Monday, April 26, 2010

Peanut Allergy and "The Brown Bag Lunch"

This is the time of year when many elementary school kids are beginning to have lots of outdoor activities such as Track and Field Day, outdoor field trips and other events that require the dreaded "brown bag lunch." I say "dreaded" because we know what that means for the other kids: "Peanut Butter City." Obviously, PB & J is the ideal portable lunch food for warm weather because it won't spoil in the hot sun. Still, brown bag lunches always make me uneasy because of the risk that peanut butter will be everywhere and also because--what do we pack for our kids?

Many peanut- or nut-allergic kids won't touch peanut butter substitutes because of the smell and texture--too much like peanut butter. So what do you do?

Well, for one thing, see if you can send your child with an insulated bag in which you can place one of those little freezer packs to keep things cold. I know that teachers don't want to be stuck with non-disposable lunch bags, but in our case it may be the best way. Talk to your child's teacher about your concerns. You can get some terrific, eco-friendly portable lunch gear at Litter Free Lunch--incidentally, this great business was created by another food allergy mom!

In any case, you're going to have to get creative. Here are some tips on how to ensure a safe and yummy lunch for your child on event day.

Make use of frozen juice boxes or water bottles. These time-tested little gems will help keep your child's lunch cold in a brown bag and will usually thaw by lunchtime on a warm day.

Think outside the lunch box. Because of the ease with which many non-peanut butter sandwich fillings can spoil, try skipping the traditional sandwich on "event" day. Instead, pack fresh fruit or veggie sticks, a couple of Enjoy Life Carmel Apple Bars or nut-free granola, crackers and/or banana bread or zucchini bread. My daughter's favorite is pasta salad (pasta, non-refrigerated vinagrette and cherry tomatoes).

Ask for nut-free seating. Whether it's a special picnic table spot or a separate, peanut-free picnic blanket (my daughter's school used this approach), the abundance of peanut butter in bag lunches requires attention to seating for the allergic kids. Kids should also bring some type of place mat for picnic tables--who knows what was eaten there before.

Don't forget the wet wipes! Since soap and water is not always available at an outdoor activity, pack enough containers of Wet Ones or some other wipe for the entire class to use after lunch. Your child's teacher can help you with this, since most will appreciate the efforts at general hygiene in addition to helping kids remove peanut butter from their hands and faces.

Readers, how have you coped with this portable lunch problem?


jenny said...

This is something I need to start looking into soon. I always see the Oscar Meyers' "Lunchables" in the grocery store and thinking how convenient they are for outdoor event/trips. I wrote them an email regarding to the allergen policy, it has been weeks and I never hear back. They do have the allergen labels but with so many different types of food jammed in a box, never hurt to doubt check.

Jenny said...

Jenny, I know what you mean and I usually avoid the ones that carry desserts. You can find the very "plain" Lunchables that carry only the lunch and no dessert or drink.

That said, the labels are pretty accurate but some of the wrapped desserts do contain or may contain nuts, so that's why I've always avoided the "complete meal" Lunchables. Hope this helps! :)

Jane Anne said...

This post contained so many wonderful reminders and ideas. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thought it was just me who worried about "brown bag" activities, so I'm glad to know it's "normal" for PA moms to have concerns about it! Thank you for the tips -- this is the first year DS is old enough to do activities/field trips/picnics, etc. w/our play groups! Thanks!

Unknown said...

I try not to worry it will drive me crazy. I have been lucky because her friends will tell her they have a peanut butter sandwich and will not sit by her. I would also pack her a typical brown bag lunch except for the sandwich would be fake meat (we are vegetarians and she doesn't like mayo)so she doesn't tend to feel too different from the other kids. Plus, if she finds out someone by her has peanut butter, she will move or tell them to stay away from her.

RLR said...

I haven't had to worry about this with my PA kid yet - the preschool classes don't take all-day trips yet. The good news is that our school will pack the lunches into a cooler, so that's one obstacle I don't have to worry about. Since my daughter's classroom is/will be nut-free, at least a portion of the kids will have peanut/nut-free lunches. My biggest frustration is that I have to pack in plastic baggies/wrappers - I'm a big fan of Laptop Lunchboxes!
I think the most important thing is to talk with your child's teacher. Our teachers - in both my son's class and my daughter's class - have been extremely helpful, whatever we've needed!

LittleMeTG said...

Great Posts! For the bagged lunch, we're experiencing this too for our 1st grade end of the year, outdoor celebration. I'll be asking that the kids w/pnut/tree nut & egg lunches sit at their own area and the rest of the kids sit where ever. In our grade we have to worry about pnut/tree nut, shellfish, egg and coconut. That said, I don't expect parents to send in shellfish for lunch or coconuts. Hence the type of request I'll be making.

@RLR Unfortunately that's a misconception. Our class is peanut/tree nut free but kids can bring in pbj lunches from home. They don't sell any pnut/tree nut products in cafeteria but again, kids can bring it from home. The school can't tell the parents what they can/cannot bring from home, they can only regulate what they offer. The lunches stay on a separate bin from my daughter's lunch to avoid cross contamination. The pnut/tree nut free zone for our class is for snacks and manipulatives only and not lunches.

If I were you, I'd ask the principal if the class is allowed to bring pbj sandwiches from home. If they do allow it, then ask that those kids sit at a separate area.

Jenny said...

I found a neat way to pack lunches called "bento" and I'm hooked! You can make them plain or fancy, and they are put into reusable lunch containers. I send them to preschool with my kids every day, and use them on road trips as well.

Granted we have more than one allergen, and that makes a big difference! I would really love to see a gluten/dairy free type "Lunchable" thing come on the market, even if it was $5, I'd buy one once in a while!

MrsKezner said...

@ThanitaGlancey- In regards to the coconuts- depending on how bad it is (mine is severe)- other products containing coconut oil can be just as bad- things you would never think of - oreos, mt dew, most candy bars, jelly beans, almost ALL soap- anything pillsbury, most cereals, and anything with an ingredient listed only as "vegetable oil"- without specifying where it is from (45% of "veg oil" in us has a coconut derived particulate-

Jenny said...

I see the conversation is beginning to include coconut and I agree that it is in everything. It must be difficult to avoid if you are allergic.

However, coconut allergy is mistakenly lumped in with peanut and tree nut allergy because of its botanical name. It is actually a fruit and most people who are ONLY allergic to peanut and tree nuts can eat it.

Fruit allergies are becoming more common and they can be very severe, so the coconut fruit would fall into this allergy category.

For reasons known only to them, the FDA has begun to require companies to list "coconut" as a tree nut. This is actually misleading and inaccurate to folks allergic to tree nuts.

If anyone has questions about specific foods to avoid they should ask their allergist. It's possible to react to just about any food but since my blog focuses on peanuts and tree nuts, I just want readers to know that coconut is not a tree nut.

Again, your personal situation dictates what you eat, so check with your doctors.

Anonymous said...

My favourite product is the Wrap-N-Mat. You can wrap a sandwich or snacks in it and when it opens - instant placemat.
Environmentally-friendly and allergy-friendly!