With the early onset of winter-like weather in Chicago (and around the country) I imagine that many of us are trying to find ways to entertain the kids indoors. Last Monday (day off the for Columbus Day holiday), my family ventured out to The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for a family field trip. We had a great time but I was reminded--yet again--that you can't be too careful when it comes to nut allergies on the road.
Of course, food is always a concern on any day trip, since at least one meal will have to be eaten away from home. In the early days of my daughter's nut allergy diagnosis, I was definitely a lot less prepared for the kind of thing I encountered at the Museum's "Brain Food Court." I hadn't visited the museum in a while, so when I researched their in-house restaurant offerings, I saw that they now had a food court.
As a veteran Nut-Free Mom, I had already packed my daughter a complete lunch in our insulated "Thermos tote"--kind of like an insulated purse. You can buy them at Target. A placemat really is a nice thing to have on hand when using a community table at a place where lots of kids are visiting. Because as all of us know by now, "lots of kids" = peanut butter. And since PB is sticky, the more sensitive allergy sufferers may react if they get some of this onto their hands or in their food. My daughter has had reactions in cafeteria-like settings, so she really feels more confident with a placemat--I highly recommend it! What an easy way to set your minds at ease so you can enjoy lunch.
To cut down on the amount of stuff I needed to lug around the museum, my husband and I decided to buy lunch for the rest of us on site. As I went through the deli line (a generally safe place for nut-allergic people) I discovered that they served PB & J. I was curious to see if they separated the PB from the other foods, since PotBelly's and Panera seem to do this.
Here's what I found: a huge, much-used and messy open container of peanut butter practically spilling over onto about 3 other open containers that surrounded it. Truly a nut allergy nightmare if you hadn't thought to pack a lunch beforehand, especially if you were a tourist, for example. Even though I confront this type of thing (as many of you do) almost every day, it really bothered me. This is a world-class science museum catering to kids and lots of school groups, after all. They should "get" cross-contact even if they plan to serve PB. For example, Kohl Children's Museum in Glenview, Illinois has Kim & Scott's Pretzel's ( a nut-free bakery) as their in-house dining option. The place is completely nut-free and peanut butter-free--especially nice since the kids use interactive buttons, levers, etc. If Kohl Children's Museum can have nut-free dining, then anyone can.
You can imagine how glad I was that I didn't have to choose a food from the food court for my daughter. I wasn't able to see all of the other offerings at the food court, since the place was packed, but I didn't have a lot of confidence that I would have gotten a nut-free meal there based on what I saw at the deli.
The museum turned out to be an educational place in more ways than one! I share this story to remind all of us, especially those of us newer to nut allergies, that it really pays to pack a lunch and a placemat when you can. Plus, reminding your kids (especially younger kids) to wipe off their hands after using an interactive exhibit is a great idea.