Friday, August 29, 2008

Those Pesky "Safe Snacks" Lists

School has been in session for us since Tuesday and so far, so good. My daughter has the option of coming home for the lunch hour (the first time we've ever been in a district that offers this) so I think I may be in for an easier time of it this year. She did stay on Thursday, and things went fine. Still, at this point we're still adjusting to the new routine, which means we'll have some tweaking to do at some point.

Which brings me "Safe Snacks" lists. This is the first year I have not been asked for one of these by the teacher. (Yahoo! Trumpet fanfare.) That's because our new school discourages edible treats in the classroom. Still, there will be other instances when I'm asked for one of these (Girl Scouts, play dates, etc.) and I know I have to be prepared. I also know that many of you are struggling to compile these right now.

Since we're all dealing with different food allergies, I can't offer a "one size fits all" safe snack list, so I won't attempt to do that here. I just really want to encourage everyone to very carefully read every label before putting down a specific food.Even if you've used it before, the label may have changed recently.

To wit: Last year, I had Jay's brand OkeDoke bagged popcorn on our "nut-free" list, only to discover that it got a new allergy label halfway through the school year. According to the new label, it "may contain hazelnuts and brazil nuts" among several other allergens. This may be a case of "list the top 8, everything will be great!" approach that seems to be the norm right now with many food manufacturers. The September 16th FDA hearing will have a lot of bearing on these labels, so stay tuned. In the meantime, make a simple list and advise all list recepients that there could be changes.

But the easiest thing of all is: no edible treats at school! Why do the kids need to constantly be celebrating with sugary treats? For one thing, childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes are both on the rise. I would think most parents would be happy not to have their kids exposed to more cake, cookies and candy while at school. If the parents you know are grumbling that they can't bring treats to school, put it to them like that. You never know--they may see it as a positive when presented in that light.

Also, for the first time ever, my daughter has another child in her class with peanut/tree nut allergies. (She's always been the only one in her actual classroom, though not the grade level.) This student also has soy allergies in addition to nut allergies. So I may not be the "baking mom" this year after all. Do any of you dealing with soy allergies have advice on treats for me? I'd love to help out as I always have, but need to keep it safe.

Which brings me to another point: Parents, please don't allow non-allergic families to provide food or treats to your classroom. Whatever you have to do (and you can be diplomatic here) make sure YOU are the "Treats Mom" or "Treats Dad." It is nearly impossible to explain to someone else how to handle the food issue, so don't give yourself or the other parents more gray hairs and stress. You bring the food--every time. I've found this to be the best way.

If anyone has ideas that I haven't covered here, please let us know. Hope everyone who's started school has had a good start! For those who haven't started yet, good luck!


Unknown said...

Good advice. And I appreciate what you mentioned about being the "Treats Mom" or "Treats Dad". My PA son is starting preschool now and already one parent simply will not accept that I need to provide the safe food for my son. I don't want anyone else reading labels for his food! When he is old enough, I will trust him to do it himself more than I will trust an adult inexperienced with food allergies.

I am sure they thought I was being unreasonable when I insisted it was no trouble for me to bring a stash of Gak's Snacks and Cherrybrook Kitchen's ready to eat cookies to keep on hand at school. He doesn't need something that looks just like everyone else's snack. He just needs a safe snack! He remembers what it was like when he had his big reaction and he is terrified of experiencing it again. Even at the tender age of almost-5, he wants his yummy safe snacks that don't make him sick.

Libby said...

When my son started Kindergarten this year we provided a gallon ziploc filled with single serving bags of safe snacks, namely Keebler Bug Bites and Scooby Snacks. (High fructose corn syrup, here we come!)

The labels have already been checked by us, and these are snacks my son doesn't get very often, so they are a treat for him. This year there isn't a regular snack time outside of lunch, so these are for special occasions. Libby

Jenny said...

