Call me Mrs. H. I am a Stay at Home Mom in an midsize, midwest town. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, and I have a 12 year old son, a 9 year old son, and a 5 year old daughter. They are 6th grade, 3rd grade and Kindergarten, respectively.
Food allergies have been steadily increasing in children over the past few decades. Although most food allergies cause relatively mild and minor symptoms, some food allergies can cause severe reactions, and may even be life-threatening.
According to the CDC, eight types of food account for over 90% of allergic reactions in affected individuals. These foods are, milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. A study done in 2007 showed that in approximately 3 million children under age 18 years (3.9%) were reported to have a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months. This was an increase of 18% from 1997 to 2007. From 2004 to 2006, there were approximately 9,500 hospital discharges per year with a diagnosis related to food allergy among children under age 18 years. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db10.pdf
My introduction to food allergies began when my first son was 18 months old. We discovered that a severe allergy to milk was causing chronic respiratory problems, and after a switch to a soy milk, these problems disappeared. Though he outgrew the milk allergy, 9 years later he had a severe reaction to popcorn shrimp that we had for dinner one night. Further testing revealed a severe shellfish allergy. I was introduced once again to the world of epi-pens, diet modification, and worry that he would ingest something harmful. However, I found some relief that none of these items ( shrimp, crab, lobster, crawfish ) were things typically found in school cafeteria menus, and no one brings crab cakes to celebrate birthdays.
My middle son often complained that his throat would “feel funny” after trying new foods. After a few times of chalking it up to not wanting to trying new things, we decided to have allergy testing done. After testing for 64 allergens, we found he is allergic to some tree nuts, including walnuts, pecans and almonds. An allergy to almonds is often associated with allergies to stony fruits, such as peaches, plums, nectarines and pitted cherries, as well as apples and pears. My son reacted to all fruits with “pits”, and he is irritated by pears and apples if they are not peeled. In addition, he is allergic to soy. Peanuts are considered a legume, not a tree nut, and thankfully
these don’t bother him.
Though these results are relatively new to us, they have opened my eyes to new diligence when avoiding these foods. After researching common places these allergens are found, I then turned to our school lunch menu to see how often any of those items were offered. Typically, I let my boys buy lunch weekly, when pizza is offered from an outside restaurant. During the rest of the week we try and pack a healthy lunch. Imagine my surprise when I realized that in April, 11 out of the 16 days we have school, peaches, pears, apricots or fruit cocktail ( a mix of peaches, pears, apples and cherries! ) were offered as a fruit choice. Two of the other days, fruit was offered in the form of applesauce, one day as blueberry crisp, one as peach cobbler. Only one day was fresh fruit offered, in the form of apple slices. I assume that these fruits are so prevalent because they are served canned or pre-packaged in some way. The ease of serving has great appeal over preparation of fresh fruit. While I cannot expect an entire menu to change because of one child, my concern is for those children in all districts who rely on school lunches as a large ( or only ) source of food for the day. If their parents are not aware or interested in what is being served, those with allergies and other conditions like Diabetes are at a higher risk of serious health repercussions from an unsupervised diet.
A few days ago, I contacted the school district’s director of food services. She was very knowledgeable, and I learned a lot from talking to her. She explained to me that the district is not required by state to provide specific alternatives to children based in dietary need or allergies. She did share that the schools do not serve any food that obviously contain tree nuts or peanuts in the elementary schools. They cannot claim to be a nut free facility, as some of their sources of product do come from factories that may also process nuts. I asked her if there was an ingredient list available for parents to look at, and she replied that the list she had available was over 600 pages long!
After some discussion, I offered my help to increase awareness of allergies and other similar conditions in the community. At this point, our goal is to review all 600 pages of ingredients in the school lunch menu, and provide nutritional information as part of the school district’s website. This way, parents and students would have quick, easy to read information available to make informed decisions about what students are eating everyday. My hope is initially to reach those with food allergies, and also those with conditions like Celiac Disease and Diabetes. Perhaps then we can move on to the calorie counts and other nutritional information to help create change in what we offer children, as well as give parents the tools they need to make healthier decisions with their child’s lunch.
