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Transitioning to New Environments

 

First Day of Middle School with Epi-Belt!

My food allergic daughter has successfully completed many transitions in various environments during the age appropriate stages of her life. These range from home caregivers to pre-school, elementary school, day camp, overnight camp, various extra-curricular activities, and now middle school. Each environment has its own set of rules for managing food allergies.

What are the rules?

Each age appropriate stage has its own challenges and each school, camp, or after care facility has its own rules. How do you follow the rules which change from one establishment to the next? Transitions happen more often in the summer or in September than any other time of year, but here are some examples of policies that may be different from one institution to the next.

  • Nut Free table – can create social or other isolation type concerns.
  • Peanut only table – can create confusion if your child is not aware of the contents in his lunch.
  • No Nut policy.
  • Cafeteria table cleaning rotation – can be scary for kids who are allergic and have to clean up.
  • Kosher schools or camps – may have a dairy only lunch policy.

As parents, we are required to know the rules, but becoming familiar with new rules each time our child goes through another transition creates challenges. Some parents choose a particular school, camp, or after care facility because of its policies and are able to preach them. Others without food allergies may simply be unaware of the rules. Each is handled differently depending allergy needs in a particular location. In any case the rules are meant to keep our children safe.

How do you ensure that everyone follows the rules?

This is a transition time of year! Parents are sending their kids to new schools, meeting with administrators, nurses, teachers, and implementing 504 Plans. Everyone has to be on board with nut free environments including parents of non-allergic kids. Schools need to communicate with all parents, teachers, and volunteers their policies on food allergies, and the policies need to be implemented effectively. Sometimes the rules change from one situation to the next which makes it possible for someone to make an honest mistake.

A specific incident…

I would like to share with you a personal experience from this past summer. My kids attended a particular day camp for one week. The camp takes their policies seriously. In fact, it takes pride in meeting the needs of every family member.

My non-food allergic daughter would buy lunch through the camp lunch program. However, we felt it would be best for my food allergic daughter to bring her own lunch. The first day’s packed lunch included a pb&j sandwich along with other goodies. After our morning carpool, I received an e-mail from the camp stating “our camp is nut free!” For someone as mindful of food allergies as I am, packing a pb&j sandwich was certainly an oversight. I simply was not aware of the nut free policy.  The other programs our kids attend are not nut free and they were to attend this camp for only one week.

I should have called the camp to inform them of my oversight, but instead the day got away from me. My nut eating, yet otherwise food allergic daughter shared with me the news that her counselor threw away her sandwich. She was instead offered the option of choosing items from the lunch program, in which she chose an allergy safe fruit salad. This obviously did not provide her with the protein intended in the sandwich. However, I was proud of her for choosing something safe to eat in a new environment and of the counselor for following the policy to keep others, for which the policy was written, safe.

The incident further perpetuated a special trip to the supermarket in which we found nut free items that my daughter could still eat at camp. We purchased some Wowbutter and a School Safe product for my non allergic daughter’s snack. We also bought some of her favorite Wholly Guacamole minis. Many snacks are safe to bring to a nut free facility. SnackSafely has put together a guide to help parents determine items which are egg, peanut, and tree nut free snacks.

On day #2 after my daughter left for camp with her nut free lunch, I received a phone call from someone at the camp. He reminded me of the nut free policy, the incident in which the pb&j sandwich was discarded and offered to sell me the paid lunch program. I apologized for the oversight and reminded him of the reason my daughter needed to bring her lunch in the first place.

What is safe?

At what point should your child be able to navigate through his environment on his own? People have different allergies and the world is not always a safe place. One could argue that having a nut free environment creates a false sense of security. Another could argue the awareness and emotional support it provides for people who are anaphylactic to nuts is invaluable.

A product label is not reason enough to be sure that it is safe. The FDA and USDA issue product recalls when there is reason to believe that a food may cause consumers to become ill, including discovery of a potential allergen in a product. Kids With Food Allergies receives recall notices on a daily basis for products that are mislabeled in the factory. You can sign up to receive these notices or look at their collection of food allergy recall alerts.

Bringing it forward…

What are the rules in your child’s cafeteria? Allergy Eats has a very relevant blog post this month which talks about nut free schools and how parents view allergies in elementary schools during lunch time. Sometimes transitions can be confusing, but once we know the rules, it’s nice to have support from allergic and non-nut allergic families alike. I believe in doing whatever it takes to create safe environments for kids.

 

Fortunately schools, camps, and after school facilities are taking food allergies seriously enough to enact nut free policies, however it’s not enough. Policies change from one facility to the next and need to be executed, implemented and constantly monitored. Accidents do happen. Teaching children to learn the rules and to care for themselves is important too. Children should be taught to advocate for themselves as soon as it’s age appropriate. Our job as parents is to model this behavior so when our kids are away from home, we can be proud of their decision making skills.

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