How Do You Make Lunches Safe for Kids With Allergies?

With an increase in kids with allergies, schools are adapting by having special rules such as peanut-free cafeterias. If your child has allergies or goes to a school with special rules, packing a lunch can be difficult.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 4-6 percent of children in the U.S. under 18 have food allergies, and that number is rising.

School can be a particularly dangerous place for these kids. The CDC says that 16-18 percent of them have had an allergic reaction at school due to accidentally ingesting a food allergen.

Odds are that if your child isn’t one of those with a serious allergy, he or she goes to school with someone who is. Because schools are required by federal law to make adjustments for any student with a life-threatening allergy, this may mean nut-free tables in the lunchroom, or even an entirely nut-free school.

If you’re in either of those categories, how do you pack a healthy, allergen-free lunch for your student? Patch has rounded up some ideas, and we’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

The Adventures of a Gluten-Free Mom blog has some great sounding recipes that she uses with her kids, including vegan pumpkin dip and homemade beef jerky, that would qualify as dairy- and nut-free, too.

She advises to, “allow your children to have a say in what goes into their lunchbox (from a mom-approved list of healthy options of course).  Not only will your kids be more likely to eat it, but if you do it right, you can get them eating all sorts of healthy goodness.”

There are lots of sites that focus on peanut-free healthy lunches, such as Livestrong, which suggests making sandwiches with sunflower seed butter, or packing yogurt parfaits with fruit and granola or humus wraps.