*** Mrs. Q: Thanks so much to Mrs. H for giving us some insight into food allergies! ***
36 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Food allergies”
I've often wondered if part of the increase in the prevalence of food allergies in recent years is actually an increase in food allergy awareness. In the past I would imagine that people were less likely to connect breathing problems or irritated stomachs with specific foods so many of the more minor allergies would have gone undiagnosed and been attributed to weak stomachs, ext. Certainly this wouldn't account for all the increase in allergies, but it might be a contributing factor.
(Grr, my Livejournal OpenID failed again, had to use Google)
Thank you for pointing out peanuts are legumes, not nuts 🙂
Great post here by a mom on "No grain or dairy – what do my kids eat?"
While a growing number of people are being diagnosed with celiac disease (allergy to gluten), the standard diagnosis only reports a positive when the damage has already been done (the intestinal villi are already flattened). There are more sensitive tests available, but environment is also a factor — you may only develop reactions after long-term exposure, or after some sort of additional trauma (stress, surgery, accident etc). But even gluten-free grains have so many negatives that we shouldn't consider them food for humans unless the only alternative is death by starvation. See Loren Cordain's "Cereal Grains: Humanity's Double-Edged Sword":
According to Dr. Kurt Harris, most people find that if they eliminate grains, that fixes their "leaky gut" to the point that they can tolerate milk products, even the nasty dead pasteurized junk on your supermarket shelf. But the less processed the better, and you may want to look at A2 milk instead of the more prevalent A1 (Guernsey cows and goats have A2 milk):
Soy is also pretty nasty stuff for everyone, not just those allergic to it:
The "leaky gut" (intestinal permeability) mentioned above is now considered by many allergy experts to be the most common cause of multiple food allergies. Grains and other toxins create holes in the intestinal wall, allowing pathogens into the peripheral circulation. This has also been implicated in many autoimmune disorders.
What kind of allergy test did you get for your son? My stepdaughter has been suffering from something that is giving her acid reflux, a sore throat and eczema since she was an infant. Her mom got a skin allergen test, but I read they are very ineffective and the results came back negative. Her day care feeds her terrible food, with lots of dairy (which I think she is highly allergic to) processed food, and sugars. I would really like to have proof behind my worries that she allergic to many foods, but am unsure as to what kind of test to get. Thanks for your article!
I had severe allergies (anaphylaxis) to peanuts and strawberry's as a child, though I have outgrown them in adult hood.
I find the idea that schools have to cater to allergies preposterous. If a child has allergies it is a parents responsibility to provide a safe lunch for the child. A school district trying to supply food for 10s of thousands of children can't please everyone and should not be held responsible for everyone's dietary needs.
My school is proud to serve items that ARE peanut free. We do have a number of students with known peanut allergies, and the effort was made to be sure that our food is safe for students. While it is not for a single student, we make sure that everyone is aware of any other allergies as well. Thanks for the guest post!
My son is also severely allergic to milk. He was one of the third of kids who had a cross soy allergy also (although he outgrew this). At his school, even though he couldn't drink the milk and they knew he was allergic, if he bought lunch, we paid for the milk, it was put on his tray, and then tossed. Complete waste!
The work Mrs.H is doing can be modeled by other school districts and would love to see the end results. In fact it really should be the norm for schools to make ingredient and nutritional information available to parents. I am still shocked at how difficult it is for us to get that info out of them!
Maybe… But consider that many of the chemicals used today (from pesticides to conservatives to coloring) did not exist even a few decades ago.
BTW: Food coloring that appears on labels are listed because they are proven to cause allergies in some individuals. Stay away from foods that list any artificial coloring. You may not have a full blown over-reaction (allergic) to the colors, but there is a reaction by the immune system nevertheless. This causes a sort of distraction.
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I was recently speaking with a friend of mine who is a veterinarian about food allergies. For those of you with a dog, you know the main questions a vet asks is related to their food and their poop. Did they eat anything different? Did you try treats with a lot of chemicals in them? Did the dog eat something around the house. Diet changes are always discussed. (hopefully kids aren't eating non-food objects around the house like my dog)
Anyways… My friend and I realized that most human doctors never seem to talk about diet with human patients. They diagnose ear infections, IBS, gastric reflux, skin irritation etc.. and generally there is a drug to help it. Not often do we think about how these might actually be symptoms of food sensitivities and allergies. Unless there is an immediate breakout in hives or some other obvious connection we don't think about it, but a lot of people are sensitive to the various ingredients (chemicals, dyes, or natural stuff) in food, and just don't make the connection.
