Writing about food allergies from a pediatric allergist's perspective

Food Allergy and School Nutrition Services

AllergyHome proudly introduces our guest contributor, Grennan Sims.   Grennan is a registered dietitian and nationally recognized leader in the management of food allergy in school nutrition services. She is also the mom of a child with a food allergy. Thank you Grennan, for joining us.

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Written by Grennan Sims RD, LD

“When it comes to your child’s food allergy, you can support the success of the school nutrition staff at your child’s school and create peace of mind for yourself with early and frequent communication.” 

Food Allergies and School Nutrition ServicesIn school kitchens across America, we read and re-read literally hundreds of food labels.  We practice and implement cross-contact prevention strategies as we prepare thousands of meals every day.  We wash hands and change gloves between every new task.  We check and recheck lists of students with food allergy.  Armed with knowledge, we battle everyday to protect the lives of the children we serve. We know you are depending on us.

But we need your help!  When it comes to your child’s food allergy, you can support the success of the school nutrition staff at your child’s school and create peace of mind for yourself with early and frequent communication.

Here are some tips to help ensure the school nutrition staff becomes your strongest allies in keeping your child with food allergy safe at school:

Inform the school nutrition department of your child’s food allergy before your child starts school.  

  • There is almost always someone in the main office of the school nutrition department. Please do not wait until the first day of school to let us know about your child’s food allergy!

 

Obtain the documentation required for meal accommodations for a food allergy in your school district and have your physician sign necessary forms. 

  • Forms vary district to district, but all must include the following information:  (1) Identification of the medical condition (ie. food allergy to peanuts); (2) why or how this restricts the child’s diet, including all major life activities affected by the student’s condition (ie. eating, breathing, swallowing, etc.); (3) which foods must be omitted from the diet; and, (4) which substitutions are allowed.

 

Provide written permission to the physician’s office for the school nutrition department/nurse to discuss your child’s food allergy.

  • Various health privacy rules, like HIPAA, prevent the release of medical information to any unauthorized person.  If we need additional information from your doctor, he/she can’t talk to us unless you give permission. Provide written authorization at the same time you request forms to be signed by your doctor.

 

Tell the school nutrition manager what food allergy safe foods your child likes and doesn’t like to eat.

  • We know that a hungry child cannot learn.  If available to us, we will make every attempt to provide foods your child likes and can safely eat while dining with us at school.

 

Obtain documentation for any changes in meal accommodations for food allergy and provide a copy to school nutrition department as soon as possible.

  • Keep us updated! Until we receive written confirmation that your child has outgrown a food allergy, we will not let him or her have that food previously reported as an allergen.  Likewise, we must have new documentation on file if your child is now allergic to additional foods.  (We cannot just add it to an old form.)  I love receiving newly signed form each year! It’s good practice, even if your school does not require it.

 

Supply the school with current phone numbers to contact you with questions or in case of an emergency.

  • As obvious as this may sound, you’d be surprised how many parents get new cell phones, change work numbers and so forth, in the middle of the school year and forget to update contact information with the school. Please make sure the school knows how best to contact you with questions or concerns regarding your child’s food allergy.

School nutrition professionals across the nation share the same goal you have – to keep your child safe while eating at school. Please help us accomplish this extremely important task by communicating directly with the school nutrition manager in your child’s school or with the district’s school nutrition director. Early and frequent communication strengthens our resolve to protect the lives of the children we serve in school nutrition.  Arm us with knowledge and details… and we’ll take care of your child as if he were our own.

 

 

20130708_125727Grennan Sims is a registered dietitian and the Nutrition Education Coordinator for the Hickman Mills C-1 School District in Kansas City, MO.  Grennan has worked in school nutrition for 18 years, developing healthy school meals and teaching children ages 3-18 years about making healthy food choices.  About 10 years ago, she was asked to speak at a Regional Head Start Program Conference about food allergies – a topic she was familiar with, but felt she lacked enough background to teach a class.  She soon immersed herself in food allergy websites, webinars and literature.  A year later, Grennan’s then 4-year-old daughter developed a severe food allergy.

