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!