It's time to take a good hard look at the food supply, and genetically modified foods. Allergies increased in the past few decades, just the same time as GMO introduced to our food supply.
I have a food allergic daughter (dairy, egg, soy, peanuts, treenuts, fish, and shellfish). She will be in first grade next year and after reading this blog and watching Food Revolution, I am actually thankful that school lunch isn't even an option for us!
Thank you, Mrs. H, for the post. Way to be proactive!
There was recently an article on Yahoo! about pesticides on fruit causing allergies, not the actual fruit itself. Interesting stuff.
I worked with a girl who had this type of allergy, she could only eat organic fruit. We probably all should be…but that is an issue for another post.
Whenever i meet somebody or read about food allergies I always feel lucky that the only food I've ever had a reaction with was rice, as a baby. I can't begin to imagine having to always check labels and worrying about ingredients other people cook with.
Good luck to you and your family!
one of my kids has, we think, celiac disease. as he is 8 years old, autistic, and not potty trained, this is a big deal because he winds up with needing a diaper change and fresh change of clothes a couple times a week.
celiac disease is essentially an allergy to wheat gluten. the diagnostic test is a colonoscopy, which is invasive in an adult and horrific in a child. the treatment is a gluten-free diet. we put him on the gluten-free diet and saw immediate improvement, so we decided to skip the colonoscopy — it would only tell us to do what we're already doing, so why bother putting him through something that requires general anesthesia?
all we got from the school lunch folks was a big "too bad so sad sucks to be you" when we discussed alternative lunches for him. (yes, we qualify for free lunches.) i asked the food services director if he wanted to change him every day when he has a bowel attack because of the wheat product. he hung up on me.
apparently not only do students not have a right to decent, edible food that's marginally healthy for them, they don't even have a right to food that will not actively kill them.
A note on an allergy to almonds being connected to an allergy to "pitted" fruits: they're all in the same family, so it makes sense. Almonds aren't a nut. They're the only edible pit in the Amygdaloideae family, which produces fruits classified as drupes, or a fleshy fruit surrounding a stony pit. The rather leathery fruit of an almond just isn't typically eaten.
Over exposure to a food allergen, even if the reaction is more annoying than dangerous, can heighten the sensitivity over time. I've learned this the hard way. It's so important for parents to be able to keep their children from exposure as much as possible if the child is to have a chance to outgrow the allergy. That's not so easy to do if you can't tell what's gone into your child's food.
good post. i agree with meg in that if the child has a food allergy, the parents should provide the child's lunch and snacks
Have her tested for Celiac (a blood test)
How interesting, that almonds aren't really a tree-nut. I didn't know that.
My daughter has the fatal peanut and tree-nut allergies, but she can't be allergic to almonds because she was eating them long before we even knew it (ground almonds was an ingredient in Cheerios –don't know if it still is since we don't eat them anymore). Of course, she doesn't eat almonds, just to be safe. Her allergist said that nuts get so much cross-contamination when they're processed, you need to stay away from all of them even if you're allergic to only one.
My daughter has never wanted to eat school lunches (she's 9), and I think it's partly because her allergy scares her –she's very careful not to eat things that are either unfamiliar or haven't been okayed by me or her dad. She's also at a school where they're reasonably careful –the kids eat lunch in their classroom, and one of her current teachers has a husband with a peanut allergy. Plus there are two other kids in her class with peanut allergies.
I keep hoping she might grow out of it, but I don't know how we'd ever be sure. We've heard from various doctors that the allergic reaction can be unpredictable –sometimes you won't have a reaction, but then the next time can be worse than normal. Eating nuts just doesn't seem that important!
Wow, Mrs. H, that's a big project! Good for you! I'm sure that will help a lot of other concerned parents.
FrogFarm- Thank you for posting those! I had known that soy suppresses the thyroid, but didn't know that cooking didn't help (unlike cruciferous vegetables) or about how it impacts fertility until I'd read that article. I'd actually read it a few weeks ago (I think I followed the link from a comment stream here), but didn't think to book mark it, and I've been trying to find it again ever since!
