Lunch Box Wars

Are school’s and parents taking allergy precautions too far?

peanut butter & jelly muffins

Columns, Julie Cadieux » Lunch box wars
// // Dec 4th, 2013

Most of us know people with allergies. In fact, two very close friends of mine have children with deadly food allergies. When preparing to have them visit my home, it’s something I take very seriously. I research and read food labels. I wipe down things like door handles and light switches and I make sure I cook meals as safely as possible. I do my part so that my guests leave in the car they came in -and not in an ambulance!

Food allergies may not run in my family but food intolerance, seasonal and pet allergies do — and perhaps some of you with food allergies snub your nose at those of us with the itchy, watery eyes or sneezing but did you know that these kinds of allergies can be pretty scary too? My mom is deadly allergic to horses (discovered during a close call on a calèche ride at Disney World when I was nine). My daughter has seasonal allergies where, aside from the obvious symptoms, she also breaks out in burning, itchy red hives on her face and torso.

I hear you, allergy parents, I do. I get how hard you have to work to keep your kids safe but well fed. I know a woman who has to make everything from scratch, even bread, to be sure her child doesn’t die from eating the wrong thing. That’s a lot of stress.

And yes, I too thought it was really careless and just plain stupid when, a few weeks ago, one high school cafeteria staff decided to make a huge vat of peanut sauce to accompany one of their dishes and told students with nut allergies to stay away from the cafeteria and not eat lunch that day. It was no surprise when a student who hadn’t heard to stay clear went in anaphylactic shock (that student is perfectly fine now btw). If the school and/or school board is going to have a policy on food restrictions then they and whoever is hired to cook food on the premises should follow it with no exceptions.

However, long gone are the days where schools only ban peanuts. In many schools today the list of the forbidden keeps growing: all nuts, all seeds, eggs, milk products and candy. If a teacher or lunch monitor just THINKS that there might be a banned substance in your child’s lunch bag, it’s not gonna see the light of day. Period.

Reese's Pieces Peanut Butter Chipits

I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t be cautious or care about children who have food allergies, but is it starting to go too far? I read about a teacher who explained how her school implemented a new rule where the staff can’t put milk in their coffee or honey in their tea. Last year a mom in York, Ontario made headlines for fighting with her child’s school to cut down oak trees located nearby (not on the school property) because the falling acorns posed a threat to her child who had a severe nut allergy.

Plus what about the cost? I often think about how pricey lunches have become. Peanut butter and jelly, egg salad or even a simple cheese sandwich are not just old fashioned boxed lunch staples — they are economical. While parents who have children with food restrictions get attention and a pat on the back for demanding change. parents with low incomes are too embarrassed to write angry letters to their school board or call up the local newspaper to complain about how they can’t afford genoa salami, slices of lean turkey breast and bread that is certified to be milk-less, egg-less, seed-less and nut-less (and at this point why not throw in gluten-free since that seems to be a thing now too!).

And now on top of everything schools demand that kids eat a healthy snack at recess -and I absolutely agree, except forget the yogurt, slice of cheese or even milk (remember when we were in elementary school and had milk delivered to us at recess? GASP!). And if you thought the all mighty granola bar would be the no-brainer, go-to, save the day snack solution you are dead wrong. I proudly found and purchased nut-free granola bars but my daughter was told to keep it in her lunch box and take it home because it had ‘quinoa’ in it (pronounced “keen-wah,” it is a protein packed grain). I guess it is considered a seed? To be honest, I can’t keep up.

I know what you’re thinking food allergy parents “get over it and pack your kid an apple!”. Absolutely, I love fruit and so do my kids, except my daughter gets an itchy tongue when she eats apples or any fruits with edible skin and I can’t cut it up because she doesn’t like it unless its cut up fresh and my middle child has braces so he needs most hard fruit cut up also, but hey, I am not whining; I buy single-serve apple sauce and fruit cups and of course we always have bananas in the house.

