Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

Students With Food Allergies Are Lonelier: Here’s How to Help

By Ayelet Fishbach — January 26, 2022 2 min read
How do I help kids with food allergies not feel left out?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

What can I do to help students with food allergies at class parties?

Kids with food restrictions feel left out when they can’t fully participate at a party. Here’s something I wrote recently about the topic for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

When my son was in preschool, he was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity. It’s a mild condition, his pediatrician assured us, one he’d most likely outgrow (and he eventually did). But for the time being, he needed to abstain from gluten.

Adjusting my son’s diet was relatively easy, since gluten-free bread and pasta are now ubiquitous. What I didn’t expect was the social toll. He was so frustrated when he couldn’t eat at school birthday parties that I was tempted to pull him out each time before the cake—and his inevitable tears—arrived.

Meals are inherently a social activity. Most of us would rather eat with others than alone and with good reason: Sharing similar foods forms a social connection. In our research, my colleagues and I found, a child who misses out on birthday cake or pizza at a school party is less deprived of a treat than of the social bond that sharing food engenders.

In one study, we asked elementary school teachers to rate each student on statements like “the child feels left out of things” and “the child is well-liked by other children.” We found that students with food restrictions were less integrated—in other words, they were lonelier. Kids who were new to the class or had a learning difficulty had an even harder time socially, but having a food allergy had a bigger impact on loneliness than being a non-native English speaker did.

And the effect extends beyond food allergies. In another study, we assigned students under the age of 21 to play games with others who could legally consume alcohol. When the underage students thought their peers drank wine instead of sparkling cider, they felt left out.

Don’t think of food allergies solely as a nutritional issue. The damage to social well-being is just as consequential.

Do recognize that breaking bread is often less about the food itself than the connection over a shared interest. To compensate, young people with food allergies can form bonds in other ways—say, by participating in team sports, playing an instrument as part of an ensemble, or using screen time to play team-based computer games. Food restrictions may be on the rise, but loneliness doesn’t have to be.

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion What Does the Dangerous Political Climate Mean for Schools?
Educators and researchers offer advice for navigating political polarization in the classroom.
5 min read
Grunge Collage styled urban graphic of US election
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Student Well-Being Q&A Why Educators Need to Better Understand What Drives Kids' Cellphone Addictions
As more school and day-to-day tasks are completed on smartphones and computers, teens struggle to manage their screen time.
3 min read
Young man and woman without energy on giant phone screen with speech and heart icons above them. Addiction. Contemporary art collage. Concept of social media, influence, online communication
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + iStock
Student Well-Being Q&A When Social Media and Cellphones Are Lifelines to Kids Who Feel Different
Like it or not, social media is an important venue for teens to find community and hone their identities.
4 min read
Young girl looking on mobile phone screen with multicolored social media icons. Finding community, belonging. Contemporary art collage. Concept of social media, influence, online communication and connection.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + iStock
Student Well-Being Q&A ‘It’s OK to Not Be on Your Phone’: An 18-Year-Old on Teaching Cellphone Etiquette
Whether it's asking permission to take a photo of someone or dimming a screen in a movie theater, kids need lessons in cellphone etiquette.
3 min read
Photo collage of hands holding phones with communication symbols superimposed. Learning phone etiquette.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + iStock/Getty Images