I have a daughter with a mild peanut allergy, asthma, and eczema, plus another child with ADHD. Every month I try something new- a new recipe, a new food- to get the things we eat closer to natural: fewer additives and colorings, more homegrown, more whole. I would keep a dairy goat if I could get away with it. No miracles yet, but I figure even if I never cure their ills, they will be healthier over their lifetimes for having been well-nourished as children. And they'll never be able to say I didn't try.
@RainbowW and anybody else who was discussing Celiac disease…
I have Celiac disease and it can manifest as hundreds of different symptoms. If you suspect it, you can first get a simple blood test and if that is positive/high, then the official diagnostic tool is an endoscopy, not a colonoscopy. An endoscopy is less invasive and traumatizing.
As a diagnosed Celiac, I have not seen a single meal on this blog that I would have been able to eat. If your child is diagnosed with it, then I believe there are measures you can take to ensure your child is not provided with unsafe food at school. I don't know that the school has to provide a safe lunch, but if you qualify for free lunch there may be some monetary compensation for providing your child with a safe, gluten free lunch– but I believe you have to prove that s/he has the disease first.
I can see the point in schools not taking on the burden of dealing with abnormal dietary requirements … but it also seems a bit silly for schools to serve so much wheat and dairy (often added to processed foods as well), when they're common allergens. And it's a travesty that the school districts make it nearly impossible to get a list of ingredients for such highly processed foods.
I'm really surprised to hear this story and disappointed that a fellow school food service professional is not more responsive to these needs. In my district we provide special diets for ALL students with a medical doctor's statemen, over 200 students. We also post ALL allergen information on ALL our products on our department's web site and this is hundreds of products as well. Your food service director should be able to get technical guidance on both these topics from your state or from her professional organizations.
We have a parent at our child's school who threatened the school with a lawsuit if they didn't block other students from bringing peanut-based lunches to school.
The school responded by making a portion of the lunchroom peanut-free and having the kid sit there, to which the parent responded by threatening another lawsuit for segregating the child.
So, no one in the entire school can have any kind of peanut anything in their lunches now. But that still wasn't enough… The school had to shell out something like $15,000 for special hypoallergenic lunchroom tables that have to be specially wiped down with even more expensive chemicals before and after each lunch period to protect the child with the allergy in case someone has something that was in the vicinity of a peanut at some point.
I've volunteered in the cafeteria a lot over the last couple of years, and seen the allergic kid in question chatting and talking and eating next to kids who didn't get (or care) about the peanut memo, happily snacking down on PB&J sandwiches or peanut butter and crackers.
I can't help but thinking that, at least in our case, it was simply a pain of a parent who wanted attention more than a life-or-death situation.
@Meg – I'm mother to a peanut- and egg-allergic daughter. While I provide a 'safe' meal for my daughter each school day, my decision was also based on the overall nutrition provided by the school meals. I am certainly in favor of meals that are healthier overall, and I also feel that schools should be prepared to take on some of the responsibility for keeping food-allergic and celiac students safe. These are not issues that only affect affluent communities, and schools need to be prepared to feed children that do not (or cannot) bring a meal from home. Whether that means a nut-free table in the cafeteria, not putting a carton of milk on the tray of a student allergic to milk, or providing an allergen-free meal alternative, schools should have plans for the safety of these children – especially at the elementary school level where children are less likely to advocate for themselves.
I am interested in what you would propose for students who qualify for free or reduced lunches.
Our school is a nut-free school, but that means that school lunches and snacks. In the lunchroom, there are nut-free tables i.e. school lunch tables, and separate tables for 'buckets', or home-fixed lunches. When the bucket tables are dismissed, each student goes to the restroom, washes his/her hands, and then grabs a paper towel to pick up the lunchbox and carries it back to the classroom.
Snacks and 'party' foods have been pre-approved by the school nurse. There is a limited list of what can be used for snacks, and the parties (fall, Christmas, valentines day) have specified menus that all classes must follow.
This is all for nut allergies. No other allergies are addressed this seriously.
I couldn't agree with Meg more.