Henry Hodges September 05, 2012 at 02:59 AM
David, Are these scenarios ok with you? A) My 6 year old enjoys eating puffer fish. I send a puffer fish with him to school each day. He knows which parts not to eat because they're poisonous, and he leaves those on his plate and discards them when he's done eating. Oh, and he sits next to your son during lunch. B) 50% of the kids in your child's class are deathly allergic to peanuts. The other 50% bring peanut butter into the classroom every day for snack. I think (at least I hope this is the case), that people that have your opinion is based mostly on inconveniencing the many for the sake of a few. In general in life, I believe that is a fine attitude to have. If one person gets offended by a word, the other 999 people that use it shouldn't be forced to change. But we're talking about the opportunity for killing a child, who can't be expected to fully defend himself in a world that doesn't fully understand his plight. We're already restricted in all kinds of ways. What substances I can smoke, where and when I can drink alcohol. Most of the reasons are so that I don't harm others by my consumption of those substances. In a world with a growing problem with life threatening peanut allergies, why can't peanuts be treated in a manner similar to drugs?
David Greenberg September 05, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Henry, A) I'd hope that when my son is old enough to attend school that I've taught him well enough so that he doesn't pull a George Costanza and eat out of the garbage can. That said, when I was 6, I was raising salt- and freshwater fish, so I knew what was dangerous and what wasn't. Honestly, one of things I plan to teach my son about is Ichthyology. B) The 50% who are deathly allergic to peanuts ought to be in a facility that can accommodate their special needs. It could be that someone ate a cookie which doesn't contain peanut butter, but which happened to be made on a line that also processes peanuts and tree nuts, encounters a crumb or cookie dust particle and has a reaction. No one should have to modify what they choose to eat simply because someone else is allergic to it. The person with the allergy should manage their own allergies and needs. You're right though - children can't fully defend themselves. I refuse to even consider that peanuts or other foodstuff are to be treated as or restricted as are drugs - where does it end? What if someone is allergic to twinkies? Coffee? Tea? It's truly absurd.
Donna M. September 05, 2012 at 10:21 PM
David have you seen a 6 year old eat? Not only do they not wipe their hands they talk while eating and can literally spit what they are eating at you. To add to the usually eating habits of that age they are often rushed through lunch at school, so they are even less careful while trying to eat lunch. Is it too much to ask that peanut butter not be used? A child could have peanut butter on their fingers and use one of the computers, the next child might be the one who is deathly allergic to peanuts. Pick it up that way, then it might be their lunch time. That child is rushed starts to eat his apple which transfers that peanut to their mouth...and they have a reaction. That's all it takes. It's not much to ask to keep the kids safe from food allergies. To me this is the same as smoking. Maybe you don't agree with that law either since it inconveniences smokers to save the rest of us.
Donna M. September 05, 2012 at 10:28 PM
David, what I hear you saying is there should be special schools for children with allergies? Am I understanding your point of view correctly?
David Greenberg September 05, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Yes Donna, I've seen 6 yr olds eat - some are slobs, some aren't - and that can vary by the day, minute, hour, etc. That's precisely why if someone has a life-threatening allergy, they ought to have a facility dedicated to dealing with their type of needs. Let's assume our 6 yr old food spitter ate a cookie which doesn't have peanuts in it, but was made on a processing line that processed peanuts. This cookie ended up getting a bit of peanut in it. Now our 6 yr old food spitter is eating, and a crumb, a mere particle of cookie is expelled from his mouth, across the table, and lands on the lips of Jimmy, who's highly allergic to peanuts. Jimmy has a reaction. Do you then blame the 6 yr old food spitter? The school? The parents of the 6 yr old? The mfr of the cookie that had no peanuts but ended up having a particle of peanut in it somehow? I wouldn't blame any of those people - because it's none of their business if someone else is allergic to something that they may choose to eat. It's the business of the person who's allergic - and if they're that highly allergic, they need to be someplace where nothing can be eaten that will harm them. Nothing that was processed on a line that might have had peanuts, nothing with peanuts. No one who works at the facility who eats nuts, etc. And it's not the same thing as smoking (no I'm not a smoker).
David Greenberg September 05, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Precisely. If someone has allergies that are life-threatening - they need to be in a facility that can meet their needs. By your own admission above, kids are slobs - they get stuff on their sleeves. So let's assume (as I've said before) that Johnny eats some peanut butter the night before, and gets it on his jacket sleeve. He doesn't tell mom/dad so they don't know. He wipes it off. The residue remains and the next morning when he wears that jacket to school, the sleeve brushes a door handle, and Jimmy the allergic kid touches it and has a reaction. OR, some employee of the school chooses to enjoy a few nuts the evening before while driving home from a baseball game. He gets some dust on his steering wheel. The next morning he drives to school for the work day, picks up the dust on his hands, and then touches the doorknob that Jimmy then touches. Jimmy has a reaction. What you're saying is that no one should ever eat peanuts, anything with peanuts in it, or which has been processed on a line that handled peanuts because that residue can then cause a reaction in someone else. And I'm saying that's absurd to restrict what someone eats, especially so off-campus, just because someone has an allergy. It's the responsibility of the person with the allergy to deal with their allergy. If the facility can't 100% guarantee their freedom from allergens, then that allergic person needs to go to a facility that can.
Donna M. September 06, 2012 at 01:16 AM
