With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

11 February 2009

The "In" Table

Those of you with food allergic children, has this ever happened to you? I overheard my non-allergic son, age 8, trying to persuade his peanut allergic younger brother to let him borrow a Medicalert bracelet so he could sit at the peanut allergy table at lunch. The 5 year old, being a very agreeable sort, was more than happy to lend a bracelet. I had to explain to the 8 year old that the teachers and aides know who has peanut and nut allergies and that he would not be able to fool them by wearing a "peanut bracelet". He wanted desperately to sit with some friends who have nut allergies, but each allergic child at the peanut allergy table can select only one non-allergic friend. The peanut allergy table accommodates abut 16 children in total; that is only enough room for 8 allergic children and 8 friends. (There are about 450 students in the school, and three lunch periods.) That makes the non-allergic seats highly desirable. If you're fortunate enough to have more than one friend, this could make lunchtime seating arrangements challenging...and almost political!

I have read that some towns completely eliminate the nut and peanut containing foods sold by the cafeteria, especially peanut butter sandwiches, to prevent cross-contamination and other related problems in school cafeterias. In those towns, children who wish to bring peanut butter sandwiches from home are still able to do so, only "hot lunch" is more allergy friendly. This makes it possible for many of the allergic children to sit with any of their friends who buy "hot lunch". What a forward thinking concept! Our school has not reached this point yet, actually finding ways to include the food allergic children. In some ways, however, the school is pretty progressive--we have a disabilities awareness curriculum for grades 3 to 5, and they are having a few "talks" about asthma and diabetes this year. Maybe next year they can include food allergies in the disabilities awareness program--since there's literally a file cabinet full of epi-pens in the nurse's office--and we can start talking about how to better include children with food allergies in the school community.


Nowheymama said...

Our daughter and her nut-allergic friend have designated desks that are pushed up to the ends of the rectangular lunch tables during their lunch period. They get to sit with their friends, but they don't have to worry about spills on the tables from the previous lunch period.

Unknown said...

That sounds like a good system. It's interesting how many different ways schools or parents have come up with to be inclusive and also protect the kids.

I thought it was odd that my non-allergic son was trying to feign an allergy to sit a the peanut allergy table. Usually, I hear of allergic kids sitting alone. Here, they're competing to see who gets "chosen"!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jennifer for bringing attention to this issue. My K son had the opposite problem in that there were no children with FA during his lunch period. He was at the table alone. We worked out an arrangement with the school so that he now sits at the regular table on the end (it's a rectangle) with a friend across from and next to with nut free lunches or hot lunches that happen to be nut free at our school. The caf staff wash the table (as far as I know) before he sits there. No reactions this year thus far and he gets to sit with his classmates.

Unknown said...

It's awful to be isolated! I am glad the school helped find something that works. Your son must be much happier eating with friends. Our allergic population is getting to be so large in our town, they're going to need a whole allergy section before you know it.

Jenny said...

Jennifer, you'd be a great person to suggest a food allergy addition to the asthma/diabetes/health curriculum at your son's school. Will you let us know if you make any headway?

Our former school district had the "peanut-free" hot lunch program and my daughter could sit with kids who bought lunch. Now we don't have the same type of cafeteria, though there is a "peanut-free" table, but just one for the entire 3rd grade. It's sometimes full! We also have the option of having our kids come home for lunch (a very old-fashioned concept, but I like it since I'm here.) When my daughter does eat at school, she doesn't always eat at the "peanut-free" table, but instead she and another allergic classmate scope out "peanut-free" areas to sit.

I am OK with this, but only because she knows enough to be careful. If she were younger, I'm not so sure.

I'm SO glad to hear that your older son and his classmates choose to sit with their FA friends--that's great.

Jane Anne said...

I am reading back through your "school" posts. This post was incredibly interesting to me. This year will be the 1st year for my school to have a peanut free table in the cafeteria. It's being set up for my son. I am really concerned that he doesn't become isolated. I am meeting in the morning with the principal to explain why waiting until the K class starts (which is a week later than the rest of the school) to implement the peanut-free table isn't a good idea.