Food Allergy Management, Preventing Reactions, School & Food Allergies

Group Snack: Why I Excluded My Child

Group Snack: Why I Excluded My Child

Thank you teacherThe Idea

My daughter’s kindergarten teachers are amazing. As the room parent (yay for being able to be closely involved as a food allergy mom in my child’s school!), I went into the classroom today to help with a few things as the teachers prepared for the start of school next week. While I was there, the assistant teacher said she wanted to discuss ways to be inclusive when it came to snack. Snack duty is rotated throughout the school year, each family taking a week to provide snack for the whole class. Last year, my daughter took a turn, but for the remaining weeks, she brought her own safe snack while most of her peers had “group” snack.

The Challenges

So today the teacher indicated she wanted to know my thoughts about how we could set up the rules so that all the kids in the class could eat the same snack. How awesome is that? Unfortunately, there were quite a few barriers:

  1. She didn’t have the list of “food allergy kids” and what their allergens are, so there was no way for me to advise her on specific all-inclusive strategies.
  2. We have a very simple and firm rule for our peanut-allergic kids: Never accept food from anyone other than Mom or Dad. For school, that translates into: Eat only what was packed in your lunchbox or sent from home and labeled with your name. Changing this rule makes me nervous and may confuse my kids.
  3. She wanted a list of safe brands/items and she wanted to insist that all families purchase only from the list. I have difficulty trusting a non-food allergy mom with the responsibility of selecting food for my child, even if she has a list of “safe” brands and specific foods. In addition, ingredients and manufacturing processes can change and what was safe today, may not be safe tomorrow. (And, yes, I’m fully aware of SnackSafely.*)
  4. When I pointed out the issue in #3, she suggested we allow only fresh fruits and vegetables for snack. I then explained cross contact and how seemingly safe fruit and veggies could be contaminated with allergens during slicing from cutting boards and knives.
  5. We, of course, have kids in the class with food allergies, but there are also kids in the class on special diets for other reasons (e.g., the GAPS diet), and I don’t feel comfortable shaping the snack rules that may be seen as too restrictive and/or too expensive to many of the other kids and their parents. It’s not a battle worth fighting since we had no issues last year with regard to snack procedures (my daughter is in a Montessori school and has the same teachers as she had last year).

The Decision

In the end, we decided that we would request that the parents send in whatever they want for snack but that they also include an organic, uncut fresh fruit or vegetable. The fruits and vegetables will be washed and prepared for eating there at school. This way, every child will be able to participate in at least part of group snack every day (of course we’ll need to learn whether any of the children have a fruit or vegetable allergy and exclude those items from the safe snack list).

We feel so fortunate to have such caring teachers. I couldn’t help but walk away from today’s classroom visit with mixed emotions: grateful that they care so much, but sad and disappointed that I couldn’t have been more accommodating with their wonderful ideas to ensure no child was excluded due to food.

What do you think: would you have been less restrictive, more restrictive, or would you have set up the same rules as I did? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

*SnackSafely provides a wonderful service and I would feel comfortable knowing that my daughter wasn’t surrounded by her allergens if her classmates brought items only from that list. But, for me and my husband, we can’t relinquish the control of feeding our potentially-anaphylactic child and known-anaphylactic child to another person; we feel that it’s unfair for another person to shoulder the responsibility of selecting safe foods, and it endangers our kids. Update: The folks at Snack Safely agree and publish their guide for the I reason stated: to ensure that the peanut/nut/egg-allergic child is not surrounded by his or her allergen. Thank you to Snack Safely for all that they do!


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12 Comments

  1. I never understood why there is a rotation of parents bringing in snacks for all the children in the classroom. We are asked to provide our own child with a snack for each day of the week. I gladly do this as then not only am I able to protect my child from contamination, but I also know he’s getting a healthy snack that he is going to like thus fueling his body and mind for the rest of the school day. To me, that really seems like the simplest solution.

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  2. Amy Roux

    My husband and I agree with you totally…we do not want to pass the responsiblity of selecting safe food for our son onto anyone else. I wrote that exact sentence in an email to my son’s teacher last year 🙂 As for it “excluding” our kids, I think only eating food provided by us both keeps my son safe and also teaches him on a daily basis the reality of life with food allergies which is that he cannot just eat a food just because everyone else is.

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  3. I agree with all of these but I STRONGLY agree with #3 as well- It’s nothing personal, just impossible to do as a food allergy mom. The only time I have allowed a teacher so give my child a “safe” item that she bought was last year (6th Grade) and he was old enough to know that by rechecking the unopened package. As far as other parents sending in snacks for all I have always thought this was a dangerous idea. And why should they have to? I can understand parties or a special treat for something that they worked hard for and then we can cooridnate ALL safe snack but to have to worry every day is just too much. And budget-wise, I find it’s easier and more cost-effective to only have to worry about my own child’s snack let alone 20+ others. We have always sent our child’s snacks- I don’t consider this exclusion I consider this optimal safety. Unless he was made to leave the room or stand on his head (which he wasn’t, obviously) he always felt like part of the group.

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  4. Brice

    Thank you Stephanie! This was most helpful & validates some of what I was thinking for my own child. I truly appreciate the effort on the part of the teacher and I know her desire is to keep the classroom as safe as possible, but I just don’t feel comfortable letting another parent provide food for my child to eat on a daily basis. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  5. Ugh, what a predicament?! Sharing snack duty is not a good idea. Everyone needs to bring their own. I would be thankful the teacher’s wanted to be inclusive, but you did a good job raising all the issues. I would have outright declined after I listed the issues. I will not trust others to feed my kids. Years ago, I had one mom who called me regarding a treat she wanted to pass out that she made from scratch. She was sure she understood the implications and insured me the item was nut safe. The first question I asked her was whether she used almond extract. She paused, then responded, “Yes.” That sealed my decision and years later, I haven’t backed off this stance.

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  6. Thanks for the kind mention, Stephanie. We love this article as it provides the thought process behind making this kind of decision.

    Two quick comments: (1) We firmly believe that NO ONE other than the parent/guardian should approve a food item for an allergic child (even if that item is listed in our Safe Snack Guide.) When she was younger, our peanut allergic daughter had a goody box at school that we kept stocked with snacks that we personally purchased. We made clear to the teacher and school administration that she was to be offered no other food, and we encourage all other parents to do likewise if food is allowed in the classroom. (2) We believe limiting snacks for all students in the classroom to those listed in the Safe Snack Guide provides an excellent means of limiting the opportunity for contact reactions to peanuts, tree nuts and eggs.

    Thanks again and regards,
    Debra & Dave Bloom

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  7. Laura

    For three years of preschool our teachers had this rotating system. Every day my husband or I would check the snack. If the snack parent was late, we’d wait for them. The teacher offered to check it, but we were not comfortable with that. I once had to reject another mom’s cupcakes because they said “May contain tree nuts.” You’re doing a great job protecting your child.

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