If your kid has a food allergy, don't inflict it on the school district, the taxpayer or other kids. Just pack them a lunch – problem solved.
Instead, everyone wants to force more busywork, regulations, and restrictions on the liberty of others. Stop it!
My kid doesn't have any food allergies. Guess what? I pack his lunch every single day. If I can do it, so can you.
@RLR, let's imagine a child who has a life- or health-threatening food allergy. And let's imagine that said child qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches.
The parents of said child also qualify for food stamps or WIC. So also probably either get welfare money or earn an income of some sort.
Shouldn't those parents' FIRST PRIORITY be to provide their child with a safe lunch from home? Why should it be the school's (and taxpayers') job to cater to every single kid with some expensive dietetic quirk?!?!
Parents need to take responsibility for their children's diets – not the schools. Especially in cases where life and health are involved.
I worked in an elementary school for 8 years, and there were at least 10 kids throughout those 8 years that had super severe peanut allergies. We had a peanut free cafeteria, and whenever the class had treats for birthdays, we talked to the parents so we could get something that all the kids could enjoy.
This is also an issue when kids get older-one of my best friends developed allergies to wheat, soy, corn, milk, and various other meats and fruits while she was a freshmen in college. Her college forced everyone that lived on campus to buy a meal plan, but the cafeteria only served one item that she could eat. It took her months of fighting with the administration to have them allow her to not pay for a meal plan. She couldn't even eat any of the produce, because the wax on most non-organic fruits and veggies is soy based.
While I don't think school's should be required to provide meals for every food based allergy/disease (there's just too many out there, and it's unrealistic to have a cafeteria that needs to feed 100's of kids within hours to meet the needs of tons of special meals), I think that schools need to provide kids with allergies safe places to eat. Some of the peanut allergy kids I mentioned above were so allergic that being touched by someone who had peanut oils on their hands would have a reaction. We began having every child in the school wash and dry their hands when they get to school in the morning and after lunch. We had a monitor in each bathroom (normally a teacher aide), making sure the kids actually did it. This didn't take anything out of the school day, and it helped teach all the students good hygeine while also keeping all students safe.
The reason that schools invest money into nut-free zones is because some allergies are severe enough that a wiff of nuts could trigger a reaction. This is why peanuts aren't served on airplanes anymore.
A friend of mine is heavily allergic to nuts, dairy, chocolate, as well as an array of other foods and medicines. She struggled with just being in elementary school (her lunch was home made, but the school was not not free), until fifth grade when she accidentally took a bite of an energy bar manufactured in the same building as nut products. Her joints swelled, and she was homeschooled for the rest of the year.
Middle school was better, because it was a larger school and there were places she could go where nuts were banned. But now in high school, the school is even larger, but the rooms are easily contaminated. She's been homeschooled for two years, and is going to try and come back in September for our senior year.
Schools should definitely have nut free zones, but they shouldn't have to invest thousands too it. Simply restrict the nuts; check lunches, make a clear list of what's not ok.
I would say that dealing with food allergies is inevitable for all districts. Although I agree school districts should not have to "cater" to students with allergies, most districts are still serving PB&J (in the form of uncrustables). Peanut allergies have tripled over the past decade (google it). This is a major liability issue. Hello lawsuits!
What about soynut butter? If the US is subsidizing soybeans so much, shouldn't soynut butter be out front and center?
I'd like to say that Celiac's is not simply a wheat "allergy" — it's an autoimmune disorder which means that if a child eats a speck of wheat his or her body attacks itself. It is entirely underdiagnosed so there are many kids suffering unnecessarily.
And those with wheat and dairy allergies. I believe that schools could easily incorporate the occasional milk-free meal or wheat-free meal without any change in cost. For example, rice in place of wheat. Wheat does not need to be a component of every single meal. Rice is eaten by billions of people everyday. And milk as an ingredient could be removed from many school meals.
In regards to causes of allergies, I would say that our "uber cleanly" attitude towards germs, bacteria, and microbes is actually hurting us. For this reason I try not to get too concerned if someone is outside getting very dirty and eating things on the ground. It's good for the immune system! We also don't use heavy cleaners. Dirt is ok.
