What You Need to Know about Food Allergies

Allergies and Intolerances 5 min

Learn about food allergies and intolerances and their symptoms. In addition, see how you can create a safer school environment.

By DFC - PLC, Nutrition Team
student with epi pen
Student sitting on a bench with lunch kit and epi pen.


  • Definition of a food allergy and its symptoms
  • Definition of a food intolerance and its symptoms
  • Tips for managing lactose intolerance
  • Tips for creating a safer school environment
  • Food substitutions in cooking activities

What You Need to Know about Food Allergies

These days, schools seem to have more students with food allergies.  With some basic information and a few simple tips, you can help create a safer school environment for these students.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system misidentifies a substance in food as being harmful.  This substance is called an allergen. Symptoms of a food allergy can include itching, vomiting, cramps, difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.

Did You Know?

People often confuse the terms “food allergy” and “food intolerance.” Unlike a food allergy, a food intolerance is an unpleasant reaction to a food that does not involve the immune system.  Rather, a food intolerance happens when someone has difficulty digesting a component of a food. As a result, uncomfortable digestive problems (such as gas, bloating and diarrhea) are often symptoms.  Food intolerances may cause symptoms people wish to avoid but are not life threatening.

Diagnosis is Important

A food allergy or intolerance should be diagnosed by a physician so that the child is not unnecessarily deprived of certain foods.

Managing lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance occurs when someone cannot digest lactose, a natural sugar found in milk.  Lactose intolerance causes mostly gastrointestinal symptoms (such as gas, bloating and diarrhea).  Unlike people with a milk allergy, people with lactose intolerance can still include milk products in their diet by consuming them in small amounts, with meals or incorporated into recipes, or by taking lactase (an enzyme that helps digest lactose).  They can also choose to include lactose-free milk products in their diet.  It all depends on individual tolerance.  People who are allergic to milk must avoid milk products altogether.


What You Can Do to Create a Safer School Environment?

Here are a few things you can do when you have students with food allergies in your group:

  • Be aware of and regularly review both the emergency plan for each student with food allergies and your school’s anaphylaxis emergency plan.
  • Inform parents that a student in the class has a food allergy.
  • Ask students to wash their hands with soap and water before and after meals and snacks.  Antibacterial disinfectants alone are not as effective at removing traces of certain food allergens.
  • Ensure that students with food allergies avoid sharing food, utensils or food containers with their classmates.

Food substitutions for cooking activities

You can substitute for the ingredients listed below as follows:

Peanut Butter

  • Soy butter
  • Sunflower butter
  • Wowbutter


  • 3 Tbsp to ¼ cup (45-60 mL) plain yogurt for one egg
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) boiling water and ½ tsp (2.5 mL) baking soda
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) pureed fruit or vegetable (such as apples, pears, bananas, sweet potato or squash) for 1 egg


  • Dairy-free margarine (with or without soy)
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil


  • Fortified plain soy beverage
  • Fortified rice beverage
  • Coconut milk

Wheat (flour)

  • Mixture of wheat-free flours (such as rice, quinoa, chia, amaranth, chick pea, hemp)


For more information on food allergies in a school setting and to access resources for educators, visit: http://foodallergycanada.ca/resources/resources-for-educators/



For All Ages
Allergies and intolerances

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