Friday, February 5, 2010

Nut-Free Party Treats for School

The last few weeks my inbox has seen a slew of questions from non-allergic moms wanting to know what to a) bring to the class holiday party or b)what to serve to nut-allergic guests at a birthday party. I'm happy to hear from them because I appreciate their regard for kids with serious dietary restrictions. You rock--thanks for your concern.

Regarding the class party question, it's really tough to find the perfect "safe" edible treat to serve. For one thing, something that might look OK may turn out not to be.

If you're involved in planning or bringing food to a class party, make sure to get the allergic families involved. I usually send in something I know is safe for my daughter--as long as she has something good to eat, she doesn't care if she can't have everything.

Another thing to consider: Labels change so frequently these days that what might look safe one day is not safe the next. This happened to us when we put Jay's OkeDoke Popcorn on our own safe list a few years ago. A few weeks later on a trip to the store, I discovered that a new nut allergy warning had appeared. It's hard enough for allergic families to keep up with the label changes, much less anyone not used to dealing with it. Why go to all the trouble of searching for a food that the allergic kids can't eat anyway? It just makes sense to ask the allergic families to contribute. Believe me, we prefer it and are happy to do it.

Plus, many classrooms contain multiple food allergies. You may search all over to find nut-free only to find out another child has a milk or dairy allergy.

If your child is celebrating a birthday during the school year or if you want to send in a little something for a holiday (like Valentine's Day), my favorite suggestion is to offer non-edible treats. Some schools are limiting edible treats anyway for both allergy and nutritional reasons.

I was at Target recently and I discovered many Valentine's themed pencils (10 for $1), small toys and such in their dollar section. Kids love this type of thing. Or what about stickers and plastic rings--you can find these at many discount or party stores for decent prices. Kids also love colorful small notepads to write and/or draw on.

If you really want to serve an edible treat, tell the teacher in advance so the allergic kids can bring something safe to eat. That's really the best option for everyone.

For birthday parties, non-allergic families should always ask the parents of the allergic child for advice on what to serve. We'll either offer to bring some safe options or provide you with some safe brand ideas, etc.

I always stress the party aspect rather than the food aspect to my own child. From a young age, allergic kids learn that they have to say "no" to certain foods. Don't worry that you'll offend the kids and risk offering them something that they may not be able to have. Our bottom line is staying out of harm's way and sometimes that means that allergic party attendees will eat their own treat.

One nice thing is to tell the allergic family what treat you will be serving--for example, yellow cupcakes with blue frosting. Then, the nut-free caregivers can recreate it as closely as possible (just make sure you keep the "safe" cupcake away from the other ones). This is especially important for the younger kids who really get excited about sweets.

What has worked for you? Let us know.


Anonymous said...

Hi - thanks for putting together this great blog! Have found Pepperidge Farm and Wilton labels not that easy to read for allergens and contacted the companies several times but have not heard any responses. Do you have any info on these products regarding nuts? Thank you! Kathy

Anonymous said...

Hi - I found some sprinkles by xcellint (Lemont, IL) - it says Contains Soy at the bottom, so can I assume it means nut-free and not produced in a facility that processes nuts? Thanks.

Jenny said...

Hi Kathy,

Regarding products and their safety for allergens. I have contacted Wilton and they have responded by saying that any items with a chance of cross-contact will say "may contains (the food allergen) " on the label. If you read Wilton labels, some of them have extremely detailed allergen info. When contacting them, have the exact name of the item you're questioning them about. I've found that to be very helpful.

I don't have info for Pepperidge Farm but I will contact them.

Regarding the Xcellint sprinkles, "Contains soy" means just that the item contains soy. Unfortunately, you can't assume the product was not manufactured on lines with nuts or in a facility with nuts.

The problem is that advisory warnings like "may contain peanuts" are entirely voluntary. The only thing required by law is to list actual ingredients in the food.

In this case, you should e-mail or call the company to find out if their sprinkles may have had cross-contact with nuts. Unfortunately labels are very inconsistent. Supposedly the FDA is working on ways to change that as of late last year.

Kim Lutz said...

Thanks, Jenny, for the great reminder for everyone about how to keep kids safe at parties. It's such a challenge for food-allergic families and the people who care for them. As a food-allergy mom, I am grateful for all you do to spread the word on our behalf!