Pantry: large bin with easy accessible snacks for the kids

And yes allergen parents, I am lucky enough to have a fridge full of cold cuts, lunch meats and a variety of breads for my kids’ sandwiches. Except, recently I heard a doctor explain how we should not eat lunch meats more than twice a week because of all the preservatives and salt and apparently some studies now show that eating lunch meats more than three times a week can cause cancer. SIGH. I had a great idea of making tuna salad sandwiches once a week but then I remembered I can’t because mayonnaise has egg in it. So now, I try and break up the week with a thermos of soup. Unfortunately my kids just won’t eat dinner leftovers for lunch and the whole point is to try and get them to like their lunch enough to eat it since I’m not there to make sure they do. I credit myself with being pretty creative in the kitchen, and you can find some great lunch box ideas in books like Beating The Lunch Box Blues by J.M. Hirsh, but creativity just doesn’t happen to me at 6:20 a.m. (the time when I’m putting together the kids’ school lunches).

Allergies are no joke but there it is anyway: my annoyance with it all. I know I am not the only one. What do you think? Is the line between cautious and crazy becoming a little blurry?

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Julie Cadieux 2012


7 thoughts on “Lunch Box Wars

  1. I am at a loss to what I would feel my children if they took away wheat, dairy, nuts etc. Lunch meat is not good for you. Maybe some tofu slices? * Love the title to this article *

  2. Healthy foods banned

    It all started with the prohibition of peanut butter. Schools took the easy way out; with a little effort, children with peanut allergies can be accommodated while the majority of children continue enjoying their peanut butter sandwiches.

    Parents claiming children with allergies should provide the school with a doctor’s note so that the school has reliable information as to the number of children, their allergies and possible reaction (simple rash, possible death).

    It seems one food item has escalated into a long strangulating list of healthy foods your kids can no longer eat at school. I doubt all foods on that list have dire consequences when eaten, the risk should be measured against the inconvenience caused to other parents and their children.

  3. Fatal allergy

    Re. Fend for Yourself, Letters Dec. 11: How can you even compare motion sickness to a fatal allergy? Yes, Fatal!! By defiantly putting peanut butter for example in your child’s lunch you are putting the lives of others at risk, surely your gross immaturity can be overcome by the thought of being responsible for taking a child’s life.

  4. Fend for yourself
    After reading your interesting article about contents in lunch boxes, here is what I think…

    I am a 26 year old with no known allergies, nor do I have any friends who are seriously allergic to anything. My elementary lunchbox contents were never modified for any allergies in the classroom/school, as there were none. I personally think that no eggs, peanuts, seeds, etc. is outrageous! I do understand that in elementary schools children touch everything and cross-contamination is extremely high. In high school however, when I was there, a sensitive food individual had to fend for themself. It was up to the student to care for their allergy without affecting anyone else. College was the same. So is work.

    I do not have any children, so I cannot say that my child(ren) will or will not have any allergies. However I do plan on putting what I wish in their lunch box. I may even be lucky enough to pick them up at school every lunch day and make a fiesta of banned-at-school food at home. Is this inconsiderate or my/their benefit of not having any food allergies?

    I work at the airport, and say a passenger were to go to the counter and say, “Hi, I get motion sickness, this plane cannot leave.” One better believe that that will never happen! Plane companies will continue to fly whether you’re OK to board or not. So, if someone were to say, “Hi, I have an allergy to such food” I do not believe the world should stop, nor others suffer from their allergy. OK, so motion sickness is not as popular as food allergies. If my neighbour would knock on my door and say, “Hi, I have allergies to your flowers would you mind not planting them?” I am sure I would laugh, then plant more. I should not have to decrease my quality of living, or eating, for someone else. Same goes for my children-why should they suffer from someone’s issue?

    I do give kudos to those moms, dads, grandparents, who have children with severe allergies and have to check bottles, jars, etc. on a daily basis. I am sure it is hard and tedious, and am sorry for the stress allergies bring forth. That being said, I would rather not have to adjust my lifestyle (or children’s) because of theirs.

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