"The part of getting my kids ready to go back to school that I dread the most."

I have three packets of brown lunch bags in the drawer and we’re counting down the day until school returns so it isn’t as much of a shock when the big day arrives. For all of us.

But here’s what we have to do that most families don’t: We have to prepare my son for another year of dealing with his severe food allergies at school.

Jo with her kids.

At the start of each year we have to:

1. Meet with the doctor.

We visit our GP and ask for our annual referral for food allergy testing at Sydney Children’s Hospital. Without it, we can’t even make our appointments for the year. This year Philip will be ‘food challenged’ to see if he can finally eat small amounts of egg.

We then ask for a prescription for the two government-subsidised EpiPens we are entitled to each year. The prescriptions means the first two cost only $40 each. But I have to buy at least one more which will cost $140. Coupled with each EpiPen will be a packet of chewable antihistamine at $30 each.

One emergency pack will stay with me, one goes to school and the other travels with Philip wherever he goes.

“We visit our GP and ask for our annual referral for food allergy testing.”

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2. Spend a fortune at the chemist.

We buy three EpiPens and three packets of antihistamine at the chemist. As usual they are reluctant to sell me a third without a prescription before I remind them that I could buy ten if I wanted, the prescription just lowers the cost of the two.

So give me my bloody EpiPens please.

EpiPens expire every 12 months and also need to be replaced if, God forbid, they have been used to save your child’s life.

Click through our gallery of the most common allergies. (Post continues after gallery):

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3. Lolly shopping.

Next, we pack 6-8 small lolly bags to be kept in Philip’s classroom that term. Every time there is a birthday or food event in class, Philip doesn’t participate and instead gets to eat one of his special lolly bags instead.

A lolly bag for special times.

At first he used to feel left out, so I started trying to send in similar foods to those that would be in class that day like special egg-less pancakes on Pancake Day. But now he prefers the lolly bags, which he has designed himself to contain all his favourite lollies.

He is the envy of his friends.

4. Meet the teachers.

I organise a meeting with his teacher/teachers for the year. This year he is in an open learning classroom so I will request a meeting with all of the teachers in Year 5 that year. They all need to be made aware of Philip and his food allergies, what the rules are surrounding the management of his allergies and what to do if he has a reaction.

Despite strict school policy on allergies, meeting with teachers keeps it top of mind and opens up a dialogue about it which is very important.

5. Study the school calendar.

Get a copy of the new school calendar and search it for any and all events involving food including cake stalls and donut days. Jot them down in my diary so I can organise alternative foods or possibly volunteer to help run them so I can bring in something for Philip.

Then remember that the women who run the stalls don’t like me and instead plan to send him an alternate snack instead.

Save the date! Credit: iStock.

6. Excursions and camps.

Identify all excursions and camps and make inquiries about the food at these locations. Send the first of several emails to the principal asking if the kids will be eating there, what their plans are for the food allergy kids and ask if it is okay if I keep him home for those that sound particularly dangerous, which I did when his class visited a temple and cooked and ate fried rice, an egg-allergy parents worst nightmare.


This year is school camp which I have been having nightmares about for years. Do I keep him home or let him go? I want to keep him go but he is desperate to go. Then I recall the food allergy deaths at school camps – all too common when venues aren’t used to catering to allergy kids – and I talk to my husband about taking him to Queensland instead.

Then I decide to let him go but I will have to visit the venue first.

7. Practice.

We always talk about food allergies in our family but I increase the frequency of them to make sure Philip is ready to manage them this year. Each year his responsibility grows. The older he gets, the more dangerous it becomes because he has more activities and I’m not always there.

He uses all the expired EpiPens to practice, saving the life of several oranges, pretending they are his upper thigh and he is struggling to breathe.

We talk about peer pressure, about bullying, what to say and what to do when he feels upset about his food allergies.

8. Emergency action plans.

I contact the hospital and ask for new Anaphylaxis Action Plans to be used at the school – one for his classroom, one for the tuckshop and one for their records. I give them five, just in case.

They laminate and distribute them.

Every year there are more. The school tuckshop is wallpapered with them. Where are all these life-threatening allergies coming from? Why is it happening? How can we cure them?

Food is no longer just food for these kids.

9. Breathe.

I actively try and swallow down the panic that starts to rise. What if he has a reaction and I am not there? What if they don’t give him is EpiPen? What if the ambulance gets lost? What if he dies? What if, what if, what if?

Look up home schooling, for the hundredth time, and consider doing it but then quickly realise that I have to teach him how to manage his food allergies and live a normal life. When he is all grown up I won’t be there. Now is the only time I have to teach him how to look after himself and to deal with those who don’t understand what a big deal it is or who, worse still, make him feel bad about it.

I really hope you don’t have to do any of these things. Maybe you have a child with special needs and there are other preparations you need to make ahead of the school year. I hope you have a brilliant school year and I hope that the most upsetting part of it is the loss of several high-bounce balls or a forgotten school lunch.

How are you preparing for the start of school?

To find out more about managing food allergies visit and

This post originally appeared on iVillage and has been republished with permission.