School snacks - the Great Debate!

The first week of school has come and gone, and already there is controversy!

So the question of the day is: Are schools going too far in banning foods on the basis of allergies?

The school my children attends is a public school, very multi-cultural, and has over 700 kids in it. With the increase in children having nut allergies, it is acceptable that the school ban nuts and products with nuts in them. In the front office of this school is a room that contains pictures off all the children in the school who have allergies, along with their spare epi pens (which is copied in each of the classrooms.) This room is full, every wall filled with pictures of smiling children.

This is a reasonable request and one that is fairly easy to comply with. My oldest son isn't happy with the no peanut butter, but he is also old enough to understand it and accept it. His best friend being allergic to nuts certainly doesn't hurt the situation in our case, and because of it, we too have made our home nut free.

Then the requests become unreasonable.

On the first day of school, my oldest child, in grade two, went off with his new lunch box with a reasonable lunch. He had waffles that had been toasted and cut into sticks. He had fruit, a yogurt drink, two homemade cookies and a homemade banana blueberry muffin. Enough food for energy, enough "treats" to satisfy him (and since I made them and loaded them with fruit, I was okay with them too), and enough fruit and dairy to make me happy.

Then he came home with a note stating that there was a child in his class with allergies to eggs, potentially life threatening allergies, so please do not send lunches that include items such as egg salad, devilled eggs, anything with eggs. Including baked goods.

Many of us were confused by this? You mean those cookies I sent in his lunch, or even the muffin or waffles, could have killed this child? (No one knew the answer, they hadn't spoken to the parents of this child yet.) In the case of the cookies, the recipe made 3 dozen cookies and included 1 egg. We sent the note back asking for clarification on this portion of the letter. (And note that the letter came home after the first day of school, when 1/3rd of my son's lunch, and probably most of his classmates, lunches could have caused a problem.)

The response we got was to please include more fruit and vegetables in the children's lunches.

Sure I can swap out his muffin for a second fruit, or a vegetable (assuming I can find one he'll eat for lunch,) but what do I do about the main portion of his lunch? He doesn't like sandwiches often (except peanut butter), likes bagels sometimes (which could have egg wash on them), likes pasta in a thermos (egg in the pasta dough) and loves his waffles (which contain egg.) I can't swap those items out for fruit or vegetables. Or I could, but I would be getting home a half eaten lunch and a child who was starving and not doing well.

Which raised another issue for some parents - when your child is allergic to nuts, the safest treats to put in your childs lunch are those that are home baked. Now we were a bunch of parents scrambling to find items to put in their lunches that didn't involve egg anywhere in the ingredient list.

To add to the confusion, at least one class came home with a similar note where the allergen in question was milk, milk products and milk derivatives such as whey. It had the same request, no milk products, and no baked goods containing any kind of milk products.

No you may not send a milk to drink as a snack for your growing child. Send juice instead.

So have these kinds of food bans gone too far? What are we teaching our children, and those children who have the allergies to begin with? Would it not be better to teach the children about food safety, washing hands and tables, not sharing food, building in time to have the children brush their teeth?

I will be following up this post with a post that shows some of the non-egg containing recipes I managed to find to make for my son's lunches, but in the mean time, pass this blog along, make a comment, and if you have any egg-less baked goods recipes, please pass them along to me!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

unbelievable! it is definitely up to the parent of the child to make sure they understand what they can or cannot eat. I do understand the nut allergy, because that is nasty. but eggs and milk? come on! perhaps that child should be attending a private school, or home schooled if he is that much at risk in the public.
I have friends who's child cannot eat any type of traditional grain - it is a nasty one. but from about 3 years old, he new what would make him sick.
Our society is getting crazy, so much control, next, all restaraunts will be legislated to have nut/egg/milk/grain free environments..."Here's your water, that'll be $19.95 please...Kar

Ken said...

I think its getting out of control, and the parents are not doing the kid with the allergy any favor. They're teaching him/her that the world is a safe place, by coercing the safeness where they can. But for a child with a serious allergy, the world is NOT a safe place and the sooner they learn this the safer they will be.

By the time a child with allergies is school age, they should KNOW that they cannot trade lunches, they cannot eat anything someone hands them. They have to know what is in it...

It is the responsibility of the parents and the child to safeguard his welfare, not the responsibility of the world to be a safe place for him.

We've raised a child with a serious allergy, and it is something he has to be constantly aware of... Where the possible sources of his allergens might be hiding, to question how it was prepared etc. You can't start teaching this vigilance too early.

Anonymous said...

Hi Quel, Cuda here.

I'm impressed with your efforts to cater to these, in my opinion, rediculous desires of the school. I can't seem to get over hearing in my head;
"Excuse me, we have a child that has a food allergy in close proximity to your child. Instead of having his parents teach him/her not to eat anything not given to them by said parents, we've decided to have everyone else modify their lifestyle and eating habits instead." GAH!

I can honsetly guarantee you my reaction would not have been to start looking for egg substitution recipes. It would have been to contact said school and ask if they were out their ever lovin minds. If a child has a food allergy I can and do have sympathy for said child in that they will have to learn to deal with the dangers of food quite a few of us do not. But modify my lifestyle down to such a basic level as to include what I decide to eat? Sorry, I am not the one with the allergy.