That sounds like a great idea--I had to chuckle when you mentioned the Scooby Snacks and Bug Bites. Those were (and still are) my daughter's favorite "safe" snacks at that age!

I think your son will like getting those as treats--my daughter found that sometimes the other kids wanted what she was having instead of what the rest of the class was indulging in! said...

Our school doesn't allow treats in the classes period. But, and here's a weird one, they have snack time every day in the classes. Which I love for my non-allergic children, but worry over when sending in a snack that doesn't have nuts or peanut butter. I personally try my hardest, but as a mom who doesn't deal with it on a daily basis, HOW am I to make sure that they are truly safe?

I am still amazed that they allow it in the class...

Jenny said...

My school also allows snacks in class--but the snacks must be peanut or nut-free.

Thanks for your efforts, Tracey. All of us with food-allergic kids appreciate moms like you.

The best way to make sure you are sending a "safe" snack is to read the ingredients label to make sure it doesn't contain any nuts.

Don't worry too much about the "may contains" labels--those are undergoing changes right now. And anyway, the main concern of the Nut-Free Moms is "no nuts."

Also, please reinforce to your kids that they should not share food with allergic classmates--even if something appears safe. Just makes life easier for all of us.

Thank you for your interest--I think your comment illustrates how difficult food in schools has become.

Jenny said...

Oh and Tracey, I forgot to mention (and this is something I want all non-allergic families to know):
We don't expect you to be experts on our kids' food allergies. I think a lot of families feel under the gun due to food allergy policies and that others will become angry with them if they don't perfectly adhere from the outset.

These policies take time to implement and to be asorbed by all concerned. All we ask is for non-allergic families to keep an open mind and do their best. We, the parents of the food-allergic kids, realize that it's our responsibility to ensure our children's safety.

In other words, we're all in this together!

Anonymous said...

My son started kindergarten just a few weeks ago. This was a huge step for us. In fact, we were very close to homeschooling instead. I have to say that so far, our experience has been awesome. As far as having a plan for the time when birthday treats, etc. are sent in, I put together a small storage bin of safe treats and snacks with instruction that he
could choose what he wants each time. There have already been two birthdays since the start of school, and one coming up tomorrow! What is great about our snack box is that my son gets excited about picking his surprise, and his teacher (as well as myself!) don't have to worry about a reaction.


Lainy said...

My son is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts and he started kindergarten last week. Up until he was diagnosed with food allergies, I've never had to deal with anything like it. I've had one heck of a time getting him prepared to start school. I also found out the teachers keep snacks in class and she has asked me for a safe snack list. I've tried everything I could to help prepare him for lunches and parties but I was kind of shocked because I had never heard of teachers giving snacks in school (wish they did for us when I went tho! LOL) But I came across your blog when I did a search for "safe snack lists" to see what other parents and schools are doing. I never really participated in school activities and my mom wasn't involved when I went to school either. Now I have signed up to help with school parties so I can help manage my childs allergies and it's definately a change of lifestyle for me. Needless to say, I am holding my breath each day and I'm trying to hang in there! Thanks for your advice!

Jenny said...

Hi everybody--I wrote this post awhile ago and I wanted to clarify my "may contains" statement.

I should have phrased that differently. In some instances, parents bring in foods that say may contains nuts. If you bring those, please don't feed those to an allergic child. Recent studies have shown that many foods with "may contains" labels have enough of the allergen to trigger reactions.

What I meant to say was that if you are a non-allergic family and want to bring a food for the class (and it won't be shared by allergic students) then avoiding peanuts and tree nuts as ingredients (or whatever the class allergen is) is important so that cross-contact does not occur.

I will continue to post about this topic--it is constantly changing due to changing labels and laws!

Salvatore's Dad said...

Our school district insists on allowing snacks to be brought in, but they restrict selections to those found on the list at which are free of peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and sesame. While we still insist on our son taking snacks only from his goody box, the approved list does help ensure that he won't suffer from peanut/tree nut contact exposure from another child's snack.