Today’s lunchbox choices aren’t as simple as days gone by. Crunch ‘n’ sip, nut allergies and healthy food rules can make packing a suitable lunch a tricky task. There are some parents who say schools are overly concerned about food bought to school, and others who object to the banning of nuts.
As a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Allergy (and a mum myself), I understand the anxiety parents feel when they send a child with allergies to school, knowing they could be sitting next to a child eating a peanut butter sandwich. And the risks are real; I have seen children nearly lose their life by eating only a very small, pea-sized amount of food.
But of course, it’s impossible to monitor allergy inducing foods in everyone’s lunchboxes within a school environment. And yet, you can’t ban all foods in schools (of course!), and as well there are many more common allergenic foods now.
What we need to concentrate on is:
- Educating school children about not sharing food
- Educate non-allergic kids about how serious an allergic reaction can be
Allergies are a very real public health concern. The Australian Bureau of Statistics report almost 4 million people in Australia avoid a food type because of allergy or intolerance. About 560,000 are children aged between two and 18 years.
Allergy myth busting: Common misconceptions
I often hear people say “my child is allergic to milk, and anaphylactic to egg”. It doesn’t work like that. My aim is to bust those common myths about allergies and anaphylaxis! Here are some facts:
- A child with food allergies can be at risk of anaphylaxis at any time. Reactions can vary. A child with a true food allergy react with hives, itchy mouth and swollen eyes the first six times they try a food; the seventh time they could present with no hives or swelling of the eyes, but a persistent cough which turns into anaphylaxis. Each child is different and each reaction can be different too.
- Schools can’t enforce a nut ban, but they are not allowed to use nut products or peanuts in their own curriculum or extra curricular activities, such as offering nut snacks at after-school care or using nut products in a classroom experiment. (Note: this rule does not apply to products that say they ‘may contain nuts’ because this statement is more a company strategy and is often unreliably applied to ensure they are fully protected).
Why we shouldn’t blanket ban foods
Blanket food bans on food allergens are not recommended by the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA). Instead, schools are encouraged to have a management plan in place.
This might include:
- Education for students
- Staff training
- Introducing strategies to reduce exposure
- Emergency response plans
For primary students who need Epipens, schools should require a red action plan to be in place.
For high school students, it’s recommended they are allowed to keep their Epipen in their school bags. They may not be anywhere near the school medical office when a reaction occurs, and could even be off the grounds.
Knowing how to support a child
- Make sure you talk through your action plan with your healthcare professional
- Don’t be frightened of the Epipen! Practice with a trainer and build your confidence. Remember, “If in doubt, GIVE!”
- Make sure your child’s school has their red action plan in place an Epipen is with them at school at all times
- Educate your child and their school about not sharing food
- Consider showing appropriate adults or child’s friends what the Epipen is and how to use it, especially teens
Last month, in January 2019, The Nest, Kids CPR & Allergy launched in-home classes aimed at empowering parents and caregivers to be confident in an emergency, know what to do in the even of anaphylaxis, and learn basic first aid.
Be in the know, the right knowledge can save a child’s life.
Remember, nuts are also a wholesome, healthy nutritious snack for most children, and parents choose to put them in the lunchboxes for this reason. It’s up to us as parents, and as members of the wider community, to manage the risks so everyone can lead a happy and healthy (and stress-free) school experience.
Empower yourself with the life saving skills of CPR and First Aid as well as allergy management and prevention. The Nest is offering North Shore Mums 10% off their classes. Use code NSM10 when booking. Find out more.