Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Food Allergy Exclusion: Sometimes Life's Not Fair!

Food Allergy Exclusion: Life's Not Fair

With food allergy rates skyrocketing, especially among children, there's a lot of talk these days about inclusion in schools.

Let me start by saying that as a food allergy mom of two I am totally pro-inclusion!

My kiddos are collectively allergic to tree nuts, mustard and eggs, and my son is anaphylactic to peanuts. There are things I have come to expect from our school so they don't feel excluded.

  • I fully expect our classrooms to be nut free
  • I expect my kids to be able to eat with their class and not in a corner or a separate room all alone.
  •  I expect them to be able to participate in class parties and school events. 
  • I expect them to be safe!

I do not, however, believe that all cupcakes should be banned from the entire school! I think that the idea of "non-food fun" sounds a little, well-not fun! (I really, really love food so maybe this is an issue I should work on). 

I think that as long as kids are safe, it's okay for them to learn that maybe sometimes they just can't have something they want, even if the other kids have it.

I believe that kids need to learn that sometimes life's not fair!

They are going to need this important lesson in their lives, because it's going to come up over and over. Someday they are going to train hard for a race and then trip at the finish line. They are going to have a teacher that is a real jerk. They are going to get dumped, or fired, or passed up for the part in the school play they deserved.

Don't get me wrong. Like most Moms, I want to kiss every boo-boo and make it better. If a friend breaks their heart, mine breaks too. I want their little lives to be all sunshine and glitter and rainbows, I really do!

But shouldn't the other kids get to be happy too? Should we steal the joy from the face of the birthday boy who wants to bring his special treat to class, ban every Easter Egg hunt and Halloween party? Should we just play pin the tail on the donkey and give each kid a pencil and call it a party? Come on, honestly, what kid wants a pencil?!

I have heard some allergy parents say that parties shouldn't revolve around food anyway, that food is not imperative to fun. Certainly, there is some truth to this idea. There are a lot of ways to entertain kids without food. 

However, as an adult when you are invited to a party, what do you expect?  When you arrive, you want a cold drink and some hors d'oeurves at a bare minimum! What is the first thing you look for after making a few pleasantries with the host and maybe do a little mingling? The food table. Admit it. You are making a beeline for that food table!

True, parties do not have to be all about food. We can definitely put more of an emphasis on games and activities and prizes. But lets not completely deprive kids of a few special holiday treats. 

What about our kids? 
  • Send in safe snacks. Find some gluten free prepackaged cupcakes or nut free candies to keep at school for those unexpected days when snacks may arrive. 
  • Be present at parties when possible to help your child choose safe foods. 
  • Make special non allergic treats for party days
  • Ensure the teacher communicates to the other parents if your child has a severe allergy and a certain food needs to be avoided. Most parents and teachers are very accommodating.

For my kids we requested nut free rooms due to the risk of anaphylaxis. I didn't ask that our classrooms be egg or mustard free because even though my daughter couldn't eat those foods, it wasn't going to kill her if someone near her ate them, or if she accidentally ingested a bit of them.

Yes, my son and daughter are the kids that don't get to eat the cupcakes. And you know what? They have survived!

We food allergy parents need to band together in solidarity to keep our kids safe! But if it's not a safety issue, maybe we can lighten up just a bit? Let's be fair but reasonable. 

Don't let food allergy parents go down in history as the Grinches that stole school parties! 

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  1. I love this! We've been dealing with food allergies for twelve years (and two kids), and it was only recently in the past two or three years that I've heard the push for food-free events. Although I'm lucky that our schools eliminated food based treats for birthdays quite a few years ago, I don't mind celebrations at school. I have always been able to suggest safe alternates for any event, and though sometimes parents might send in the wrong brands, I have never had anything that couldn't get worked around. I sometimes wonder if some of the push back that people get is from trying to take everything away. However, my primary concern is that my kids who live with food allergies every day NEED to learn how to deal with being left out. Now, I don't expect that they should be left out of things all of the time. But my kids have learned how to go to events for the fun, and not just the food. They have been learning how to cope with this since they were little. It's their reality. If you wait until they are older, and they always expect everything to be fully inclusive for them, they will not know how to deal with it. Thanks for writing this!

    1. Thanks Lori! It's hard to walk that line sometimes! To keep them safe and happy and normal all at the same time. Thanks for the feedback!