Food allergy management and education quickly became Grennan’s passion!  “I’m on a mission,” she says, “a mission to protect the lives of the children we serve in school nutrition.  Not just in my district, but across the country.  I know what it’s like to worry about sending your child with a food allergy to school.  My goal is to empower school nutrition professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively manage food allergies in school kitchens and cafeterias.”

Grennan serves on the Food Allergy Management & Education (FAME) national advisory board, where she is honored to share her unique perspective on the management of food allergies in school nutrition.  She has presented at numerous local and state conferences and is excited to team up with Dr. Michael Pistiner and Kathleen McDarby, RN (FAME program manager) to offer a comprehensive 4-hour training workshop about food allergies at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference in July 2014.

 

 

5 Comments
  1. So happy to read this today. My Kindergartner’s school is growing and lunch is served in the classroom. Do you have any recommendations for keeping her safe in this setting? She has a peanut allergy and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are still served in the school.

    • Hi Jen, Definitely worth discussing with your allergist and school nurse(if you have one). Also, here are two resources that may help.
      1) Table discussing routes of allergen exposure and strategies to reduce risk of exposure
      2) Free Staff Training Module: http://www.allergyhome.org/schools/food-allergen-exposure-in-the-school-setting/ and http://www.allergyhome.org/schools/management-of-food-allergies-in-school-what-school-staff-need-to-know/

      • Hi Jen!
        Be sure to check out Dr. Pistiner’s provided links regarding allergen exposure and prevention strategies…

        Many early elementary classroom teachers rely heavily on hand sanitizer as a quick way to “wash” hands, as it takes 20 Kindergarteners a VERY long time to accomplish this task. as you know, hand sanitizers are NOT effective in removing allergen protein residue. But this is a wonderful opportunity to teach young students how to properly wash hands with warm soapy water while they sing their ABCs! Learning good hand washing techniques is essential for optimal health, whether a child has a food allergy or not.

        Although eating in the classroom is an opportune time to teach children to clean up after themselves, it should not be the sole responsibility of 5-year-old children to clean surfaces when there is a child with food allergy in the classroom. This can be a shared classroom responsibility between teacher/aids and students. Adults can role model proper surface cleaning (including underneath desks/tables and chairs) while students “help.”

        Grennan

  2. My daughter has a 504 plan to accommodate her food allergies. The school, however, will not make accommodations, and by accommodations I mean that I am asking them to have someone in charge of reading labels. The head of the nutrition department even said, “If you are that worried about it, why would you want your daughter to eat in the school cafeteria?” They seem to think reading labels is optional. We know that supplies make substitutions and change ingredients, I think they should be aware of what they are feeding their allergic students. I feel they are being discriminatory when they refuse to practice basic safe food practices, especially when they receive tax money for the free lunch program. Does anyone have any resources they can point me to for handling a less than stellar school?

    There has been much bullying of the food allergic children in this school (several threats with allergic food) and I feel like a more sensitive climate would help prevent this trickle down bullying.

    • Hi Bonnie. Happy New Year!
      I am so sorry to hear about your daughter’s situation. If the school participates in federally funded school meal programs, the staff is required by law to make meal substitutions for students with life-threatening food allergies with appropriate documentation signed by a licensed physician. With that said, do you know for certain that your school nutrition department participates in the National School Lunch/Breakfast Programs funded by the the USDA? Even public schools may opt out of national meal programs and be privately funded. Unfortunately, private programs are not governed by the same regulations.

      Please keep in mind that every time school nutrition programs serve students with food allergies, they are taking those childrens’ lives into their own hands. It is a tremendous responsibility – one that shouldn’t be entered into lightly. However, with proper training, guidance and desire, it is certainly possible for your daughter’s school nutrition department to safely accommodate her needs. If you would like assistance and to discuss this issue further, please email me at grennans@hickmanmills.org.

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