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Food Allergens in Arts and Crafts: What you Need to Know.

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Do you have a child with food allergies who can’t get enough of arts and crafts?

Unfortunately for food allergy families, it isn’t all rainbows, sparkles, and glitter.

There can be a lot to think about when it comes to food allergens in arts and crafts. Does chalk have dairy? Why is it that my child seems to have a paint allergy?

Do you feel like you may have heard some of this before, but you are having a hard time remembering what’s what? Or maybe this is all news to you?

I get it. There are so many things to think about when it comes to being a food allergy parent or caregiver.

This article will discuss many of the hidden food allergens in popular arts and crafts products used at home or in settings such as daycares or schools.

So all you crafters, get your favorite colored gel pens and puffy paints to take notes with as we dive in.

Post updated February 2023

Food Allergens in Arts and Crafts in the Classroom and at Home

Arts and crafts are important for developing fine motor skills, help to provide a calm environment, and also foster creativity. They are an important part of childhood.

Think about your child’s favorite arts and crafts. Is it playing with play dough, planting plants, making bird feeders, coloring with chalk, or maybe using finger paints?

Unfortunately, all of these arts and crafts could contain either an obvious or not so obvious food allergen.

Here’s something to remember, even those obvious sources of food allergens may not be so obvious to the food allergy uninitiated. The well-meaning teacher, babysitter, or grandparent can easily miss allergens in crafts.

Food Allergen Exposure Through Touch

You can have an allergic reaction after touching, inhaling, or ingesting food. 

The severity of this type of reaction will vary from person to person. However, ingestion of a food allergen typically induces more of a severe reaction than touching a food allergen.

Do you have a child that likes to suck on marker caps, fingers, pencils, play dough, etc.? Many young children, especially children who are two to five years old, put their hands/objects in their mouth throughout the day.

It is estimated that a child may put their hand/objects in their mouth approximately 40 times an hour! Many craft items can pose a risk even though they are not intended to be ingested.

Common Culprits of Hidden Food Allergens in Arts and Crafts

Although this is not a complete list, I have provided a list of arts and crafts that commonly contain food allergens.

It is important to note that you should always read the label for information on what is contained in the product. Manufacturers should be contacted about products so that manufacturing practices can be explained.

Here is a list of common arts and crafts that contain food allergens:

1. Food Sensory Bins

Food Sensory bins have become very common and popular in childcare settings. Usually, the contents of the food sensory bins are rotated out frequently. 

I hate to evoke fear, but I once witnessed a food sensory bin with peanut shells! Definitely not an appropriate choice if there was a child with a peanut allergy.

Be sure to ask what is being placed in these food sensory bins to be sure that it is safe for your child.

More importantly, have an open dialogue with your child’s daycare or school regarding notifying you what their plans are for filling the food sensory bins PRIOR to the bin being filled. 

This way a child is not walking into an environment that may not be appropriate.

2. Chalk

A common question is, “does chalk have dairy?” The answer is, possibly. Quite often dustless chalk contains a milk protein, casein. This dustless chalk may cause respiratory symptoms or even asthma attacks in the child with a milk allergy.

Be sure to look at the box to check ingredients. A dry erase board may be more appropriate in a classroom setting for a child with a milk allergy.

3. Use of Candy or Macaroni for Counting or Crafting

Again, it is so important to talk to your child’s caregiver about their particular needs. Macaroni noodles normally contain both wheat and egg.

Candy may contain or be cross-contaminated with multiple allergens, especially peanuts, tree nuts, egg, wheat, or milk.

4. Tempera Paint and Finger Paints

Tempera Paint may contain egg. Finger paints may contain milk or even corn starch (who would have thought?). Any art project that involves laundry detergent should be checked for corn. Be sure to check the label for safe options for your child.

5. Shaving Cream

Increasing in popularity for crafts, especially coloring Easter eggs, shaving cream can be an issue for individuals with a milk allergy.

6. Play Dough

As discussed above, play dough may contain wheat. Be sure to look for alternate options if your child has a wheat allergy.

Modeling clay, sand, or slime may be better options. Or you can make your own play dough paying attention to all ingredients added.

Here is a Play Dough Recipe that May Be Appropriate for Your Child:

  • 1 cup rice flour
  • ½ cup salt
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar 
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 Tablespoon Oil of choice
  • Food coloring (optional)

Mix dry ingredients together. Add water, oil, and coloring. Cook on low heat until dough begins to form, stirring constantly. Place onto parchment paper and allow time to cool before playing with dough.

Other ideas for allergy free play dough recipes can be found at the (AAAAI) American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology’s website.

7. Using Containers

Many teachers may request egg crates to plant plants or milk cartons to make a birdfeeder. These containers used to contain potential food allergens and this should be a consideration before use.

8. Birdfeeders

Nuts, Seeds, and peanut butter may all be a concern.

Right after my son’s tree nut and sunflower seed allergy diagnosis he was invited to a birthday party where the kids were making bird feeders. The hostess was so great, she prepared an alternative birdfeeder craft for my son.

He had a safe place to work, while not feeling excluded. 

9. Crayons

Crayons may contain soy. Be sure to look for a soy free crayon if this is an issue.

Final Thoughts 

Food allergy management comes down to more than ingestion of food. 

Paying attention to what’s in different arts and crafts is important for a child with food allergies, especially given the fact that so many young children often put their hands or objects in their mouths several times an hour.

Educating others is key when it comes to food allergy management. It stinks, but even something as innocent and fun as crafts can be dangerous for food allergy kids.

But given the right substitutions of products or ingredients, kids with food allergies can have fun, stay safe and be included.

Want an easy free tool to help your caregiver understand food allergies? Sign up for my freebie What to Know About My Child’s Food Allergies. It covers all types of important information about your child’s food allergy, including arts and crafts.

Last Updated on February 8, 2023 by Amber DeVore, RD, CSSD, CLT

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