  2. My son is one so I haven't had to deal with anything serious in regards to allergies up to this point except for having to give up diary and soy products while nursing (he has since grown out of it). So, I can't imagine what you go through on a daily basis. I was a teacher in a public school though. We actually did not have a ban place. Although I never came across a really serious allergy my years there. I have done some research though and the national board of allergists actually don't recommend bans because they create a false sense of security. Instead, educating and training staff are more beneficial. As a mom of a child with severe allergies, what are your thoughts on this? Do you think bans have the potential to create a false sense of security (among teachers, staff, etc.)? I'm just curious what's the best approach to allergies as a former teacher and since they are on the rise.

    1. Tricia, that's a great question! I think that kids with a severe allergy need a nut free "buffer", not necessarily a whole school! Like their classroom and eating areas for instance. You are right, we can't make the whole world nut free, so kids (and the grown ups who care for them) need to learn early: always check labels, and always have access to an Epipen! Thanks for the support!:)

    2. Cupcake bans totally work. Keep food out of the classroom. It is about learning...not shoving your face with sugar.

      Did you know that if you spent 30 minutes on one birthday and one holiday party with food, you would lose roughly 4 academic days a year?!?!?!

      Honestly, classrooms are about education and that includes teaching children about how to be good citizens. As a teacher, don't you think it is more important to teach a class that their actions impact others than to reinforce to a child with life threatening food allergies that they are less important than the majority?

    3. I completely understand your position, thanks for weighing in!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. I agree. What I don't understand is why must these children eat their peanut butter at school. It's not like they can't eat it at home.. Just don't bring it to school. Also I hate when they talk about being fair. Well from experience, life doesn't seem fair a lot of times. My child can never eat all the fancy treats and candy bars like non allergic kids. I think she and other allergic kids are the ones that are being treated unfair.

    1. Yes, I feel the same way. I wish they'd just eat their PB at home! My son is anaphylactic to peanuts and as I said in my post, I have always expected a peanut free classroom and eating environment. Thanks:)

  5. I too agree with the anonymous reply that was removed by the blog admin. Anonymous pointed out a number of things I think many appear to be overlooking. Do kids with food allergies know life isn't fair? Obviously they do.

    Our kids know they need to be extremely careful when their lunch neighbor pulls out a food that could kill them. A very high percentage of these kids know they have been bullied and/or teased about the foods that are their dangers.

    Our food allergic children know when they get their "safe alternative," the food proteins from the other snack is still all over the room, on fingers, on chairs, on tables. They know they need to focus on safety to stay alive. They also know they don't give a crap about the math lesson when their life is in danger.

    They also know that some people may be looking out for them, but many of those same people don't know that lecithin is egg, or that even a trace amount can be in the last thing they will ever eat.

    They know they should not eat foods with their allergens in it. Mine has been to the ER a few times, intubated once. She knows life is not fair. She also knows food labeling does not always disclose when a chocolate bar is packaged in a facility that also processes food with tree nuts.

    They know that school is supposed to be safe, unless you have a food allergy. They know they are not as important as letting the rest of the class have a cupcake. They know that people who say they "get it" but bring unsafe snacks, obviously don't get it.

    When you say "We food allergy parents need to band together in solidarity" but admit your kids could have a small amount of their allergen and it was no big deal, you obviously don't understand why all the parents of kids with severe allergies and multiple allergies are not happy with anyone promoting food activities.

    My push has and will always be, GET FOOD OUT OF THE CLASSROOM.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. I feel like maybe you didn't actually read the blog post? I stated several times that kids need to be SAFE, that their eating areas should be free of their allergens...just my opinion that I don't want all parties and events cancelled bc of my child. Simply my opinion, and you are entitled to yours!

  6. (I'm assuming only anonymous posts with opposing opinions are being deleted, so here goes again, non-anonymously.)

    I have 2 kids with a total of 5 life threatening food allergies. It is dangerous to imply there is a one size fits all approach to LTFA. We are already trying to figure out how how to safely include a contact dairy allergic child, who has had an epi pen injection 3x this summer alone due to exposures, into a situation where we have a cafe-gym-torium, with cross contamination from school lunch on PE equipment, recess equipment, and federally mandated school-milk program. A child's right to a cupcake does not trump my kid's right to life. I'll happily be a Grinch to keep you (public school community, parents/teachers/students) from bearing the guilt of sending my child or another child with a LTFA into anaphylaxis and possible death because the rights of "fun" for other kids seemed most important at the time.

