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The Snack Line: Teaching Our Children Compassion and Compromise

Restrictive school snacks lists may seem limiting to some, but can be a matter of life and death for others.

A fellow District 135 parent recently shared her view that schools "exaggerate" snack restrictions due to allergies, specifically in the case of an egg.

The author of a letter published in the SouthtownStar seemed perplexed, even annoyed that schools are attempting to make a safer atmosphere by restricting food brought into classrooms. While I agree that the snack lists are quite limiting, I do not think everyone understands the severity of the reaction some kids have to these foods, such as peanuts and eggs. Are we to just ignore that exposure to these foods can be potentially fatal to some children?

The author of the article was concerned that her child could not eat a hard-boiled egg at snack time. If the egg is an important staple in the diet of the child, why not pack it with her child's lunch instead? Simple compromise and everyone is happy. Not to mention that under Public Act 96-0349, school boards in Illinois are required to adopt policies which promote both prevention and management of life-threatening allergic reactions.

Keep in mind that children in are not limited as to what they can bring for lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the norm in my own children's lunches. School lunchrooms have sections specifically for kids who are allergic to peanuts so that they are not exposed. The restriction is only applied to snacks brought into the classrooms.

My own children do not have food allergies, and I will not pretend to know what it must be like to live in fear of my child going into anaphylactic shock from common food. I did, however, have an experience that will forever remain with me.

My children were toddlers, playing in a kiddie pool in the back yard. We had our lunch outdoors to avoid having wet children in the kitchen. My neighbor's child came over to swim with us. I knew he had food-related allergies, and since we had eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I cleaned the patio table thoroughly upon his arrival. Within minutes the neighbor’s child was wheezing and suffering from an allergic reaction. I am only guessing, but maybe there was peanut butter on the pool sides or one of the pool toys and he must have become exposed. Since then, I ask a parent about allergies when children visit my home. Any allergies.

I asked parents in Orland Park with children who are allergic to some foods for perspective.

Kelly Cantillon children's allergies can be fatal if the schools they attend don't take some precautionary measures.

"My daughter is allergic to peanuts, shellfish and raw eggs. My son is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, eggs, and shellfish," said Cantillon. "Some of these allergens may be outgrown, but others, such as peanuts and shellfish, will remain lifelong allergies. It is not easy to have children with food allergies but it becomes a way of life."

The kids in her son's class eat graham crackers, containing wheat, as a snack every day. She doesn't expect the class to change their snack for her son but asks that the tables are wiped with "Wet Ones" afterward and that the kids wash their hands.  Play-Doh, glue and many other common classroom items contain wheat and Cantillon taught her son to avoid contact with these from an early age.

Another parent almost found out too late about his child's allergy.

"Our son had an allergic reaction to peanut butter before we knew he was allergic to peanuts. His reaction resulted in calling 911, going to the emergency room, and nearly losing his life," said the parent, who asked not to be named.

His child is also allergic to eggs, which can cause a similarly serious reaction.

"The reaction to peanuts results in closing of the breathing passages and immediate breaking out of hives, along with swelling of the lips and tongue. Only exhaling is possible, not inhaling properly to breathe," he said. "The reaction to eggs results in immediate breaking out of hives."

The parent said he is grateful for the district's policies and measures taken to make his child and others with allergies safe, and his child hasn't had a reaction at school.

Teaching our children to be compassionate when it comes to the differences of others, whether it be an allergy, a special need or any other condition that requires a veer from the norm, is valuable. Compromise is something these kids will deal with their entire lives and there is no better time than in elementary school to begin teaching this useful quality.

Barbara Neuth November 18, 2011 at 02:34 PM
There is a great open letter to parents posted on SnackSafely.com entitled: "Why Your Child Can't Bring Peanut Butter to School (and What You Can Do About It)". It frames the issue and provides a strategy for transitioning a child from peanut butter to a safer alternative. You can find it here: http://snacksafely.com/2011/11/why-your-child-cant-bring-peanut-butter-to-school/
Nabeha Zegar November 18, 2011 at 07:59 PM
Thank you, Barbara. It is a compromise that is not so difficult to make when you consider the damage it could cause.
Kira Morehouse December 13, 2011 at 01:43 AM
I work for a company (HomeFree) that is involved with the food allergy community and promoting education/awareness. We love this article and are sharing it on our Facebook Page. You might be interested to see that we have recently blogged about this topic as well. Your efforts to be inclusive as a parent that does not have children with food allergies are commendable and we wish there were more out there who share your empathy. http://www.homefreetreats.com/blog/archives/2011/12/03/peanut-allergy-precautions-in-schools-finding-common-ground/

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