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.

16 November 2009

Bewildered by Food Allergy Accommodations in School and the Lack Thereof

In my quest to find ways to help our school become more food allergy friendly, I've called some nearby towns to find out what others are doing nearby. One town just a couple miles away sounds like a model for many public schools' food services departments. Here's what they do:

They do not serve peanuts, nuts or any products containing peanuts or nuts at the elementary school level. Peanut butter is not banned. It just isn't served. There are also no "may contains" peanuts or tree nuts items served. Children in grades K - 2 are not allowed to buy snacks other than fruit, but children in grades 3 - 5 may buy more typical snacks. There is a peanut-free, nut-free table. Now, guess what part of the reasoning is in protecting the youngest students in this manner? You'll be amazed by the common sense exercised by this food services department! The theory is--now hold on to your seats, this is pretty revolutionary--if children are not yet able to read or are not strong readers yet (as is often the case with the younger grades) they might have difficulty reading an ingredient list. Shocking indeed!

In the middle school, there are some items that are "may contains" and there is still a peanut-free, nut-free table. In high school, there is no peanut-free/nut-free table and there are some items which are may contains. The theory behind the different treatment of students of different ages is that as the children mature, they become more responsible and better able to take care of themselves. These children are not being kept in a bubble as so many naysayers would have us think. They are being helped at school and at home to learn to take care of themselves. The school is supporting the efforts of food allergy families. Imagine that!

I got a bit of a chuckle when our food services director poo-pooed the idea of not serving peanut butter to elementary students. No one even hinted at a ban; that is far too controversial. The director compared not serving peanut butter to the challenges of providing suitable dining options for those who--and these are her words--"don't want to eat bambi". Hmm. I wish my son's peanut allergy were as simple as that--merely a food preference, not the life threatening medical condition it is.  Keep in mind, that was just one of her comments--I'll spare you the details of the rest!

On a positive note, we certainly have some good role models nearby to inspire us! If your school is amazing at food allergy management and accommodations, please tell us about it in a comment below. We'd love to hear about some schools that are doing it right!


Jenny said...

Hey Jennifer,

Your post had me chuckling at your descriptions, but also shaking my head at the food director's appalling lack of education. What the heck does Bambi have to with anything???? Clearly she has a problem with vegetarians also, who as you pointed out--CHOOSE--to avoid certain foods. Repeat after me food director: food allergies are not a food preference. They are a medical condition, and potentially life-threatening. Just like diabetes. Capice???

This so-called food director needs to be educated, pronto. Her attitude is very disconcerting as she seems to be fairly hostile to any changes made to the way food is presented. If she doesn't like a job that involves accomodating young children with a serious medical condition, maybe she should get a different one?

The hostility also points to the need for education on food allergies at school. Especially for people serving food to vulnerable children!

The model school system you described sounds pretty much like ours--the levels of responsibility increase for the child as they get more mature. Completely reasonable.

Luckily, most food service folks are not like the "Bambi blowhard." In fact, a food service director in Madison Wisconsin just won an award from FAAN this year.

I'm so sorry you're dealing with this, but I know you can prevail. Please keep us posted!

Ruth Smith said...


I agree with Jenny--we know you can do it!

I too had a chuckle at this post. It's great when we can at least laugh about these things.

You know we had a hard time with our school too and they are getting so much better. Is it perfect-no way. But they are trying.

I love that the nearby district has so much common sense. When it comes down to it--nitty gritty--isn't that what it's all about.

If all these school districts just used "common sense" rather than listening to each and every parent complain--it would all work out in the end.

I have a sweet food allergy cafeteria story I'll post later. It's proof that with a little education--most people can and do get it.

Best of luck!

Every Star Is Different said...

Thank you for this post. Our sons, almost 3 and 15 months both have SEVERAL food allergies. The 15 month old's allergies are quite severe. I'm already freaking out at the possibility of sending them to school, because I have yet to figure out how the school will be able to provide a safe environment for them. As it is we've had to disjoin Toddler Time at the library because of snacks and avoid ANY type of event with food because they are so dangerous. Obviously with toddlers, they're still eating off the floor and off anyone's plates.

It's nice to know someone is doing something in schools. Meanwhile I'm keeping of blog of all of the fun times we have with the food allergies. You can feel free to check it out at http://funwithfoodallergies.blogpsot.com. Thanks again for the info!

Anonymous said...

I am a mother of 4, and my youngest child (age 2) has several severe food allergies. I recently moved to Lawrenceville, GA. Prior to coming here, I researched the school systems, looking at their food services practices and policies. I did this with my children in mind. My baby's siblings are all school-aged, and they know that it's important for them to avoid allergens during the day because one touch from baby brother (if they've been in contact with allergens) can cause him an anaphalatic reaction. I've said all of this to commend
GWINNETT COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS for their efforts to keep food-allergic students safe. Their cafeterias offer seperate, vegetarian and vegan menu items (food & drink). In addition, their health-care/clinic staff are all very well-trained about food allergies, most specifically peanut and dairy allergies. They are able to recognize signs and symptoms as well as correctly use epi-pens when necessary. There have been many cases in the school system when good, effective treatment of food allergy reactions has been provided. GO GWINNETT !!!

Unknown said...

Thanks everyone, for your comments. So thrilled to hear about Gwinnett County Public Schools. Maybe we need to start a food allergy hall of fame for such schools and school districts...

Unknown said...

How about letting the school still serve peanut butter, but instead of a nut free table they can have a table for kids who buy or bring peanut butter. I am going to guess that many students will lose interest in peanut butter once they are required to sit at the "special" table.