Inviting friends to sit at Allergy lunch table

I was asked a question by a parent of my daughter’s classmate: What lunch can I pack so my child can safely eat with her friend at the “allergy” table in the lunchroom?

Initially, I was thrilled (yay! someone wants to take the time to learn and keep kids with food allergies safe!), then a little panicked (OK, I trust THIS parent, but what about the next parent who asks?) I was eager to answer this questions correctly, you know, strike a balance of information without scaring them away, but not minimizing the risk.  It’s a small school and my answer may set some sort of precedent.

This article isn’t intended to debate the merits or downfalls of “allergy tables” at lunch. Certainly there are many different and valid opinions on this within our circle. However, since “allergy tables” are out there (at least in my daughter’s school), we have to find ways to navigate within such a system.

Fortunately my daughter attends a fantastic school that really “gets it” when it comes to food allergies.  Also, because it’s a small school, checking a few lunches is possible and the teachers are willing.

After talking with my daughter’s teachers, here are some tips we came up with to share with parents:

  • Things to think about to avoid cross contamination:
    • Always read EVERY label for ALL ingredients. Look for allergens in the ingredients list as well “may contain” or other cross contamination warnings.
    • Wash your hands before you make/pack the lunch. Use clean utensils.
    • Prepare the lunch on a clean surface (plate or paper towel works well), not in the same place you made peanut butter toast that morning. 🙂
    • As always, make sure your child knows not to share any part of their lunch with other kids.
    • Consider calling the parent of your child’s friend that they want to sit near. They might have some great ideas for lunch. (especially if it’s an allergy other than peanut or tree-nut)
    • Send a note in your child’s folder letting their teacher know so they can double check the lunch.
    • Also, there is only so much room at the peanut free table… your child might not to get to sit there if there are lots of other kids with the same idea on the same day.
  • Peanut/TreeNut Free Lunch Ideas:
    • Thermos hot meals (like chicken noodle soup, mac-n-cheese, chili, pasta)
    • Sandwiches and wraps: (Double check the bread or tortilla)
    • Tuna fish, deli meats, and cheese, cream cheese and jelly, veggie wraps
    • If your child won’t eat anything but peanut butter… try SoyNut Butter or WOW butter (tasty alternatives to peanut butter, available at most local grocery stores in the same aisle as the peanut butter)
    • Most Lunchables
    • Snacks (check the snack list in the school handbook or Snack Safely has a good list of peanut-free, tree-nut-free, and egg-free ideas)

Note:  This solution would not work in all schools.  Although prevention is a big part of keeping children with food allergies safe, it is equally (if not more) important they are in a place where people are prepared to recognize symptoms, medicine is readily accessible, and an allergy action plan is in place and enacted should a reaction occur.

Were these tips helpful?  I’d love to hear what has worked for your child at school.

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