Kiddos & Food Allergies
Coming from a background in education, I worked with quite a few classrooms that needed to be food allergy friendly. One class in particular had to be pretty strict with gluten and dairy. Out of the 28 students in my class, only one had severe food allergies. At lunch, he had to sit at his own table with other kids in the school who had similar allergies. He could bring a friend to the table to eat with him if the friend also abided by those same food allergies.
Thinking back to when I was a kid, I don’t really remember friends having food allergies. I don’t remember there being a “safe table” in the lunchroom either. I also don’t remember anyone in my junior high or high school who had food allergies, and I went to a very small school where I would have known something like that. In elementary school, I remember parents bringing treats for the classroom, homemade or packaged for all to enjoy… and we all did! In junior high and high school, since my class was so small (roughly 15-18 students in my grade each year from 7th - 12th), we sometimes would all bring food for classroom parties where everything was homemade: fried chicken, lumpia (a filipino dish), guacamole and chips, chili, cakes, salads and I always made homemade chocolate chip cookies. Everyone ate everything. There was no protocol to making sure there was no cross-contamination with foods or ingredients, and while of course we cleaned up after our feast, was it enough for the class who was coming in to use that classroom after us? Did any of them have food allergies?
Between the time I was 10 years old (1997) and the time I was teaching 8 year olds (2011) the number of kids with food allergies in the USA increased by 50%! That just blows my mind. What will that number increase to in another 15 years?
When I was student teaching in Scottsdale, Arizona, there were rules to follow when it came to food in the classroom. Everything brought into the classroom that was served to the students had to be prepackaged. Thankfully the mother of the boy with serious food allergies would plan ahead and, if there was a pizza party, she would bring him pizza that he could safely eat.
There were some basic rules for snack time in the classroom: kids could only bring and eat fruits and vegetables. If a parent was going to bring treats to the classroom, it had to be packaged and we would also let the parents of the child with food allergies know what they would bring in so they could provide safe treats for their son.
I am surprised that only one boy in my class had food allergies. While people of all races and ethnicities are affected by food allergies, interestingly enough, boys appear to develop food allergies more than girls do.
Thankfully there are so many amazing companies out there who are creating tasty everyday foods for kids of all ages to enjoy that are free of the top 8 food allergens: eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, shellfish and fish. Not only are these everyday foods free of the top allergens, they are made in facilities that are free of the top 8 allergens, which is incredibly important. I always tell people that complain about food allergies that they should be grateful that they know what is making them ill or making their kiddos ill. It’s important to also be thankful for the companies who are making sure that they can safely eat pizza, cookies, bread, ice cream, and so much more.
I also love organizations like Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) who, along with Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee, launched the Teal Pumpkin Project in 2014. With the idea that every child should be able to experience the joy and tradition of trick-or-treating on Halloween, the Teal Pumpkin Project was started with kids with food allergies in mind. Place a teal pumpkin on your doorstep to let trick-or-treaters know that there are safe “treats” at your house. Typically, these treats are non-edible like stickers, small toys or glow sticks. Amazingly, through the power of social media, households in all 50 states, as well as in 14 countries, participate. They are creating a worldwide movement to allow for a safer and happier Halloween for all to enjoy.
I have my own food allergies: sugar cane and yeast. They are more of a food intolerance than an allergy. I don’t need an Epipen for it. It might seem like no big deal to avoid sugar cane. I already don’t eat it anyway. However, I am surprised at how many food products have cane sugar, even foods that you would think were sugar free! (You can learn more about my food allergies here.)
My mom has had an amazing experience learning about her food allergies and intolerances. Here is a taste of what she said in her blog, "Since I have learned of my food allergies and have avoided those foods almost 100% (okay minus a taste every so often), I have seen a change in my inhaler behavior. I don’t have to use it as much! I also have been sleeping much better and haven’t had the joint pain." You can read the rest of her story, here.
If you think you have food allergies, or if you think your kiddo has food allergies, please don’t wait to get tested. Even if you don't think you have any food allergies or intolerances because you truly have never thought about it, and you think you feel fine, I still recommend that you get tested. It won't hurt you, it will only help you. Also, please be cautious of others and their food allergies. If someone says they can’t eat eggs, that means they can’t even have a little bit of egg in a large baked cake. Be mindful. Sadly, some who are fortunate enough to not have any food allergies think that food allergies are a joke. All we can do at that point is continue to educate others about food allergies and intolerances. Do your own research and don’t be afraid to ask questions!