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School and Allergies

Food in the Classroom

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Caldwell and her husband, also a teacher, share the concerns about junk food, though. “A local school is currently raising money for new playground equipment and the parent group has sold chocolates, milkshakes and suckers throughout the school year. I joked with my husband that by the time the money is raised, the children will all be overweight and really need the equipment.”

Caldwell believes there are higher expectations now than when she was a child for school trips, and playgrounds are more expensive to build because of enhanced safety standards.

Fundraising is ingrained as a means of providing for sports teams, music programs, field trips or sometimes even basic school costs, such as library books. Gregg Bereznick is a superintendent of education for the Waterloo Region District School Board in Ontario and has watched this evolve over 25 years in the school system.

“There is a growing interest in fundraising to enhance those extras in the elementary schools,” he says, and that often involves food products. But at the same time, schools are dealing with food allergies, diabetes and other health issues.

“For principals, the food landscape has never been more complex,” says Bereznick. He describes a duality – while there may be more food in the schools, there is also more focus on health. “I think the birthday cake in the classroom is a dying trend. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but this [current] group of parents is more interested in nutrition than ever before.”

In looking to the future, Anne Muñoz-Furlong, the founder and former CEO of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, sees a natural evolution between the recognition of kids’ nutritional needs and awareness of food allergies in school.

“From an educator’s perspective, having everyone avoid sweet snacks and desserts, which often contain allergens such as milk, eggs or peanuts, will make it easier to keep the children with food allergies safe. However, this goes beyond food allergies; the children with other diseases, such as diabetes, will benefit as well.”

As the food allergic are all too aware, telling other parents what they can and can’t pack in their children’s lunches can be fraught with controversy. But the beauty of the nutritional approach is that it is for the benefit of everyone’s children, with food allergic kids also reaping the benefits of lessened exposures.

As Muñoz-Furlong notes, “fruits and vegetables are a better food choice for everyone.”

Change in that direction may be slow and uneven, but given the alarming statistics on children’s weight and allergies, in North America more provinces and states may soon feel the pressure to get in step with Nova Scotia’s lead.

And one day, in the not-so distant future, perhaps a child will ask: “Mom, did you really used to eat cake – at school?”

Originally published in the Fall 2007 issue of Allergic Living magazine.
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