    As for fair? Yes. I think most, if not all, food allergy kids learned long ago about the "fairness" of the public schools when they hear about their safety being traded in for someone else's fun.

    1. Again, I feel you did not read the actual post you are commenting on. The whole first half talks about SAFETY. So if your kids have life threatening allergies and you are asking for reasonable accommodations, then this post is not written for you. This is a tongue in cheek post aimed at unreasonable parents. Only you know if you are one of those people. If you are, then I make no apologies to you.

  7. I agree that a sweeping ban of food for all kids in all schools could be a bit extreme - a case of taking something that applies only to some and making it the norm for all. This doesn't mean it's impossible to keep a safe environment. Jennifer stated that, in her opinion, environments should be SAFE - e.g. free from life-threatening allergens for people with allergies. But at the same time, to ban something from EVERYONE because of some people of have allergies sort of imposes the reality that only some experience on everyone. I believe in safe environments, but I also believe that the principle of banning everyone from something that only applies to some can be dangerous and should be avoided when possible. Can't there be some sort of middle ground in this particular instance? Such as making sure ALL schools abide by safety precautions (e.g. don't have foods that are common life-threatening allergens), and then having SOME that ban all foods? That way parents have the choice - if they want their kids in food free classrooms (whether due to allergies or simply because they want the focus on education alone), but other parents that are fine with food don't have to then feel like their kids are being deprived of something reasonable because of something that doesn't apply to them? I know it's not that easy, but I think there are other options that could be thought through than simply banning all food.Just my opinion. And I do have food allergies, as do many in my families, so I do realize the importance of taking care of people with allergies.

  8. What an interesting conversation. Thank you, Peanutallergykiddos (Jennifer) for starting this conversation. I agree with what Ellen said. Can I point out one more thing? What about the amount of sugar we are consuming as a society? Our diabetic and obese kids? There are so many problems around us. Banning foods isn't (in my opinion) the answer. Awareness is.

    What really troubles me about the comments is this: we, as parents of kids with food allergies, need to ban together. Our battle is not against each other. We fight enough to keep our kids healthy. Let's support each other (even if we don't agree). Thank you, Jennifer for being bold enough to say life isn't fair.
    Parents: Keep fighting for your kids. If your kid needs a nut free zone - fight for it. Do what you have to do. But ban together with others of us instead of fighting. Because we all need a little encouragement. We fight enough battles without turning on each other.

  9. Hmm, it seems as though you are saying that you don't expect the world to revolve around your kids and ban things, just that you are sharing ideas to thoughtfully include them in the fun. Great ideas Jennifer

  10. It must be very challenging when your kids have food allergies and very worrying too. I agree with so much of what you have said here - and I think you are giving your kids excellent coping mechanisms to deal with life in general. Let's face it, when they grow up and go to parties people are not necessarily going to ban the ingredients they cannot eat. This way you are giving them tools to help them cope both now and in the future. Great post!

  11. Great job dealing with a tough subject, Jennifer. We've been talking a lot this year about letting children fail while consequences are small, letting them experience a few tough things while there's someone to love on them. As you said, the priority has got to be safety first, but assuming that, I think you have got an attitude that will encourage your kids to be men and women of character.

  12. My kiddos don't have any food allergies but we do have several friends with them. I really appreciate your perspective on all of this. I, too, want every child to be safe, above all else, and also support the idea that life's not fair and attempting to make everything a level playing field, in all circumstances, actually handicaps our children and impedes their ability to develop flexibility & resilience. I've also noticed that food "allergies" are becoming fairly misused among many parents. I've encountered several situations where the child has never been diagnosed with an allergy or even had a negative reaction to a food but the parent PREFERS the child not have the food so self labels the child with an allergy to ensure a particular food isn't offered. Let's call it what it is, LYING! And when a parent does that, it makes it potentially even more difficult for the families dealing with true allergies. I appreciate you & your desire to raise responsible & accountable kids in a world where that priority is declining, thanks for sharing!

  13. We don't deal with food allergies in this house. I do agree reading your post. There are ways around the allergy issue. Your absolutely right that kids love to bring those special treats to school. If teachers can communicate with parents it is possible to avoid the foods that cause allergic reactions. Maybe sending some treats that your kids can eat on a day that something comes in that they can't eat. Sure encouraging games and activities are great but your right kids like the treats.

