By Margaret E. Hyde
Several years ago, my children’s school decided to ban nuts, yogurt and any products containing powdered cheese (like Pirate Booty) from school lunches prepared by the school or brought from home. My first reaction was outrage. Why should I have to change the lunches I make for my kids to protect a few children with allergies? The more I looked into the issue and talked to other moms I realized that what affected a few kids when I was growing up, has now become an epidemic of serious food allergies in children.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC, 1 out of every 25 children has a food allergy, which represents a 20% increase since 1997. There is no way around the fact that this is a serious health issue for a lot of children and that as much of an inconvenience it may be to me, the decision that my school made was the right one. It meant no PB&J, no Pirate Booty and no yogurt. All easy and inexpensive things to pack for lunch are off limits. It also meant I was going to have to plan ahead and get very creative if I was going to get my very picky eaters to eat their lunches.
Know Your School’s Policy
First and most importantly is to know your school’s policy.There isn’t a national school policy or protocol dealing with food allergies. Policies can vary from school to school or even from homeroom to homeroom. You need to make sure that you check with your child’s teacher and/or principal before you pack the first lunch box. Cow’s milk and products containing cow’s milk, peanuts and tree nuts are among the most common food allergies for children and also the ones most often banned from the lunch boxes. Other common allergens that may be an issue are egg, soy, wheat and seafood.
Be Creative & Plan Ahead
Getting beyond the sandwich takes a little more creativity and planning, but in the end I think your child will end up with more fun and nutritious lunches that may even expand their palates. Hummus and other bean dips are great substitutes. They are high in protein and healthy fats and can be eaten with vegetable sticks such as carrots, celery, bell peppers or baked pita, beet or sweet potato chips. There are also lots of variations of hummus and bean dip including roasted red pepper, roasted beet, sun dried tomato, spinach and feta. Equally appealing and healthy are wraps and kebabs. You can add your child’s favorite fruit along with a protein like chicken for a fun to eat kebab. My favorite substitutes for dairy based condiments are honey mustard and bbq sauce. You can also use tahini sauce for a peanut butter like taste on a wrap or for dipping a kebab.
Try a Bento Box
Whenever you make a change in children’s lunches and try something new, it is hard to tell if they are really eating if their lunch is packed in disposable bags and containers. A bento box is a Japanese way of packing a meal in a container with small compartments for each item. I like this approach, but prefer to use small stainless steel containers. Using these reusable containers is more sustainable for the environment and allows you to see what your child is really eating.
Creating healthy lunches that children will eat in this age of allergies takes a little more effort, but it gives parents of children with allergies peace of mind and children the ability to enjoy a snack and lunch with their friends.
Margaret E. Hyde is an author, photographer and academy award nominated filmmaker. Margaret is also a mother of four children and is passionate about giving back through sustainability and mentorship programs. Hyde is most notably known for her wildly popular children’s book series, Mo’s Nose.