Photo courtesy of Erin Gratner

Food Bans In Schools Might Be Annoying, But They Save Lives

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There will be no cookies today. My kids attend a school with a new policy banning outside food for class parties. And our school is not alone: districts across the nation have adopted similar guidelines. The reason? Kids with food allergies.

According to the CDC, the prevalence of food allergies — many life threatening — has increased by 50 percent since 1997. This means there are dozens of kids in our school, and yours, whose life can be threatened by what appears to be a simple Valentine’s treat. Given the option of risking a kid’s life or fighting a battle so that my own kid can have a sugared-up party, I choose to support our district’s decision. But there are other parents who disagree.

If there was child in our school who needed a wheelchair ramp, a specialized desk, or an adaptive communication device to participate in school fully and safely, not many parents would be lining up to argue for denying that child accommodations. Yet debates are blowing up on social media across the nation about allergy-safe parties and classrooms. It can be overwhelming and frustrating when a school implements new policies, but these debates have gone far beyond that to shaming the families with allergies.

“Why can’t the kids just not eat?

“Why can’t they learn what they are allergic to and avoid it?”

“ Why don’t they stay home that day?”

“We had food at parties when we were kids, and we survived.”

Look, this is about as silly as the “we didn’t use car seats and survived” argument. Sure, we have a photo of my dad strapped into the front seat of a Buick at six months old, and he’s alive today, because they weren’t in a wreck.

No cutout sugar cookie, as delicious as it may be, is worth me risking another child.

There are kids with allergies that survived class parties because thankfully they weren’t exposed to an allergen. There were also less allergies then. The fact is though, many kids did not actually survive. The No Nuts Moms Group has compiled a list of those who have died from food allergies and it is heartbreaking. No cutout sugar cookie, as delicious as it may be, is worth me risking another child. Not all kids can read, not all food is labeled appropriately for allergies, and some kids can have reactions from airborne allergens that they did not even touch. For the safety of all of my kids’ friends, lets just not even take the chance.

How did my kids handle this change? Just fine, actually. Our district implemented the change just days before my oldest son turned 7, and we changed our plan from pumpkin cookies to spider rings for his birthday treat. He never batted an eye. A few weeks later I helped at the school Holiday Celebration just before winter break, where no chocolate or candy canes or Santa cookies were present. The kid had a blast. We made crafts, played games in the gym, pinned the heart on the Grinch. We laughed and shared joy with one another. Food wasn’t needed to accomplish a fun party that everyone in their class could safely participate in. We’ve made our kids aware of their friends who have allergies, and they are learning how to keep them safe. This week I was proud of my 5-year-old, who chose to put away his peanut snack and let me wipe him down so that his buddy could play, too.

Anna is allergic to peanuts and eggplant, and gluten and lactose intolerant. Her mother supports outside food bans in schools. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Patalano

Not only are these new parties safe for all of the kids, they don’t revolve around food. The CDC tracks childhood obesity, which has nearly tripled since the 1970s. Obviously many factors play into this sharp rise, from the quality of our food in this nation to home eating habits and genetics. At the same time, when we tell our kids that they cannot celebrate a holiday without sweets, we are sending the message that food is required for fun.

If I complain and bemoan the changes and reminisce about bygone sugar comas, my kids will think they are missing out on something.

Change is hard, but this is one area where I choose to lead by example with my kids. If we as parents are excited about the way that our schools celebrate holidays, our kids will be too. If I complain and bemoan the changes and reminisce about bygone sugar comas, my kids will think they are missing out on something.

When I took my kids to the happiest place on Earth (Target) to pick out their cards for their friends, they were absolutely thrilled to give out Black Panther glow sticks and Boo the World’s Cutest Dog pencils. They loved putting on their red shirts and were excited about decorating their Valentine’s bags with their classmates. My husband bought my kids flourless chocolate brownies from Whole Foods for a breakfast treat, which they declared to be not quite as good as the boxed mini muffins I get at Big Lots, and we began this Valentine’s Day with smiles as we headed out the door.