If we exclude all foods from school grounds that any child may be allergic to in some way or another, luch would consist of water. The many bending over backwards and catering to the few has always gotten my goat, sorry for the ramble hon.

O;)

Quellia said...

I can understand the frustration Cuda, and admit I would like to just say no and send whatever I send, but if something did happen because of something I sent, knowing these kids aren't being taught about safety, I couldn't handle the guilt from it!

Nothing at home is changing, I'm just making sure that what I send in for school snacks is egg free. If I were in the milk class, that would be a different issue all together!

William said...

I have five children aged 4 to 15. None of them have allergies.

We too have made adjustments to our children's lunches to accomodate those parents who have children who are allergic. Our kids go to a small school, and we know most of the parents, personally, who have the children with allergies.

I have never considered it a strain to attempt to make my friends and neighbors children a little bit safer.

However, probabilities say that your child is still far more likely to be run over by a car on the way to school than die of an allergic reaction. The alterations I am willing to make to mitigate one risk are similar to the alterations I am willing to make to mitigate the other.

We band together to provide crossing guards, and we band together to gudie the selection of school lunches. Note that there is nothing requiring you to participate in the crossing guards, nor is there any law that compels you to alter your child's lunch. Indeed, the child with allergies should and likely will not alter their behavior at all simply because of a specific allergen ban, they are no safer because of it and it makes no difference to them. They must assume *all* food not prepared by a trusted adult is potentially lethal. Poor kid.

So why make a change which makes no difference: because it might reassure one mother a little bit. And a small accomodation for that is reasonable.

What I think is objectionable here is the school's rather bureacratic and silly attempt to enforce a globabl ban. Ridiculous.

Alison said...

if you have the chance, check out Anna's website at http://www.cookiemadness.net. She does alot of vegan and allergy free foods. Most of them are cookies & sweets, but maybe it will give you a few ideas!

Izzy said...

Quel,

My initial reaction to this was along the lines of what the first Anonymous guy had to say... perhaps these guys should go to a private school for those allergically challenged. Or be home schooled. But I've thought a bit about it since then and I have some questions.

Does your school offer school lunch? How do they deal with the problem?

I remember when I was in elementary and high school. I didn't know anyone with allergies. Was I just incredibly unobservant, or did people just not know about allergies then, or did kids really not have allergies back then? Or did the kids with allergies all just die? I mean there's a SERIOUS discrepancy here. Your school of 700 people has a roomful of kids with serious allergies, and my school had NONE? In fact ALL of my schools had none? The school lunchrooms served lots of things with eggs. And sometimes nuts. And milk.

There is a guy here at work that is allergic to gluten in wheat, barley, and one other grain that I can't remember. If he eats something with gluten in it, he gets skin problems. It isn't life threatening, but it's bad enough that when he goes to lunch with us he has unique things to eat. Taco salad without the taco shell. Pizza without the crust. Sandwiches without the bread. Pasta made out of rice or spinach. He can't even eat the clam chowder down in the cafeteria because the chowder uses wheat flour as a thickener. This guy was 30 before he even discovered what was causing the rash. It's a minor pain, but he doesn't inconvenience any of the rest of us. If, when he is with us, WE couldn't eat anything with gluten in it, he probably would eat lunch by himself most of the time.

Another question is, do we have any idea what causes these allergies, or is there any treatment on the horizon? I've heard theories that hyper-disinfecting your home when your children are babies will result in them having immune deficiencies later, because they don't get practice fighting off relatively benign germs when they are really little. Not sure how much of that I really believe, but you know how I feel about protecting your children so much they don't get a chance to experience life. It fits in with my pet peeve pretty well.

The real question we're asking, though, is whose job is it to make sure these kids don't die of allergic reaction? If I sent my son to school with a waffle, with specific instructions "Don't let Sammy eat this--it'll kill him.", and Sammy ignored that and ate it and died, how badly would I feel? I'm not sure. Certainly it's not fair to all the other kids (and mothers) to have them go to extensive lengths to supply lunches without eggs. But nobody deserves to die of egg poisoning. Like William said, it's not all that likely that he will die of allergic reaction. He does things that are statistically more dangerous every day. So is the "guilt I would feel if something did happen" divided by the "probability that something might happen" worse than the inconvenience of making sure something doesn't happen? Well, that's a personal choice that each parent has to make. Accidents do happen. If something really did happen you could argue that it really wasn't your fault--you didn't try to poison him. But you'd also feel bad because you COULD HAVE prevented it. For what that's worth. For some people, the "guilt they would feel..." is infinite, so really no matter how small the probability of something happening, it's worth massive amounts of work and expense to make sure it doesn't happen. Even though making absolutely sure really is also impossible and you can't protect against everything. Accidents will still happen. For other people, it's not their problem. If something happened, they would blow it off. It was an accident. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

For me in this case, I'd have to know more about how bad the egg allergy is. Obviously the kid has survived long enough to find out that he has this allergy, so it isn't so deadly he'll die if he touches a cookie. If he's not going to die by touching the waffle, and you can reasonably trust your son to not share his cookie with Sammy if you label it, I'd probably consider that as good enough. I'd make up some really cool nuclear fallout "warning--contains minor amounts of poultry zygote" stickers and put it on the ziploc with the waffles and cookies.