Nuts About Nut Allergies, Revisited
For today, we have an update to a very popular recent-ish question, followed by a new question about the same topic that…well, you’ll see. CONFLICTING WORLDS AND OPINIONS COLLIDING!
Part One: The Mother-In-Law Who Serves Nuts
First, an update from “J,” on the case of the peanut-happy-serving mother-in-law and the highly allergic toddler:
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your advice and words of wisdom and encouragement about the peanut allergy issue!
We basically took all of the advice that we thought would work for our situation and sat my MIL down after dinner at our house one night and said, “Listen. This is a big deal, and we need to know you understand. He could DIE if he comes in contact with this stuff, and we know you love him and would not want that to happen. Let’s go over what things he cannot have.” And so, we did! We gave her a laminated list to hang on her fridge of his specific allergies and what to look for with foods. She apologized and said she didn’t even realize it, and that next time we get together she will not make anything with nuts. My husband gave back the nut chopper (SERIOUSLY, WTF) and we all laughed! Because certainly our house could not use that! And the angels smiled and we were all great… for about 2 weeks.
Well, she made a sandwich for my nephew with peanut butter on it one day and I was not there, but my husband was, and she wiped the knife off, and tried to cut up some cheese for Miles (my son). My husband (thankfully, oh so thankfully) caught it and freaked out on her, for lack of a better term. She cried and apologized and said she just didn’t have to think about this when she was parenting and it’s hard to remember. Which, honestly? I kind of understand. I forget sometimes and order a salad with walnuts and then have to chase down our waiter and reorder (and apologize). It’s easy to slip up – especially when you are not the child’s main caretaker. So, we all talked AGAIN and decided that it is best if she watches Miles only at our house, and we leave all his food ready for her. It’s not the ideal situation, but I want her to have a relationship with him, but overall I want Miles to be safe.
We also signed Miles up for two days a week of Mother’s Morning Out next year, so I have a little bit of a break (SURPRISE! I’m pregnant and due in May and OMG you expect me to parent TWO of them all day long?) and that will help with how much she watches him too.
But, I wanted to say thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou. I needed to hear that I needed to grow up, to deal with this very important situation and get past any “hurt feelings” thing I had going on. I have to fight for my son and while it’s unfortunate it had to start with a family member, it gave me a chance to practice being all mama bear on someone 🙂
Thank you so much for updating us — there’s always a handful of situations we address ’round these parts that are just begging for a good, complete ending to the story, and yours was definitely one of them. I’m glad you guys stopped any and all sugar-coating and talked to her, and that she appears to be trying instead of fighting with you further. Though not to be alarmist and all…I’m still kind of startled by her claim that she didn’t “realize” she’d made food with nuts and how quickly and easily she forgot about the whole nut thing again. (Two weeks?) I mean, I appreciate that you sympathize that yes, it can be tough on us non-nut-free people to get it right all the time. BUT getting tripped up by a say, a jarred pesto sauce containing pine nuts is one thing, but not remembering to take some basic precautions after handling straight peanut butter is another. You made the right decision about immediately limiting her caretaking duties to YOUR HOUSE ONLY, but…hmm. I just can’t shake this wiggling worry that your MIL’s level of forgetfulness could start spilling into things beyond Miles’ allergy, and unfortunately, accidents from absent-minded caregivers can indeed happen at your own home, no peanuts required.
Part Two: The Nut-Free School
And now, another question on the other end of the peanut allergy spectrum. How much is too much when it comes to dealing with allergies in the classroom?
I’ve been reading your advice column for a while now and really love your advice, so I’m here to ask you — and your readers — about this issue which recently came up at my son’s preschool.
He’s in a class of 26 kids, and it’s a nut-free centre. I admit I kinda grumbled about it when they said we had to go nut free six months after he started — he was really loving peanut butter sandwiches and they are so easy and cheap! But preschoolers aren’t that good at understanding the implications of sharing, and it’s definitely not worth a kid’s life (or comfort!), so I of course complied. And I check ingredient lists of all the stuff I include too, to make sure it doesn’t have nuts. This isn’t always easy. My kid is a little picky (not seriously, but a little) and most of the granola bars he likes have nuts, so yada yada. Again. It’s a small hassle compared to a kid’s health. I know this. I’m not fighting it.
The other day he got home and there was a note in his lunch on his granola bar. A granola bar I was SURE had no nuts. But I hadn’t checked the fine print, apparently, because they said “This says it may contain nuts, so we couldn’t serve it.” And I’m frustrated. Almost EVERYTHING these days says “may contain nuts” because companies don’t want to get sued. I can avoid stuff that HAS nuts, but avoiding EVERYTHING that MIGHT have been in contact with nuts, in the off chance that my kid shares that one item with the one kid who has a nut allergy … gah. This seems too much to me.
