Back in the day, (your day that is), peanut butter sandwiches were a staple in the lunch box. Not only were they cheap, but on average – most kids love an old fashioned PB& J. Today, there are many schools that are banning this mainstay of childhood lunch; because it is averaged that 1 out of every 100 kids has a nut allergy. Since kids eat together in the lunch room, and some of the kids allergic to peanuts actually have anaphylactic reactions to even just a miniscule exposure, plenty of parents of kids WITH peanut allergies are happy to see these food items banned.
And yet, while 1% of the kids may have this allergy, 99% of the kids in the classroom do not. There are also kids that are allergic to other nuts, gluten, red food coloring and a host of other food items that kids without allergies take to school every day of the week. Should these items be banned as well?
One mother in Toronto, even called for her school district to cut down the acorn trees that adorn the landscape around the school because her son has a nut allergy. This, despite the fact that there is absolutely no proof or scientific evidence that coming in contact with a mere acorn shell could cause an anaphylactic reaction.
When it comes to school lunches, are we going too far to try and protect children and keep them out of harms way?
Recently, a Chicago principal seemed to step off the slippery slope of freedom when he banned all home made, packed lunches from being brought to school in an effort to equalize the school lunch process. After much media attention, and indications that he was violating rights, the school ban was lifted. The reason for the ban, aside from health concerns about what kids packing lunches were bringing to school scoped from allergy issues to fairness. For instance, why should one kid have to eat cafeteria broccoli, while another gets to chow down on a lunchable complete with a chocolate bar?
For many schools across the United States and Canada, holiday parties in the classroom or any celebrations are being highly regulated food wise. Some administrators are not allowing any chocolate products to be served at parties if just one child in the school (not just in the classroom) has an allergic condition that would make eating the food dangerous. And home made goods? You can pretty much forget them in the classroom as many school policies have adopted regulations to ban them.
Unfortunately, while very young, elementary aged kids may not be able to monitor the foods they eat, older kids should be taught at home how to avoid allergens and which food goods that they are able and unable to eat. The responsibility should not be passed on to schools, or other parents.
When you consider that pre-packaged food items today come with a malady of warnings about being processed in food plants that may contain peanuts or other allergens, it seems plausible that parents should take due responsibility for their child’s allergy. And yet when it comes to the peanut butter sandwiches, there are parents that say their child is so allergic, that all she has to do is sit down at a table where a peanut butter sandwich was eaten in order to suffer from a dangerous, life threatening reaction.
There is even talk from the United State Department of Agriculture in line with Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity has a plan that will change the foods that parents are allowed to pack their children for lunch at school. Recently, a kindergarten student was denied the privilege to eat her lunch because a teacher did not agree with the contents in it, a case which received national attention. So far, while the school lunch nutrition program has changed dramatically to ensure kids are eating healthier and avoiding high allergen foods – home packed lunches have remained precluded from the policies in force. Still, some experts believe that too may soon change.
Seriously!? If one child in a classroom was unable to climb the monkey bars, does it make sense to disallow the entire classroom to try? The mentality behind protecting kids and passing off the responsibility to others (meaning a school system) for a child’s allergy are going too far. As is the involvement from outside agencies in what parents choose to pack in their kiddo’s school lunches.
Essentially, for the 1% of children that have the allergies, the children should be taught safety measures to take at home. Parents should stay in close contact with school personnel, which include the teachers and school nurse as well as administrators so that they are all fully aware of the allergies at hand. Epi-pens and personalized medications in case of an allergic reaction should be provided by the parents to be kept at school. And, labelling children’s book bags and even their lunch boxes or school jackets with allergy information may be suitable for younger kids who may not yet know how to cope with their allergy situation. At parties or class events, efforts should be made to offer food items that are a fair replacement for the child with the allergy, rather than ban all outside foods altogether. After all, this allergy is something they will likely be dealing with for a very long time, and the world outside of school will not bend and ban peanut butter or all by products of peanuts for those with the allergy.
Some schools rather than banning peanut butter and jelly altogether, are now moving kids with peanut allergies to eat in different areas of the cafeteria dubbed ‘peanut free.’ This, seems like a fairer way to deal with what has long been one of the most benign staple lunch foods of North American children.