Rethinking Our Food Philosophy

Parents of food allergic kiddos are always on the fast track for learning. We learn about our child’s personal wants and desires and how it relates to food. We learn about how society, i.e., school, sport groups, friends, family, etc., deal with food allergies both in a positive and negative way. Last but certainly not least, we as parents learn about ourselves: how to refocus our approach to food, how we best partner with others; how we too need emotional support and how to dig deep and find our own strength. I applaud everyone who cares for allergic children with compassion and grace, because it’s sometimes difficult to keep a smile on our face, while supporting the promotion of partnership with others.

Last year was my son’s first year of school, half-day kindergarten. It taught me a lot about how to communicate, educate and partner with others regarding food allergies. I wore many hats last year: the food allergy guru, the snack planner, the soiree architect, the 504 educator, the allergy-safe frosting maker, the heartsick Mom and, more often times than not, the very happy Mom.

During this, I realized something…we as a society have to rethink our food philosophy. We socialize with it. We celebrate with it. We reward with it. We craft with it. I don’t think we know how much we use food as an activity. As you know, food so often is an activity in which our allergic kiddos cannot participate.

It’s so easy to plan a party where food is used as the activity to pass time: making a sundae treat, building a gingerbread house or opening a bakery box full of cupcakes the size of your head. I think many fail to realize that our eating and interaction with food is mindless. It takes real ingenuity to come up with activities that create memories with one another. In the broader scheme of things, isn’t that what we are trying to do? Plan a fun event, foster camaraderie and create a memory.

While attending my son’s first grade 504 meeting a month ago, I learned that the school decided to instate a new food policy:

New Food Policy
Due to a growing number of students with food allergies and the increased concern with overall nutrition of children Kimberly Lane has decided to adopt a new school-wide policy.

NO LONGER WILL WE ALLOW ANY FOOD ITEMS SERVED IN THE CLASSROOM FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS. This includes birthdays, holidays and other celebrations. The risk of accidental ingestion of allergens is just too great. We have learned that some food items may have cross-contamination.

We recognize the joy of celebrating birthdays and would suggest alternative treats such as pencils or bookmarks. Another option would be a book donation to our library in honor of your child’s birthday. On our website are details on how you could do this.

The only food served in the classroom will be mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks that students bring from home. All snacks from home must be free of peanuts, tree nuts and other allergens that are life threatening to Kimberly Lane students. More details on acceptable snacks may be sent home from your child’s classroom.

Here’s the Gist
This new policy brought me back to what I had been saying and mulling over for the past year: are we creating true moments, true memories with our children when we use food as the focus? What is the message that we send our children with regard to food? I think this new policy only solidifies my belief that creating a memory has to be inclusive in order to be successful.

Our school ceased celebrating Christmas years ago because many students are from other religious backgrounds. This thinking falls right in line with the food philosophy, many students cannot participate, so why have it as a focal point of celebrations.

I cannot thank the administrators at my son’s school for forging ahead and establishing this new policy. I’m very glad to know that food’s focus will be about living while activities become fun and memory making for all.

Life is full of moments. Sometimes we never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory. What kind of memory do you want to have?