Dear Fellow Parent,
You’re probably really annoyed at me. Well, not me, but my kid. And I know, I know – you aren’t actually annoyed at my kid either. Just the way things are today.
It is my kid who is the reason the teacher sent home that note in your beginning-of-the-school-year packet. The one that says, “Due to an allergy in the classroom, please do not send your child with any peanuts or tree nuts in their lunch. This includes peanut butter.”
I know you know it includes peanut butter. But you’d be shocked by how many people didn’t.
There are other variations on this letter:
“Please do not send any homemade treats for school parties due to children with allergies.”
“Please do not send any birthday snacks to school. You may send stickers instead.”
“If you bring food to the classroom for sharing, please ensure that it is tree nut-free, egg-free, wheat-free, soy-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, fish and shellfish-free.”
I know you aren’t thrilled to get that letter. I know you aren’t personally the kind of person who leaves horrible comments on articles about allergies, but I know they are out there. People think my kid should just learn to deal with it because hey, that’s life and the world doesn’t revolve around them. They think I should teach him better and not rely on others to parent for me. They think it’s not fair to their kid who is normal. They think that because they read some study suggesting parents expose kids to peanuts earlier, my kid shouldn’t avoid peanuts anyway.
My stomach goes into knots and I sit my four-year-old down for yet another lecture on how he can never take food from anyone unless I personally say it’s okay and he must ask about the ingredients before he takes a bite of anything and he must always tell a teacher right away if he his throat hurts or stomach itches and if he can’t talk he needs to bang on something loudly until they notice.
By then he’s terrified and I’m trying not to cry in front of him.
Trust me, we’ve talked to him about the dangers of eating something he’s allergic to.
I still need you, fellow parent. I can’t do this alone.
Peanut butter is sticky and it ends up on fingers and door knobs. It ends up on the rim of the juice cup that accidentally gets switched when two kids sit beside each other. It ends up in the belly of a four-year-old who really can’t resist just one tiny bite of that Reese’s cup cupcake everyone else got but him.
I know it’s annoying. I know it’s a huge inconvenience to receive that note. We’ve been doing it for years – foregoing family favorites like the peanut brittle my mom used to send me every Christmas, checking the label on every single item that our child eats, spending extra time in the grocery store looking to see if they have any chocolate chips that don’t contain dairy.
In some ways, it’s more stressful for you. I have the brands we can eat memorized by heart. I know nut-free, dairy-free versions of any childhood favorite. We’ve been given tips and advice from our allergist. My kid is used to hearing “no” when it comes to having something he really, really wants. But when you haven’t had to deal with allergies before, they can certainly throw you for a loop.
Here’s a few tips and pieces of advice that I’ve honed over the years that can hopefully help if you have an allergic kid in your child’s classroom.
1 | Know that it matters
Special diets are certainly more common these days, which might cause some eye-rolling. But despite their increased prevalence, allergies are still a life-and-death scenario. They cannot be taken lightly.
2 | “Contains” and “may contain” are both bad news
Federal law requires the top eight allergens to be listed either in the ingredient list, or separately at the bottom of the ingredient list. Allergic children are instructed to avoid foods that are said to either “contain” or “may contain” the allergen. “Processed in a facility that also processes…” labels are not required by law. Some foods without that warning may also be processed in a facility or on shared equipment as an allergen. Parents will have different comfort labels with that label. To further complicate things, know that dairy can go by many names – casein, whey, and sodium caseinate. If you are dealing with a dairy allergy, it’s best to read the entire ingredient list even if you don’t see a “Contains Milk” warning at the bottom. Also note that “lactose free” is not the same as dairy free. Lactose is a sugar, but a kid with a dairy allergy is likely allergic to the protein.
3 | Think of how your kid would feel
If you are tempted to cheat and send your kid to school with a peanut butter sandwich, think of how your kid would feel if their lunch sent someone to the hospital. There’s no way a parent would want to put that guilt or stress on their kid. It’s easier to just do ham and cheese (again).
4 | Know I don’t expect you to accommodate my kid
Don’t spend all night searching through Pinterest for the perfect gluten-free soy-free cupcake to bake for your son’s birthday party. It’s his birthday! Let him have what he wants! My kid is not your responsibility. Trust me, I prefer it that way – it’s pretty gut wrenching when someone says “No, trust me, this doesn’t have any milk any it! Just butter.” I’ll bring a treat for my kid to your party. Just tell me what color frosting so I can coordinate.
5 | Tell the teacher if you plan on bringing in a snack
Like I said, I have no problem providing allergy-friendly treats for my own kid. But I hate the look on his face when everyone else at the school pick-up has frosting-stained lips and he is holding a piece of gum his teacher dug out of her purse. If you plan on bringing in a special treat, please let the teacher know ahead of time so she can pass on that info to me and I can be prepared.
6 | Allergy friendly snacks are out there – I promise!
You don’t have to pass out celery on Halloween. Here are a few suggestions of allergy-friendly treats my kids have never said no to:
- fruit leathers
- juice boxes
- plain potato chips
- jelly beans
- lollipops (not Tootsie pops however)
- fruit snacks
- gummy bears
- Swedish fish
- candy canes
- Jolly Ranchers
Don’t forget non-edible treats like tattoos, pencils, special erasers, bouncy balls, and stickers.
Lastly, I wanted to say thank you. It takes a village to raise a child, and I know it can be a pain when someone in that village has a need that disrupts your routine. You are making the choice to save my kid’s life, and that is something I am deeply grateful for. If it’s any comfort, I do know how you feel. I would give anything to send my kid to school with a peanut butter sandwich, too.
From the bottom of my heart – thank you.
The Allergy Mom