When my firstborn started at childcare there was a big sign on the door saying:
“No Nuts, Eggs or Dairy”
I was gobsmacked.
How was my precious darling going to survive without his yoghurt pouch and homemade baked goodies in his lunchbox everyday?
To my great relief they started providing meals shortly after and I didn’t have to think so hard about the food I sent along.
It still made “bring a plate” days and celebrations difficult. I recall thinking I was a genius when I crafted a Christmas tree out of watermelon to take to the end of year celebration. It really did look great, especially alongside the other 3 watermelon Christmas trees on the party table.
These days the majority of schools and early childhood services are at least “nut free”. Chances are there are kids in every class who can’t eat something. This might be due to allergies, illness, lifestyle choice or cultural reasons.
Fact: 1 in 20 kids suffer from a food allergy. Most common triggers are egg, cow’s milk, peanut, tree nuts, seafood, sesame, soy, fish and wheat. (source)
Admittedly, I was previously frustrated by this fact but now I totally get it.
My middle son has recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease, which means he can’t eat wheat. So when there are end of year pizza parties or birthday cupcakes, he misses out. He can’t even have a lolly bag or buy something from the tuckshop (wheat is in so many things!)
In fact, contamination from another child’s lunch could even make him sick. If a friend’s cake crumbs get on his food and he ingests them – he’s in for an afternoon of pain and discomfort. Seems crazy but it is true.
However, we are pretty lucky because, unlike some food allergies, his disease isn’t imminently life-threatening.
It shocks me when my kids tell me how many people still take peanut butter or Nutella sandwiches to school, despite the nut-free rule.
People don’t realise that for some, just the slightest contact with a sticky, peanut butter covered finger could trigger anaphylaxis.
Necessary steps have already been taken such as banning high-risk foods like nuts. It is also important to teach kids food safety and hygiene such as not sharing food and washing hands after eating.
I think teaching kids about respecting people’s differences when it comes to food, is also imperative.
Yes, catering to special dietary requirements can be a hassle. However, it is more than just an inconvenience for so many people. For those people, it is their life. Imagine if it was your child? It easily could be.
Kid’s with special dietary needs have to learn what they can eat, what they can’t and how to deal with being teased or questioned regarding their food choices. They also have to learn to deal with the disappointment of missing out.
So many people still have an “it’s not my problem” attitude, which is a sad indictment on our society. I agree that the majority shouldn’t have to be heavily restricted to cater for the minority. But likewise, the minority should not be disadvantaged, or worse put at risk, because they are different.
So next time you prepare a plate to share, host a party or even just pack your kid’s lunchbox, try to think inclusively. Catering for kids with special dietary needs doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some tips:
- No nuts. Ever.
- Fresh fruit and veg are always a safe option
- Steer away from overly processed foods
- Water-based ice-blocks make a great alternative for class celebrations, as do non-food treats
- Ask Google – there are millions of allergy-friendly kid approved recipes online
- If in doubt, ask the child or their parent
If you follow these basic steps, I’m sure there will be a kid out there with special dietary needs who will be very grateful.