with allergic children in Paris, here are some steps you can take to help protect your child in school and generate awareness of food allergies.
1. Fill out a PAI (Project d’Accueil Individualisé) for your child’s school.
This is a document, born from a government circulaire in 2003, which gives recommendations to help protect and integrate children with handicaps, chronic illnesses or allergies into school. Out of this, a PAI was drafted through the joint efforts of allergists, asthma and allergy associations, and education personnel.
The PAI authorizes a school to administer medication to a child. It outlines what precautions to take and details the protocol in event of an emergency. It is completed by the parents and the child’s doctor. It is then signed by the parents, child, doctor, school, and municipal representative.
Thanks to my son’s PAI form, he was granted a medical exception by his Parisian school allowing him to bring his own lunch box, as external lunches are usually not permitted in the preschool. Seeing the excitement on his face because he can eat with his classmates at the cantine is priceless.
- CLICK HERE for guidelines on how to complete the PAI.
2. Get a good trousse médicale (medical bag) for your child to bring to school.
A good medical bag is essential if you have medication that needs to be stored at a certain temperature like Epipen, Anapen or Jext. My son’s medical bag is compact but large enough to fit an inhaler, child spacer and antihistamine medicine, and is thermal-lined/insulated so that it keeps the Epipen cool.
I have two of these medical bags (one to keep at all times; one to give to the school).
You can search online for medical bags of all sizes and styles. In my experience, there is a greater selection in the U.S. and the U.K.
3. Note all medication expiration dates in the school medical bag.
You may need to replace medication during the school year, so it’s important to record these dates and give yourself reminders.
4. Get an allergy bracelet for your child to wear to school.
My son wore his bracelet to summer camp and now to school. It’s a great way to notify others of his allergies when I’m not with him. This is my favorite one as it’s cute, fun and can fit up to four allergies.
5. Find a moment to discuss your child’s allergies with the teacher.
As my son’s number one advocate, I not only speak with his teacher, but I also personally write a detailed explanation of his food allergies — what they are, the symptoms, treatment for allergic reactions, etc. This way, the teacher can read the document at her own pace and familiarize herself with his allergies.
Taking these above steps has alleviated some of my allergy-related stress and anxiety when my son is not with me.
On my son’s first day back to school, I reminded him to only eat the food I packed in his lunch box. He looked at me with big comforting eyes and said, “I KNOW mommy, I know, I know”. My little wise man never ceases to amaze me.
Note: There are different medical bags or allergy bracelets to choose from. Just sharing some of my favorites with you.