I don’t want to make a big stink over this, not when a kid is in danger. And to be fair, it’s not MY kid who has the allergy. Maybe I’m being too selfish. So: am I? Am I overreacting or is this a sensible precaution?
(Also, I should note: the child in question does not have a severe anaphylactic allergy. I know, because the allergy information is posted publicly. The teachers are not required to carry epipens, which they would if the allergy were life-threatening. An allergy is an allergy, I’m not suggesting that this really makes a difference. But maybe it might.
And secondly, the preschool is part of a larger system, but this isn’t a blanket policy — the individual centres make their own rules regarding allergies.)
So please: do let me know if I’m being an arse about this or not!
Noah is not even in kindergarten yet and I swear, he’s already had classmates with just about every food allergy under the sun. Nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, strawberries, etc. So far, though, the nut allergies remain the only ones we’ve ever been explicitly asked to alter our food and snack selections for. The rest of the time, it’s (presumably) up to the teachers to make sure food isn’t shared and surfaces wiped down. One little classmate Noah had last year had SO MANY food allergies that sadly, he always ate his snack at a different table, usually joined only by a teacher or aide. It always broke my heart a little to see, but when you have a kid who apparently can’t even come in contact with a baggie of dry Cheerios or stick of string cheese…well, I don’t really know what other options the school had. Because yeah, there has to be a limit to what other non-allergic families can accommodate.
And like you, my initial reaction is that yes, the school is expecting too much by including packaged food that bears the tiny fine print…mostly because we’ve always been able to personally send those sorts of snacks in. However, a little Googling reveals that indeed, a truly “nut-free classroom” also prohibits foods with those warnings. So actually, this isn’t that unusual. Our schools and classrooms have been much more laid back, asking us to simply avoid like, PB&J and other foods that OBVIOUSLY contain nuts and generally stick to store-bought, labeled snacks when it comes to classroom-wide parties and such. Your school is actually nut-free, like hardcore, and were indeed following that policy by sending your son’s snack home.
Whether or not the school has a legitimate NEED to be completely nut-free, well…that’s a can of worms I really don’t feel like getting into. On the one hand, nut allergies can change dramatically with each subsequent exposure. On the other hand, we’re hearing more and more about how often food allergies are misdiagnosed via both skin and blood tests. On the other, other hand, those warnings are more than a cover-your-ass lawsuit prevention — nuts contain oils that leave stubborn residues on a manufacturing line, peanut dust can indeed blow from one industrial blender to another, and for severely allergic individuals, this small amount of cross-contamination can trigger their allergy.
Communication is Key
The problem here, really, is that the school has obviously not done a good job at COMMUNICATING its nut-free policy to parents. And I’d go directly to the school director and point this out, honestly. If “MAY contain nuts” is off-limits, parents need to know that before they hit the grocery store. What about the “shared manufacturing facility” warnings? Are those okay? Not okay? This may seem obvious to anyone living with food allergies, but for parents not used to reading labels that closely, it really isn’t. The school should know that, frankly. Would it be possible for the school — working with the parents of affected children — to put together a list of recommended brands or snack ideas that you could refer to? (Kashi’s TLC Cereal Bars, while not technically a granola bar, have long been a favorite of Noah’s and are completely nut and warning free.) And what about unlabeled or homemade food products? It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for me to imagine an annoyed parent getting passive-aggressive and simply ripping snacks out of their wrappers and sending them to school in a plain Ziploc baggie to avoid getting food sent home.
Without a master list of widely-available brands, you could always make your own nut-free granola bars, which are easy as anything and great for anyone trying to cut back on those pesky single-use wrappers…unless of course the school starts getting nitpicky about non-store-bought, unlabeled food. Or, like the first preschool Noah attended that saw the pumpkin seeds in the homemade bars I made and thought they were a type of nut, and sent them back unopened until I explained the difference the next day, OH MY GOD. Here are a couple other nut-free recipes, depending on the style of bar your son prefers.
And now, for everybody in the (grooooaaaan) Peanut Gallery: Does your school/daycare include the disclaimer language labels in the no-nut policy? Does your school/daycare even HAVE a set no-nut policy? Parents of (severely and/or non-severely) allergic kids, what do you ask of or realistically expect of your school/daycare…and of the other parents in your classroom? And can you offer our OP some suggestions for lunch-packing alternatives, either store-bought or homemade?
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