Are Schools Right in Banning Certain Foods?

| October 3, 2013 | 11 Comments
Photo credit: woodleywonderworks / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks / Foter / CC BY

With two young children in school, packing lunches has become part of my daily routine. Luckily, my daughters like a variety of foods so this daily task isn’t too much of a chore. For the most part, my challenge has been to figure out what type of lunches I can fit into that cylindrical shaped Thermos to keep them hot until lunch time. Pasta and soups are easy enough but I’ve been known to pack scramble eggs, chopped up pancakes or french toast, or whatever leftovers we might have from the night before not to mention some traditional Greek dishes that probably freak out the other children. But I’ve been at this for a few years now and have developed somewhat of a routine.

Our school is a peanut-free zone. I’m used to that now. Does it bother me? Not really. A peanut butter sandwich would be great and easy from time to time but I feel it’s more a shame that I can’t pack the girls some almonds or walnuts as a snack. They love them and they are so good for you. But I’ve only given it minor thought over the years. It must be so difficult to live with an allergy or to worry about your child with an allergy. But should we ban food items in schools because some children have allergies? Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death. That’s what makes it so scary. Having an upset stomach is one thing. Dying is a whole other ball of wax. But did you know that many foods can trigger anaphylaxis? In Western cultures, ingestion of or exposure to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish, fish, milk, and eggs are the most prevalent causes. So why don’t we ban milk? How about eggs?

Earlier this week, I got a note from my daughter’s teacher indicating that their classroom is a “peanut, tree-nut, sesame seed, fish-free zone”. At first I glossed over the information but then I started to think of how that would change what foods I pack for my youngest or what products I purchase. No more Kettleman’s sesame bagels for school. We will have to choose different crackers. No more Sesame Snaps. No more Zataars (Lebanese pitas with thyme and sesame). No more hummus with her vegetables. No more of the traditional Greek bread or cookies. We will have to buy different hamburger buns. No more fish leftovers. So the fish isn’t too big of a deal for us, she’s never been a fan of tuna and although she loves other fish, I don’t typically pack her fish for lunch, but all the other items are on regular rotation at our place. Peanuts, tree-nuts, sesame seeds, fish. All healthy foods. All banned. What a shame but we will adjust. The problem though is that since my children don’t have those allergies I shouldn’t have to worry about this but now I do find myself worrying. I’m checking out the ingredients list on snack food items. Do granola bars have sesame seeds? How about that salad dressing?

Are food bans the right choice? Am I over-reacting? What would you do?

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Category: Back to School, Family, Food, Kids, Moms, Nutrition, Themes

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Comments (11)

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  1. Louise says:

    Wow – you are definitely much more creative than I am with school lunches. I have to admit that I’ve only just begun – as our eldest has just started school. We’ve bought a thermos we haven’t even used yet. AND I went out and bought faux peanut butter so I could still do “peanut butter” and jam sandwhiches, and “peanut butter” and banana sandwhiches – because I have a pickier eater and she eats that.

    As for banning foods at school – again – I suspect I’ll have different views in a few years – but at the moment, I figure if it’s on a class by class basis (ie: if someone in my daughters class has a serious egg allergy – then fine, no eggs) that’s fine. My sense is the nut allergy is prevalent enough to broadly ban.

    As for school lunches more generally – I’m going to have to start giving some thought to thermos use….

  2. Brandi says:

    Luckily there are so many alternatives to many of those foods, and it’s really not too hard to change out a sesame bagel for a different kind of bagel for example. We almost lost our daughter to her severe peanut allergy, so I personally think it’s the right choice if it’s life or death for a child – anaphylaxis. I know I’d rather make different lunch choices, than have a child die. It doesn’t bother me to leave out fish or sesame for kids with those allergies either, as there’s so many other options aside from those for lunches. I think when it comes to a child’s life, they should feel safe and comfortable at school like the other kids. After all, kids can eat whatever they want once they get home from school 🙂

  3. I completely understand and most certainly can change the foods I put in my daughter’s lunches however just pointing out that there is an ongoing debate among professionals on what the right course of action is with doctors on either side of this discussion.

