Healthy Eating Guideline - Ensure that food is safely prepared for children to eat - from the preparation stages to consumption.Food safety is a critically important consideration in early childhood settings. It includes managing any possible risk of children choking on food, avoiding both allergic reactions and intolerant or sensitive reactions to food, and ensuring that food is not contaminated.
Allergies and intolerancesChildren may have an adverse reaction to eating particular foods. This could be due to an allergy or intolerance.
Food allergiesFood allergies can be life threatening. They are caused by a reaction of the immune system to a protein in a food. The most common sources of food allergy in children under
five are cow’s milk, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, sesame, fish and shellfish. Food allergy occurs in around one in 20 children, and some of these allergies are severe.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction are usually immediate and can include hives or a rash on the skin; swelling of the lips, tongue or mouth; vomiting; diarrhoea; or difficulty breathing. Severe cases of allergic reaction can lead to an anaphylactic reaction, where breathing becomes extremely difficult. This can cause loss of consciousness, severe injury or even death.
When children have a severe food allergy, it is likely that parents will already have an allergy management plan that has been developed with their doctor. Individual allergy management plans must be developed in your setting for children with severe food allergies. Refer to the Australasian Society for Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) website at www.allergy.org.au for information on allergy management plans.
Ensuring that children avoid exposure to food they are allergic to is the only management for food allergies. This means avoiding exposure at all times, including mealtimes and during cooking and craft activities. Close supervision of children with food allergies is required, especially at meal and snack times.
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Everyone working with children needs to be aware of the early symptoms of a food allergy, and must be trained in managing allergic reactions. Every setting should have its own allergy management policy, in addition to individual allergy management plans. Check the local requirements in your state or territory regarding training and allergy management.
Food provided by the settingEnsure that safe, allergen-free foods are provided to children with allergies. Any meals provided in a setting must not include foods to which particular children are allergic. Children should be discouraged from sharing food at all meal and snack times. Some parents of children with allergies may choose to always send meals for their child.
Some settings may decide to completely exclude certain foods from the setting. This is only to be considered with the written recommendation of a medical professional.
Food brought from homeDiscourage children from swapping or sharing food. If a child attending the setting has a severe allergy, a medical professional may recommend introducing a policy that prohibits any food containing that particular allergen from being in the setting at any time. For example, if a child has a peanut allergy, the policy may be that no peanuts or peanut pastes are allowed in the setting at any time. Whether certain policy points are suitable or not depends on the types and numbers of foods that need to be avoided, the severity of the child’s allergy and the possible nutritional impact on other children.
Food intoleranceReactions due to food intolerance are usually less severe than those of food allergy. A larger dose of food is usually required to cause a reaction from food intolerance.
Symptoms of food intolerance can include headaches, skin rashes and stomach upsets. Work with parents to develop a plan to manage a child’s food intolerance – this may include minimising the child’s exposure to particular foods.