  14. I can understand why some parents get frustrated being told not to send in peanut butter (or, ANY nuts or nut butters in some cases). Sending in lunches can be challenging. There is no refrigeration, some kids have "lunch" as late as 1:30 in some places, so if it's warm out, ice packs aren't gonna cut it! What to send for protein? The reason many kids used to do PB&J was that peanut butter is shelf-stable and doesn't put your kid at risk for food poisoning when it's 80 degrees out (or the thermostat is SET at 80 during the winter).

    So, I can empathize with those parents. Goodness knows, my kids have enough food issues that it's hard to send in proteins and fats to make a balanced lunch. Mine wont' touch peanut butter, but I wish they would! It would make things much simpler!

    What I really dislike is the "no nut or seed products whatsoever" policies. These usually crop up in summer camps, not school (in my area anyway). If somebody is very allergic, I will respect that and work around it, but if not, let me send in the Nutella sandwich, sunflower seeds, nut-based crackers, hummus, or whatnot. Otherwise, just about the only protein they will get is from milk!

    One other thing is that, given the variety of allergies/sensitivities, it is nearly impossible to cater to them all simultaneously, which is frustrating to parents who are only trying to make a lunch or snack!

    Before anyone gets angry, I am also the mom who sent in dairy/egg/nut free snacks last year when there was a kid who was severely allergic to those. His mom told me he was so happy to be able to participate in the "regular treat," which surprised me since we all had a list of all the class allergies AND it was supposed to be "healthy treats only," so there was lots of fruit (apparently, there was also lots of cheese and yogurt). The sad thing is, most of the other parents didn't pay attention to the list of allergies at all :(

    I have no problem adjusting what I do for the safety of a child who is severely allergic. At the same time, I think the kids who aren't going to be impacted by the next kid eating yogurt shouldn't have parents requesting a milk-free cafeteria, and parents should be sensitive to kids in their children's classes who have allergies of any kind. Who likes being left out? If you have a variety of allergies across the class, it's easy enough to make/buy two different things and let kids "pick one."

  15. I guess it's an issue more & more schools/day cares & facilities have had to deal with. An aside: one play group we used to frequent banned all non-halal foods (pork, etc.) to make the muslim population more I guess each group has to see who they're serving right? :)
    In my elder boys' school they have a mixed bag policy. They do have peanut allergies in the school, but they have a section where peanut-free lunchers sit, and then those who have risk of having peanut contaminated items sit in 'regular' seating. I mean it's so easy for a child to even have it on their breath after breakfast right?! We don't want to take any chances :) They still allow the cakes, cup cakes etc thus far for birthday parties. You wonder if there could be another way larger schools could accommodate for bday fun. I also homeschool two children, and we have acquaintances that homeschool solely for the reason that their child has SO, so many allergies, they just can't handle the risk. I guess we can't make it a one case, one rule for all places, right?
    Thanks for sharing this piece. Friend from Inspired Bloggers Network :) (Diamonds in the Rough)

  16. I agree with your article Jennifer. It should be a balance and I think allowing some reasonable foods for parties allows children with allergies to be more aware of the need to be selective with food. Good article.

  17. In the city where I live, there are multiple opportunities to protect your children if they have food allergies, depending on where they are on the spectrum. My son has allergies to gluten and dairy products. While they are not life threatening they do impact his life dramatically. Our school is vegan, but I still pack his lunch because there is still opportunity for him to eat food products that are dangerous for him in the school lunch. He knows what products don't work for him and which one's don't but, as you stated, there is cross contamination; kids sharing, etc. My nephew is allergic to peanuts. He attends a nut free school. This school does not do cakes/sweets for birthday's holidays and if parents want to bring treats they must be healthy. I think you can always find what you need for your child's best interest if you look, and if not, you can home school. I like your post, especially coming from the parent of a child who has special dietary needs. When I bring food for school celebrations, which I do during pre-approved times, I either provide lunch for the whole class - nut and gluten free - or I bring something everyone can have. Kids love fruit that's interesting - cutie oranges that are easy to peal; jello cups with smiley faces. Thanks for starting this conversation!

  18. It's not possible to remove all food from all schools...or workplaces...or stores...etc. So there will always be the possibility of someone touching a doorknob after someone else has eaten a food containing nuts or whatever else the person may be allergic to. That's why I highly recommend the Low-Dose Allergy (LDA) shots that have been available for a while now. These aren't the normal allergy shots that are used these days; there are only five physicians in Oregon who are able to give LDA shots. My sister's children who were anaphylactic to numerous foods have had such excellent results with these shots that they can eat the foods now and not be effected in a negative way!