Eating at a nut-free lunch table in school is a safety precaution that causes some students to feel isolated from their peers. Unfortunately, there are few alternative solutions available for worried parents and school administrators to consider. By scouring the Internet on this topic, you can find stories for and against every safety option, including nut-free lunch tables.
Here are some of the ways parents and schools around the U.S. are facing the issue of keeping severely allergic children safe:
- Many schools have chosen to go nut-free, an often controversial choice. While some schools believe it is the best way to assure student safety, others believe banning nuts creates a false sense of security as a nut-free environment cannot be guaranteed.
- Several schools have students with nut allergies sit at the ends of lunch tables – nearest to the lunch supervisor’s walkway. Other students sitting at that end of the table must have nut-free cafeteria lunches or nut-free lunches from home, creating a nut-free zone at one end of the table.
- One parent’s solution was to make sure the other children in her son’s third-grade class were educated about the severity and consequences of her son’s allergy. She reported that many of them decided on their own to purchase or bring nut-free lunches so they could eat with their friend – and keep him safe.
- One school had its food service personnel trained about nut and food allergies, including how to read food labels and avoid cross-contamination. Pictures of students with allergies were placed behind the serving counter and at the registers.
- Some schools with a nut-free lunch table allow only one friend to join an allergic child at lunch time. This can make it awkward for the allergic child and the friend. One parent suggested calling the school or school board to change the policy so any number of friends with nut-free lunches can choose the nut-free table.
- One school cafeteria switched to Sunbutter (made with sunflower seeds) instead of peanut butter. Now they serve SB&J sandwiches. Another cafeteria still has peanut butter but only sells it in sealed, single-serving packages.
- Some schools have chosen to address peanut and tree nut allergies on a case-by-case basis. Instead of having a one-size-fits-all policy, they work with the allergic students and their parents to meet that child’s unique needs and preferences.
Obviously, none of these ideas will satisfy everyone. An interesting survey from the University of Michigan shows how difficult finding a safety policy consensus can be. Of the parents with nut-allergic children surveyed, 47 percent favored having no restrictions at school on what non-allergic children could eat. Another 31 percent wanted nut-free lunch tables in the cafeteria, and only 22 percent would ban nuts from lunchrooms or schools.