Visit the blog findingfriendlyfood.blogspot.com – it's all about navigating college with a painful assortment of food restrictions. It's quite eye-opening and although extreme, a lot of kids are facing things like this.
My 4 year old daughter has celiac disease and in order to be "taken seriously" by her schools and doctors we had to have an official diagnosis – meaning biopsy of her small intestine. Yes it was invasive and upsetting to her, but in the long run having an official diagnosis was worth it.
That being said even with the official diagnosis her school will not provide GF lunches for her – we are expected to pack her a lunch. I for one am glad that she never had to touch one of those processed and disgusting looking meals. I can see though how beneficial a GF lunch would be for a child in a low income area.
@ Kitten – I agree with you 100% about GMO foods and allergies. Our bodies are not digesting these modified foods correctly. We are in the process of eating only organic and GMO free foods (which is a process) but so worth it.
Although I work in the after school program we provide an after school snack. The nutrition center that provides our meals and snacks does not give alternatives for allergies for after school. Luckily I work in another program for Homeless and Highly Mobile Students. They provide us with snacks for these students but I also give them to students with allergies b/c some of the snacks don't have wheat, soy, or nuts.
food allergies are just tough, sad, isolating…just not fun and especially when you are outside the comforts of your own home! its a scary life to lead when your kid starts getting out in the public, party invites, school.
our son is 4 and highly allergic to peanuts! he is starting preschool in the fall then onto kindergarten and public schools (at this point).
we have a daughter in kindergaten with no food allergies and because we try and lead a more healthy lifestyle i pack her lunch daily.
thinking about my son going to an elementary school that houses about 1,300 kids its scary. like others have said it would be nearly impossible for the public school systems to handle every food allergy there is out there like we do in the comforts of our home. while i agree that the parents should be responsible for packing safe lunches for their children with food allergies these kids still need a safe place to eat. especially if they have air born or super sensitive reactions even by touch.
and if they have 'peanut=free' tables in the cafeteria who is really monitoring that table. the aids can trust that everyone sitting at that table has a peanut-free lunch (or gluten free or milk free…) it is just a scary thing.
thankfully my schedule should allow me in the next school to get involved in the school and you can be sure like mrs. h the guest blogger i will be asking questions and doing what i can. these kids with food allergies need someone to advocate for them. show them they are loved and cared about not isolated.
and don't even get me started on the brining in of the cupcakes and treats for birthday celebrations. i wish school would ban that and come up with something else fun for the kids to do!
food allergies are just a tough thing. being a parent of a child with a severe food allergy it is HUGE when others just listen and try to understand! when my friends tell me or show me something they read on a food label it means the world!
while the school don't do all the needs to be done regarding all the severe food allergies they should be doing something. especially when these kids are little.
so much more to say but thanks for brining this subject up and a big shout out to mrs q!! you are amazing!
@ the person who asked this…. "I am interested in what you would propose for students who qualify for free or reduced lunches. "
Those same people qualify for WIC and food stamps. The first priority for parents should be the health and safety of their child… IOW, buy food that you child is NOT allergic to and send the child with a healthy lunch.
When I was in school I was the only child with an allergy to peanuts. My parents made sure I was well informed and I always had an epipen on me. I never shared lunches with other children no matter what. I never bought lunch. I never had a "prize" in my classroom (teachers always gave away candy for some reason). I ate what was in my lunch box.
My allergy wasn't someone elses problem. It was MY problem. It was the problem of MY FAMILY. Yes, my teachers and school administration were informed and knew what signs to look for, but that was the extent of it. There's no reason a 4 or 5 year old can't be responsible for not putting "un safe" foods in their mouth.
I can understand having a peanut/nut free table but that's about it.
Every child is important, yes. But no child is more important then another. I think it's time we teach children how to be responsible for themselves and about the foods they're eating. This goes for kids with allergies and kids without.
We are going through all of this right now as our food allergic son enters Kindergarten. It is so scary but the only way that I feel comfortable is to pack his lunch. Even this scares me though as he will be around allergens at other tables. It is scary and wow, what a big task you have taken on – awesome job! Our little guy used to have severe eczema also caused by food intolerances but fortunately his skin is better and he can eat lots more foods bc of his Belly Boost children's chewable probiotics!
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