David that is insane. Listen to yourself. this is all about giving up a PB&J sandwich. It's the least we can do to give them a safe place for lunch. It really isn't much to ask. But apparently you are too selfish to give up a PB&J to help kids with allergies. For many parents it is just common sense by the time the kid has been in preschool for a few years they think nothing of it, the preschools have the same rules, private and public. Maybe by the time your kids are actually in school you'll stop feeling that your wants and needs are the only ones that matter.
Deborah September 06, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Wow I wish I never commented on this..David al you are doing is upsetting the people who have to deal with children with food allergies..you are very selfish for one.. These children should be in a special facility?? I'm sure you are also a parent that believes children with special needs should also be on a separate special education facility so not to disrupt your child's day...shame on you.. This is public school system we are talking about.. That is supposed to meet the needs of all students.. I am a teacher and half of each of my classes have students with food allergies.. I have never heard of any of my students complaining that they have been denied nuts because of another student in my nut free rooms.. But I guess children are more courteous than some adults .. So sorry your child is denied one food while all three of my children are denied many of their favorite foods due to celiac disease.. I hope your children never develop any food allergies but let me tell you I was diagnosed with celiac at 37 so it can happen and it's miserable
Walter White September 06, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Just another day in the kooky life of one Dave Greenberg. I'm surprised he hasn't advocated putting handguns in lunches just in case an armed gunman breaks into the school. If you think I'm joking ask him about his thoughts on arming teachers.
Max September 06, 2012 at 02:07 AM
I'm impressed with the arguments from both sides. When I started reading through the comments, I was having trouble deciding where I stood but Brian has made the most convincing case, albeit unpopular. In a vacuum, one could argue that there's little harm in leaving foods with peanuts at home. But like the "Internet content" argument Dave made, there's almost always a slippery slope and this is no exception. I don't believe that this argument will be left at peanuts. We're continually developing other food allergies such as other nuts, eggs, shellfish, and even strawberries. These are all important components of our diets so restricting them not only limits what parents can prepare for their kids but it also forces us to rely more on processed foods rather than natural foods. It's just not reasonable to look at David's argument as only a peanut butter sandwich. With that said, I don't know if a completely separate school is necessary. However, having a special wing in the school designated as a lunchroom for kids with food allergies seems like a way to eliminate 80+% of the risks.
karen washburn September 06, 2012 at 02:26 AM
I never had an opinion on food allergies...until my son was in 1st grade and his best friend was allergic to all kinds of tree nuts; the boy's mother did her best to educate the class of all the risks - yet there were some parents who did whatever the heck they wanted. Plain and simple...the kid could have died. It's really not worth the risk....the kids can go without peanut butter. And they did. We don't need a special school for kids like this, we need to show understanding and tolerance to all - whether it's a peanut allergy, a wheelchair, etc.
Social Justice September 06, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Unfortunately, some moms call wolf because they want their children to have allergies. I have witnessed this first hand. Very sad, because it makes you question the truth.
Me September 06, 2012 at 02:54 AM
You are just now figuring out Greenberg is a nut????? I recall one comment about rd light cameras where his conspiracy theory mind had people stealing his car so that they could run red light cameras and taping false license plate numbers on their cars so that he would get tickets. His writings are very entertaining fiction.
David Greenberg September 06, 2012 at 02:58 AM
I'd hazard a guess that the vast majority of allergy sufferers could deal with a special wing designated as a lunchroom for them. But that still doesn't deal with the problems caused by inadvertent transfer - someone eats something with peanuts (or whatever the allergen is), has some of that residue on them, and then touches a door knob, push plate, locker, etc. Someone sensitive encounters the residue, and we have a problem - which varies in severity depending upon the allergic individual. It's virtually impossible to control. And even if you ban all use of peanuts - when the next allergen rears its ugly head, then what?
David Greenberg September 06, 2012 at 03:04 AM
Donna, I'm not so arrogant to believe that only my wants and needs matter. However, why isn't the converse true as well? The question I posed wasn't about PB in particular (although that's a common one, so that's where this discussion has gone), but rather what the point is that the whole "you can't have this because so-and-so is allergic to it" becomes absurd. What if you have someone who's allergic to a particular soap fragrance? Let's call it "Irish Spring" - do you then say "Sorry, no one can wash with Irish Spring"? So then everyone uses "Ivory" - and when someone's allergic to "Ivory" - then what? My question is at what point is it reasonable to demand that the allergy sufferer deal with their own issue because it's too onerous on the rest of the population? And my other question is what about when these allergy sufferers become adults? Do we restrict an entire office building or high rise from peanuts because one person has a peanut allergy?
David Greenberg September 06, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Deborah, it was never my intent to upset anyone but rather to have a discussion about when it becomes absurd to try and accommodate an allergy sufferers needs. As for whether children with special needs should be in a separate education facility - the fact is that SOME children with special needs SHOULD be in a separate education facility because the level of care they require is so specialized, and I refuse to be shamed for this belief. I have nothing to be ashamed for. I've never said that children with special needs should be denied an education - not by any stretch of the imagination. But we do have some schools for some students that have special needs, that's appropriate and necessary - and that whole discussion is OT from this article. We could discuss that as well, but I fear that people would become similarly upset. My sympathies to you for the celiac disease and the impact it's had on your and your family's life.
