Could free school meals help children with nut and seed allergies?

I recently heard from a mum of a little girl with a severe sesame allergy. Fortunately, her daughter’s school have now announced that their school meals will cater for all allergies (and that children may continue to have packed lunches, if they prefer). However, she raised a very interesting point about whether a packed lunch ban could actually make school dining halls a safer place for nut and seed allergic children.

Here’s what she said:

“It occurred to me that free school meals for all could help children with nut and seed allergies. Where schools like my daughter’s have chosen to implement a nut and seed ban, the main health risk is from an accidental exposure to a packed lunch where the parents have broken the nut and seed ban (which has happened…. we get stories of parents telling their children to lie and say that the health food bar or chocolate spread doesn’t contain hazelnuts etc etc). By reducing the number of packed lunches, the new provision could create a safer environment for children whose allergy is so severe that anaphylactic shock can be triggered by airborne allergens or skin contact…

Accidental exposure from other children’s packed lunches was the biggest concern that I had when my daughter started school.  At the young age of 4, many children don’t understand allergies and don’t have full muscular or social control –  during a meal they are constantly touching each other and each other’s food. But the staff-pupil ratio at most state schools is so high that there is inadequate supervision. So our exec head gave my daughter a 1-1 supervisor at meal times (which she still has and will continue to have until the end of year 1), and agreed that she would sit with the school dinner children rather than the packed lunch children because we could be sure that the school dinners didn’t contain sesame seeds. We also created a system of ‘allergy buddies’ – children who always sat next to her at meal times and who helped her to give a school assembly about food allergies and who generally explain and support her socially if she is ever challenged. The allergy buddies are also trained to tell a teacher if she starts to cough / wheeze / sneeze or get hives. And they know where her emergency medical bag is kept (we felt this was important in case a supply teacher ever came in and didn’t know where to find the medication in an emergency).”

What do you think? Might school dinners in fact be safer than packed lunches, if the school and its caterers pledge to make meals allergen free?

And has anyone else experienced this outrageous packed lunch fraud, with children instructed to lie about their packed lunch ingredients? If so, what did your child’s school do to address the issue?

2 comments

  1. Hi Louise, my daughter has been having school dinners even before we find out she had peanut and nut allergies. My son will be hsving the same when he goes to school next year. The school does separate the packed lunch kids from the school dinners which helps. I now have a meeting with the catering manager to discuss the allergies in more detail.

    1. Thanks Chen – that’s really good to hear there are schools out there who do get it right and can provide nut safe meals. I had been thinking we’d opt for packed lunches when my son starts in September, but after hearing about nut products being sneaked into lunch boxes … I’ll definitely be investigating the school dinner option too.

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