Are the donuts pictured above tempting to you? Just imagine how difficult it is for a child! Are these donuts nut-free, soy-free, dye-free, dairy-free, and/or gluten-free?
More and more children now have food allergies or medical conditions like diabetes that are affected by food. Six out of the seven houses in our cul-de-sac have children with food allergies. We are one of those houses. The allergies on our street range from nuts (peanut, cashew, pistachios) and shellfish, to fruit (kiwi, mango skin, strawberries), dairy, oats, buckwheat, and gluten. Yes, we are living in a new age.
Home is a safe place to eat for these kids. And, in our neighborhood, the children are in and out of each other’s kitchens on a daily basis, so the parents work together to make them safe. The ever-expanding ripples of life take these children outside of their cocoons to schools and birthday parties where the act of eating becomes much more difficult and for some life threatening.
It Crumbles is a website focused on our family’s journey with a gluten-free lifestyle. However, I’m advocating for all children with food allergies. I’m speaking for our six little neighborhood children who are navigating an adult world that tempts them with foods they are allergic to.
My daughter can’t eat gluten, dairy, oats, or buckwheat (technically, I’m not supposed to say she has an allergy to these foods but that she has a “sensitivity”). The bottom line is if she eats these foods, she will throw up, have diarrhea, skin rashes, loss of focus, chronic cough that requires an inhaler, and all sorts of other immune issues. From the moment she was diagnosed when she was eight years old in 2012, I began teaching her how to read labels and ask questions so she could gain confidence and be in charge of both the food she ate and her health; however, she is a young child with temptations and peer pressure.
School began last week, and our family is already feeling the tension and stress of food. Schools offer food to children at events and in countless other ways, such as bake sales, birthdays, holidays, orientation, movie and game nights, dances, plays, talent shows, candy store fundraisers, aftercare programs, educational experiments, rewards, “just because days” and even to “help the kids concentrate while taking state tests.” Can you imagine what this is like for a child who must say “No thank you” to a cupcake or piece of candy on a daily basis? Some children still take the cupcake that makes them sick. Can you imagine how upsetting this is to their parents?
Schools require that parents fill out forms stating the foods their children may be allergic to. Why then do schools still offer those prohibited foods to these same children? Schools are supposed to be a safe and supportive learning environment, but many are missing the mark. Ironically, when my child eats gluten, her ability to concentrate and to think clearly is compromised.
Are teachers and administrators feeling pressure from the American culture to make the majority of students happy by offering food as rewards? Well, that majority is shrinking as the number of students with food allergies and sensitivities grows. In fact, a study by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that food allergies in children increased 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. These numbers are likely to increase further as diagnostics advance and awareness builds.
What does my 11-year-old daughter want her school to do? Except for the provided lunch, she wants her school to eliminate all other food offered during the school day. She says this change would make school a safer place for the kids with food allergies and a lot easier for her each day. My dad, who is also gluten-free and dairy-free, says his granddaughter’s full-time extracurricular activity since she was diagnosed with food sensitivities has been deciding what is safe to eat. Yes, she is learning about her own health, and yes, she needs support from all of her trusted adults.
That's our family's perspective. My hope is that schools will take action to address this growing concern and advance new policies that support the needs of all of our children. I would love to hear from other families about how they handle food allergies and sensitivities.