    For example…

    http://www.thestar.com/life/parent/2012/10/05/food_allergies_take_a_bite_out_of_schools.html

  4. lucy says:

    I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit as well. Almost all the classrooms my son has been in (school, camps etc) have had bans on several different foods: nuts of course, sesame seeds, eggs (in his current school), shellfish (in an earlier one), etc, so I’ve gotten used to avoiding packing all these things. We eat all those common allergens at home, and I’ve had to make a conscious effort to avoid contaminating his lunch with peanuts: I stopped cooking with peanut oil, in case I want to send leftovers, I rarely bake peanut cookies because I know I won’t be able to put them in his lunch and then I’ll have to make something else.

    But I can’t complain. I’m in a similar situation to you: I can cook, I can bake, I have a kid who eats almost everything and likes cooked food, veggies and fruit, doesn’t mind eating leftovers and doesn’t mind eating the same lunch almost every day! I’ve figured out a sandwich that he really likes that doesn’t involve nut butter, hummus, boiled eggs or any of the banned foods, and since the beginning of this term he has been eating almost the same sandwich combo 3-4 times a week, with variations in the side items (different fruits, a different baked item, yogurt instead of apple sauce, red bell peppers instead of carrots, and so on). When I ask him in the evening, do you want the same sandwich or something different tomorrow, he almost always says “the same”, and then I give him choices of side items “apple or pear?” etc, or sometimes I just pack whatever fruits I have without asking him. He eats whatever I pack and when he doesn’t finish the fruits in his lunch bag he gobbles them up when he gets home! We have other problems in life, but fortunately food isn’t one of them. 🙂

    So comparing my situation to that of parents who have to worry everyday whether their child will be exposed to an allergen and not come home alive (or even those with picky eaters who whine about eating healthy foods), I guess I don’t have a reason to complain!

  5. Tooth Fairy says:

    It really is a hard call…such an inconvenience for healthy children who have no allergies! But I understand that in consideration of potential life threatening allergies and also less severe if it was my child I certainly would appreciate lessening the chances and be pro ban.

  6. Katina Michelis says:

    I’d rather plan an allergy-free lunch than worry about anaphylaxis any day but I just started thinking about it when I heard a few ‘experts’ in the news and the radio suggest that it is not the best solution to ban these foods.

  7. lucy says:

    Yes, I agree with the experts (about not banning foods), but only in theory. The kids with allergies should learn how to keep themselves safe in order to be able to function in normal life outside the classroom where there are no restrictions on the foods they might be exposed to. But in practice I don’t think a 5 or 6 year old can take on that responsibility. And even if the child and teachers are being really vigilant about it, it wouldn’t be possible to avoid the allergens. If there was no peanut ban and I gave my son a peanut butter sandwich, he could eat it, get it on his hands, not wash properly (his hands are always grubby whatever we do!), then pass it on to the allergic kid by sharing a pencil or even by touching a door knob. Actually even banning the foods doesn’t prevent that, though I suppose it reduces that possibility.

  8. What a wonderful blog post! I don’t mind taking away products from my daughters lunch if it means other kids will suffer from a reaction. I find it hard finding foods my daughter will eat. It’s so hard as she is a very picky eater. The things she can’t take to school we eat them at home. It’s a challenge to find things she will eat. Maybe you can write up ideas for kids lunches. 🙂

  9. Katina Michelis says:

    Thanks Maria for the suggestion for a post … Let me start taking some pictures and I’ll see what I can come up with:)

  10. kathy downey says:

    Interesting post,I loved reading all the comments.

  11. kathy downey says:

    My friends daughter just found out she has a serious allergy to latex maybe a school with no latex would be safer for her………

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