David Greenberg September 06, 2012 at 03:15 AM
I'd be willing to bet that many kids could go without peanut butter. But what if we have a child who requires a restricted diet? Let's further assume that this child is a picky eater (as many can be), and eats peanut butter exclusively? Do we then tell that child "sorry Johnny, no more peanut butter for you because Jimmy at your school is allergic to it?". This is an EXAMPLE, a WHAT IT, a THOUGHT EXPERIMENT for discussion. Who would win in that case?
David Greenberg September 06, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Sorry, @me, you are incorrect. In the post regarding the red light camera at Park Avenue West/Hwy 41 (which wasn't yet installed at the time of the comment), I remarked that the cameras weren't 100% reliable and that there was quite a bit of data available to demonstrate that they INCREASED rear end collisions. I also LINKED to a story (out of NC I believe) where some enterprising students took a picture of a teacher's license plate, printed it on photo paper, taped it to a vehicle that looked similar to the teacher's (color, style), and drove through several red lights to get the teacher a ticket. It's a fact, not conspiracy at all. And once again, I chose to bring that information to the awareness of the Public-at-Large so they could better understand the risks of the technology. http://blog.motorists.org/red-light-cameras-increase-accidents-5-studies-that-prove-it/ http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2008/12/dont-like-speed-cameras-use-them-to-punk-your-enemies.ars http://yro.slashdot.org/story/08/12/21/1751210/Using-Speed-Cameras-To-Send-Tickets-To-Your-Enemies http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/26/2632.asp http://www.txt2pic.com/signs/license/usa.asp?state=il&title=illinois&page=1 And the article where I made these comments: http://highlandpark.patch.com/articles/red-light-camera-exposes-dangerous-driving-at-intersection
Max September 06, 2012 at 03:36 AM
Actually, I disagree. In fact, scroll through David's arguments above and you'll find that he's been even headed and not punching below the belt (unlike your comment). Just step back and think about other foods could be restricted over time and think of the impact to society. I think he's just saying that taking away people's rights to food choices isn't the answer in the long-term as more allergies are identified. The answer is to address the issue without infringing on what could potentially be several different types of healthy foods.
David Greenberg September 06, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Correct Max. Thank you.
Max September 06, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Not sure how a wheelchair compares to a peanut allergy. It's like saying we should give up peanut butter because people wear eyeglasses. Anyone who has special needs should be accommodated but it doesn't need to be at the expense of people's individual rights. Installing wheel chair ramps, handicapped bathrooms, etc. are all brilliant ideas and they do nothing to infringe on people's rights. Asking people to give up certain foods when alternatives solutions are available (such as a separate wing of a building for lunchroom as I mentioned above) seems like a reasonable alternative that doesn't infringe on people's rights.
Conrad September 06, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Mr. Greenberg, where does the money come from to find a building for these students and to staff the building?
Palman September 06, 2012 at 04:24 AM
I have family in school that is allergic to ground beef and chicken. They can only eat steak, lobster, and sea scallops (not bay). Any suggestions how the school can remove all ground beef and chicken from the menu? After all, if it's federally mandated then the enitre school must follow the medical diet of the one, right?
David Greenberg September 06, 2012 at 04:35 AM
@Conrad, I'm not certain where you're located - but if it's here on the North Shore of IL - take a look here: http://www.nssed.org/about-nssed-3 Funding comes from a variety of sources.
Mark Stein September 06, 2012 at 04:40 AM
The types of allergies that we are talking about are life threatening. We aren't talking about a mild reaction. A child can die due to small exposure to a peanut. Reasonable rules are made to deal with these issues. Teachers and staff also have to be careful. Most people don't mind the inconvenience if it might save a life.
Conrad September 06, 2012 at 04:55 AM
NSSED is a special education co-op. Food allergies don't come under special education.
David Greenberg September 06, 2012 at 05:07 AM
I understand what special education is and what it's for. But when you get right down to it, NSSED runs facilities for students with special needs that can't be accommodated elsewhere. And I'd argue that a student who has a life-threatening allergy that can be triggered by a mere speck of an allergen has special needs. It's certainly something for thought and consideration.
Sully September 06, 2012 at 12:07 PM
Special education is meant for kids who for whatever reason cannot learn in the regular education setting, and require special classes to allow them an appropriate education. Food allergies do not cause learning problems. What you are proposing is that kids be separated from their peers all day because of what they can't eat. That sounds like discrimination.
Resident September 06, 2012 at 12:57 PM
How can you expect to guarantee a school is peanut free? Visiting sports teams, maintenance workers and hundreds of visitors enter each day. It is not practical. How do we handle the child allergic to bee stings? Should we ban recess for everybody?
David Greenberg September 06, 2012 at 05:58 PM
"Special education is meant for kids who for whatever reason cannot learn in the regular education setting, and require special classes to allow them an appropriate education. Food allergies do not cause learning problems. What you are proposing is that kids be separated from their peers all day because of what they can't eat. That sounds like discrimination." Sully, I'd never discriminate against anyone. SOME food allergies DO cause learning problems. And I'm not proposing that kids be separated from their peers because of what they can't eat, but rather because they have special environmental needs that can't be guaranteed and met by the regular environment. As we've discussed above, kids are slobs - things can happen outside the regular campus environment that can adversely affect a sensitive individual, and to meet the needs of the sensitive individuals in the regular environment approaches the absurd. So we need a special environment so they can learn and be safe. That's ALL I'm saying.


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