Monday, May 23, 2011

Navigating School Events with Food Allergies

by Kelley Lindberg

I’ve said many times that the older my son gets, the easier it is to manage his food allergies. He can read labels, he knows to stay away from birthday cakes, and he is perfectly willing to quiz a waiter or cook on ingredients if I’m not there to do it for him.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t still encounter new challenges each year. This year, for example, he’s in sixth grade. As part of the sixth grade curriculum, the students are learning about manners and etiquette. Tomorrow they’ll cap off this unit with an “etiquette lunch” at a local restaurant. Just picture this: 100 sixth graders are descending upon a restaurant, dressed in their Sunday best, with the goal of showing off the manners they’ve been learning.

Ugh. Sounds like the ragged edge of disaster if you ask me. But somehow the teachers have pulled this off two previous years in a row, so they are undaunted and confident that the kids will behave themselves and won’t devolve into a reenactment of that famous food fight scene from Animal House.

Of course, lunch at a restaurant sounds fun, but the food they’ll be serving is full of milk, eggs, and possibly nuts (this particular restaurant serves lots of nuts in several entrees). So for my son and his friend who both have food allergies, we’ve had to make some extra preparations.

I have to admit, at the beginning of the year when we first heard about this lunch, I and the other boy’s mom (Kim) both had the same first reaction – maybe we’ll just keep our boys home that day. But then we quickly realized that would make them miss out on an event that the other kids would all be looking forward to. Our goal has always been to make sure our boys are treated the same way, experience life the same way, and enjoy activities the same way as other kids. So we decided to see if we could make this experience work before we gave up on it totally.

Now the time for the lunch is almost here. So this morning, Kim and I went to the restaurant to talk to the manager. After some discussion, we came up with a plan – while the other kids are eating turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy, quesadillas, and dessert, the restaurant will cook two plain chicken breasts and plain rice for our two boys. Then Kim and I will bring from home some safe plain tortillas and a slice of safe apple pie for our boys. That way, they’ll be able to eat approximately the same things as the other kids at the same time, making the experience as normal as possible.

We also talked to the teachers a few weeks ago and requested that our boys sit at a table with a couple of their friends who know and understand their food allergies. The teachers were 100% committed to keeping our boys safe, and promised that they’d make sure they were surrounded by their “allergy-aware” buddies to create a safe zone.

So… we have a food plan, we have the restaurant manager’s support, we have the teachers’ support, we have allergy-aware buddies lined up to help, and of course we’ll have EpiPens and Benadryl on hand, as usual. And even better – Kim is going to be there as a chaperone.

I think we’re as prepared as we can be. Now we’ll just keep our fingers crossed that all goes according to plan tomorrow.

I’ll let you know next week how it went!

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