One bite of a peanut-butter sandwich can cause a child with severe allergies to break out in hives, have difficulty breathing or worse. A student with dairy allergies might suffer cramps and upset stomach following a sip of milk.
So what’s a parent of a food-allergic child in the Liberty County School System to do? They are encouraged to work with school personnel in managing their children’s allergies.
The first step parents should take is to fill out an authorized meal-modification form, according to School Nutrition Director Dr. Chris Reddick.
“Food substitutions may be made for medical or special dietary needs on a case-by-case basis if supported by a statement signed by a recognized medial authority,” Reddick said in an open letter posted on the district’s website. A recognized medical authority includes physicians, physician assistants or nurse practitioners.
“We have to honor what the doctor says,” Reddick said.
She explained when a child comes through the cafeteria serving line, the cashier matches each child with their ID numbers, both for payment and to check for meal-modification plans. If a child has food allergies, that information comes up in the system and the cashier can check a child’s tray to ensure they have avoided the foods to which they are allergic.
Reddick said she and school-cafeteria staff routinely try to accommodate the needs of food-allergic children.
System schools do provide lactose-free milk at 82 cents a carton, she said. Regular milk costs 27 cents. Or a child can substitute juice for milk if stipulated in his or her meal-modification plan.
“We are starting to see just a few, but some children will bring their loaf of gluten-free bread,” she said of children who are gluten-intolerant. “We are more than happy to save it, mark it and give it to the child.”
Reddick said the LCSS utilizes the “Offer versus Serve” school-nutrition program in elementary, middle and high schools, meaning a child may select a food item he or she is not allergic to when choosing a meal. The “Offer versus Serve” meal service permits students to decline a certain number of food choices they don’t want and select the items they prefer to eat, thereby helping to reduce food waste and costs, according to usda.gov.
On the school-authorization form, parents must list the medical reason for their child’s meal modification and the foods to be omitted by the school nutrition program. They also should list recommended alternative foods or texture changes that might be necessary and the length of time required for dietary modifications. The district asks parents to fill out an authorization for meal modifications every year and have their medical authority sign it annually.
Victoria Peterson’s 5-year old son, Christopher, is so allergic to peanuts that just the touch of another child who recently ate a peanut-butter sandwich can cause him to react. Christopher cannot even sit next to a child who is eating peanut butter, his mother said.
Peterson said they discovered her son’s food allergy early.
“When he was 2, I gave him a snack of peanut butter spread on apple slices,” she said. “His lips swelled up from eating those.”
A week later, Peterson’s husband offhandedly gave their son a boiled peanut, and the toddler began rubbing his tongue against his teeth, she recalled.
“We gave him Benadryl and took him to the doctor, who gave us an EpiPen (epinephrine auto-injector that helps treat anaphylaxis),” Peterson said.
The couple later took Christopher to an allergist, where he tested positive for peanuts, and was told to also avoid tree nuts.
Peterson said her son’s allergist formulated a treatment plan she follows in partnership with her son’s school nurse, teachers, parapros and school-cafeteria workers so they know what to do, step-by-step, should he show signs of exposure. The family also has an authorized prescription for an EpiPen and Benadryl registered with their son’s school nurse.
“Knock wood, Benadryl has always backed (an allergic reaction) off,” she said. Peterson said she and her husband also are teaching Christopher to ask if foods contain peanuts and to avoid them.
“We make him aware that peanuts are not his friend,” she said. “The schools are really supportive. The pre-K center, where he went last year, and Lyman Hall Elementary have been awesome.”
Reddick encourages parents to follow Peterson’s proactive stance in managing children’s food allergies. She said parents of children with peanut allergies should speak with her, their child’s principal and school nurse, and the school’s cafeteria manager about sitting their children at peanut-free tables. This table usually is placed where children won’t be able to smell peanut butter being served or eaten. These peanut-sensitive students also may receive pre-plated meals if the smell of peanuts wafting over a lunch line affects them.
District schools served peanut butter twice this month, Reddick said. In Liberty County schools, a lunch of a peanut-butter sandwich, an apple and milk typically is served to children who owe more than $10 on their school-lunch accounts. However, if a child has a peanut allergy and their lunch account is in arrears, he or she can receive a cheese sandwich instead, according to the school nutrition director.
Reddick said she’s been in school nutrition for more than 17 years, and has seen an increase in the number of food-allergic children being served.
“I just think it’s diagnosable now, and they’re testing more for it,” she said.
A food allergy is an abnormal immune response to a certain food that the body reacts to as harmful. An estimated 4-6 percent of U.S. children under age 18 have food allergies, and the prevalence of food allergies and associated anaphylaxis is increasing, the CDC confirmed.
Eight types of foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergy reactions: cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (including walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios and macadamia nuts), fish, shellfish, soybeans and wheat, cdc.gov states.
Parents and students can view school menus on the district website at liberty.k12.ga.us. Elementary-school children also receive copies of menus for their parents to review at home.