Welcoming kids with differences oftentimes requires churches to think through what it means to accommodate participants with various food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies.

Inquire about Food Intolerances at Registration or Child Check-In

The best way to protect everyone in the ministry setting is to proactively prompt parents to reveal their child’s special needs on the initial parent registration form:

Our church cares for the success and safety of each participant inside our children’s ministry. Does your child have any food intolerance, medical condition, learning difference, or other special need of which our ministry team should be aware? (circle one): Yes / No

If the parent circles “Yes,” then they would be asked to complete a separate and more detailed special needs questionnaire. This standard form would provide parents a non-threatening opportunity to elaborate on their child’s needs, which may often indicate dietary restrictions. While diplomatic in-person conversations with parents are crucial to helping a family feel accepted by the church, obtaining written documentation is equally important so that facts do not get lost in translation or forgotten.

Questions pertaining to dietary needs and potentially included on this special needs form may include:

My child has the following allergies, food sensitivities or dietary restrictions:

My child’s allergies can be life-threatening (circle one): Yes / No

An EPIPen may be required to halt an anaphylactic reaction for my child (circle one): Yes / No

Understand Common Food Intolerances

GFCF (Gluten Free Casein Free)This diet may be part of a child’s treatment plan for any number of diagnoses or vital to their physical well-being.

GF (Gluten Free) – This diet is often associated with medical and health requirement for individuals diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Celiac Disease is a genetic and autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself when exposed to gluten which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and many brands of oats.

Casein Free – Refers to a diet eliminating a naturally occurring protein commonly found in dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt.

Food Allergies – A hypersensitivity to a dietary substance (e.g., nuts) causing an overreaction of the immune system, which may lead to severe physical symptoms.

Anaphylaxis – A serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death. Symptoms and signs of an allergic emergency include hives, redness of the sin, tightness of the throat, breathing problems, and/or decrease in blood pressure. Common causes of anaphylaxis include food, medication, insect stings, latex, and occasionally but rarely, exercise.

EPIPen – A trade name for one type of epinephrine autoinjector. Epinephrine shots deliver a measured dose of medication to treat acute allergic reactions and the onset of anaphylactic shock. Other names for this type of medical device include: EpiPenTwinjectAdrenaclickAnapen, and Jext. Individuals at heightened risk for anaphylaxis reactions should carry these types of devices with them at all times. Caregivers may need training to understand how and when to administer an injection.

Prepare for Dietary Differences

Children’s ministry teams may want to keep GFCF snacks on hand or require families to provide their own snacks so that the health of impacted children is not jeopardized during church. In addition, crafts may need to be planned around food sensitivities because touching products containing gluten may be harmful. Be sure to review the ingredients of certain brands of modeling clay or putty, glue, inkpads and paints. See the attached download for the form that Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, uses to select gluten-free products to use in their children’s ministry and special needs ministry environments.

Gluten Free Snack List

For more guidance helping churches successfully include children with special needs, see www.TheInclusiveChurch.com.

A special THANK YOU to Amy Fenton Lee from www.TheInclusiveChurch.com for this guest post.