In-Home Day Care Programs: Taking Care of Food Allergy & Intolerance

If you're preparing to start a child day care program in your home, you'll need to make sure that your kitchen will be fully stocked with kitchen accessories, equipment, and food. However, beyond that, it's a good idea for you to be prepared to care for a child with a life-threatening food allergy, such as a milk allergy, or a severe intolerance to a particular food, such as to wheat.

It's believed that 6–8% of children under age 3 in the United States have food allergies, and many other children have food intolerances. For the parents of these children, their primary concern when choosing day care is how food is handled and served to their children. Here are a few things you can do to keep children with food allergies or intolerances safe in your day care.

Provide a Separate Meal Preparation Area

One thing that is crucial to understand is that foods can easily be cross-contaminated during meal preparation. It only takes a small morsel or crumb of an offending food to cause problems. In fact, a tiny amount of an offending food can cause someone who is allergic to go into anaphylactic shock, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction. And someone with food intolerance can experience severe non-life-threatening intestinal distress if a small amount of the offending food is in their meal.

Therefore, it's important to prepare meals for children with food allergies and intolerances in a separate area. Ask a kitchen remodeling contractor to build an area that will only be used for meal preparation for children in your program who have food allergies and/or intolerances. The changes can be as simple as adding some extra cabinetry with a small countertop or as complex as transforming a whole pantry into a special meal preparation area.

If there are several children in your care who have special needs when it comes to meal preparation, you'll need to clean and sterilize the work surfaces in between preparing their meals. To make this easier, be sure the countertop is free of cracks and crevices that food can get stuck in.

Use a Designated Set of Utensils & Dishes

It's also important to prepare meals with utensils that have no chance of causing cross-contamination. It's a good idea to purchase a set of utensils for meal preparation and serving that will only be used in the separate area for making meals for children with food allergies and/or intolerances.

To reduce the risk of these utensils getting confused with other utensils, purchase them in bright colors, such as orange or neon green. Also, keep in mind that at some point you may have several children to consider during special meal preparations. Therefore, it's a good idea to stick with one color per offending food. For example, use orange utensils to prepare meals that are dairy-free and blue utensils to prepare meals that are gluten-free.

Alternatively, you can assign a particular color for each child with special requirements for their meals, which may be more beneficial if someone has multiple food allergies and/or intolerances.

Give the Children a Separate Eating Area

Many children love to share their food, whether they realize it or not, simply by getting their fingers messy and touching things while they are eating. They could, perhaps, touch the hand of a child with a life-threatening food allergy and that child might later put his or her hand in her mouth, which can definitely cause a severe allergic reaction.

Because of this, it is important that the children with food allergies sit in a different area from the other children while eating. Purchase a table that will be designated the allergy-free table. Also, always make sure the children wash their hands immediately after eating so they don't spread the offending food to other areas.