Include the Child and not the Food!
Our struggles are numerous but having a severely allergic child that attends a public school provides continuous challenges. While the food served in the cafeteria is nut free, students are allowed to bring lunch and snacks to school that contain food allergens and in our case, tree nuts. There are also functions throughout the school year including Watchdogs for Dads, holiday parties, special treats and in-class activities that involve food. Our county school system has eliminated birthday food treats so at least this one less situation that we need to stress over.
What bothers us the most is how special activities that involve food with children who have food allergies are handled. Typically, the first reaction is to provide an alternative option for those with food allergies. Really? How does this foster inclusion? Our child already feels different and doesn’t quite understand why people don’t think of him. “Mom, they know I have a food allergy, did they not want me to participate?" Oh, how this just breaks our hearts! How do you think it makes him feel when you isolate him or intentionally treat him differently? We would rather see them include the child and exclude the food!
Our child’s classroom is nut-free and we work very closely with our son’s teacher to help facilitate classroom activities that involve food but even this poses challenges.
Most recently, my son’s teacher reached out to us about doing a fun snowman math activity with food including marshmallows, pretzel sticks, chocolate chips, raisins and candy corn. We of course told his teacher that we would purchase all the items for the class to ensure everything was nut-free.
Depending on the brand, we must carefully select every product we purchase and we always read all the labels especially with pretzels, chocolate chips and candy corn, no matter how many times before we have purchased the product. These items can be produced in a facility with tree nuts or may contain tree nuts as the food may have been produced on shared equipment. Candy corn is especially challenging as many of the manufacturers make candy with nuts and therefore, it makes it difficult to purchase nut free.
We have found Amazon Prime to be a great resource except we still ran into some issues. Initially, we ordered Jelly Belly orange sherbet jelly beans (as we were not aware Jelly Belly made candy corn) which were sold by Candy/Cosmetic Depot. Not only did the jelly beans come repackaged by the distributor, there were no ingredients listed or allergen warnings on the packaging which are required by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA). This product was mailed back and we reported the product’s lack of compliance with the FDA & FALCPA requirements to Amazon. We then ordered a Jelly Belly candy corn sold by Amazon.com LLC. The candy corn also came repackaged from a distribution center. Like all Jelly Belly products and as the website indicated the product was fat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and certified OU Kosher, but after it was repackaged in another facility, the candy corn was no longer nut free and was clearly labeled on the packaging. We also reported this food allergen warning gap to Amazon.com and it has now been rectified on the website. We finally ordered the Jelly Belly Candy Corn in packaging directly from Jelly Belly sold by Zerbert and this was indeed nut-free.
With a little extra effort, we were able to successfully provide the food ingredients for this wonderfully creative winter math activity which allowed the entire class to participate and provided a safe environment for all. We were able ... to include the FOOD and the CHILD!