Everything You Need to Know About Food Allergies

Allergies and Intolerances 8 min

Learn about food intolerances and allergies, learn to recognize symptoms and get tips on creating a safer school environment.

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


  • Food allergies and their symptoms explained
  • Food intolerances and their symptoms explained
  • Tips for working around food allergies and intolerances
  • Tips for creating a safe school environment
  • Food substitutions for cooking activities

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts abnormally to a specific food. Foods that cause allergies are called allergens. Allergy symptoms can include cramps, itching, vomiting, difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis, which can be fatal.

Food allergies seem to be getting more and more common. The information below will help you create a safer school environment.

How to create a safer school environment

Here’s what to do if students in your class have allergies:

  • Have students wash their hands with soap and water before and after meals and snacks. Antibacterial disinfectants (hand sanitizers) don’t remove the residues of some allergens as effectively as soapy water.
  • Consult the allergic student’s emergency plan and the school’s anaphylaxis emergency plan.
  • Make sure the allergic student doesn’t share food, utensils or containers with other students.
  • Let parents know that a student in the class has a food allergy.

For more information on food allergies at school and resources for educators, visit : Food Allergy Canada.

Did you know?

People often get food intolerances and food allergies mixed up.

An intolerance is an unpleasant reaction to eating food, but unlike an allergy, it does not involve the immune system. Symptoms of food intolerance are often gastrointestinal in nature, such as bloating and gas, and are not usually life-threatening.

Tips for working around food intolerances

Lactose intolerance occurs when the body has difficulty digesting lactose, the sugar naturally present in milk. Lactose intolerance causes mainly gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas and diarrhea.

People who are lactose intolerant can still consume small amounts of dairy products at meals or in recipes, or they can take tablets or drops containing lactase, the enzyme that helps digest lactose. People can also opt for lactose-free dairy products depending on their level of tolerance. In contrast, people who are allergic to milk must avoid all dairy products completely.


Confirm the diagnosis with the child’s parent or guardian if you suspect a child has a food allergy or intolerance to avoid depriving them of certain foods for no reason.

Food substitutions for cooking activities

Here are some suggested substitutes for the ingredients listed below.


  • Plain enriched soy milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Enriched rice milk

Wheat (flour)

  • Wheat-free flour mixes (e.g., quinoa, amaranth, chickpea, rice, chia and/or hemp flour)

Peanut butter

  • Wowbutter
  • Pea butter
  • Soy butter
  • Sunflower butter


  • 3 Tbsp to ¼ cup (45–60 mL) plain yogurt for 1 egg
  • 1 tsp (15 mL) boiling water and ½ tsp (2.5 mL) baking soda for 1 egg
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) fruit or vegetable purée (e.g., banana, pear, apple, squash or sweet potato) for 1 egg


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



Multi level
Allergies and intolerances
Healthy eating