An Alternative Solution To Banning Peanut Butter At Schools

If my calculations are correct, we are exactly nine months out from the new school year. The end of January 2017 will be a momentous occasion for our family as our youngest son will start big school and we’ll have both boys at one location, with one drop off time and dressed identically in their uniforms so there’s no arguments of “I want to wear what he’s wearing” from one and, “I don’t want to wear the same thing he’s wearing” from the other.

There are so many positive reasons why we are looking forward to our youngest starting school. The biggest bonus is the fact that we will go from paying $90.00 per day for pre-school/long day care fees, to paying $100.00 per year (yes, you read that right) with our public school fee contribution. Yeah that…

At the pre-school where our four-year-old currently attends we are lucky in the fact that all meals and snacks throughout the day are provided by the centre. While I spend each morning packing a healthy lunch for the seven-year-old, we can send his younger brother to pre-school three days a week with a backpack with a change of clothes (which only gets attended to if he needs the change of clothes), a hat, a drink bottle filled with water, and a smile. It is that simple.

Of course, as of next January, this ends. I will be getting up each weekday morning to prepare two lunch boxes. That in itself is not a problem, but, right at this moment in time both my wife and I are facing a dilemma; what do we put on the sandwich of a boy who only eats peanut butter sandwiches?

Peanut Butter and Jelly (Jam) Sandwiches were once a school yard favourite.
Peanut Butter and Jelly (Jam) Sandwiches were once a school yard favourite.

Our school, like many schools these days has a no nut policy. I asked the question about for nut ban, especially in relation to peanut butter in our school’s private Facebook discussion group. One mother provided the link to the school’s student handbook which has this line in the section under Food At School;

“We also ask that you avoid sending nut products to school with your child as we have children enrolled with severe nut allergies.”

Another mother wrote this comment in my post;

“Public schools are not and cannot be advertised as nut free”

I looked into this a little further and found information on the NSW Department of Education’s website;

“Do schools need to ban foods? No. Banning of foods or food products is not recommended. There is a lack of evidence to suggest that banning a food from a school is helpful in reducing the risk of anaphylaxis. Schools are encouraged to become aware of the risks associated with anaphylaxis and implement strategies to minimise exposure to known allergens.”

 It goes on to add;

“What about nuts? As one strategy to minimise exposure to nuts, schools may decide in consultation with their community to ask families not to bring nuts or nut products to the school site or to school activities. While this is an acceptable strategy to reduce the risk of exposure to known allergens, it is never possible to guarantee a school site is nut free. It is important that schools do not claim they are ‘nut or peanut free’. Such a claim could not reliably be made and, if made, may lead to a false sense of security about exposure to peanuts and peanut products.”

Now I am very much a part of the community as the next person, and would also suggest that I am someone who is very aware and considerate of other people’s issues, even those that don’t affect me, my family, my extended family and my close friends. As a result, we will be taking steps to wean our son off of his peanut butter sandwich addiction, or strongly direct him towards alternative fillings to take and enjoy so that his transition to taking lunch to school is not a shock to the system come January next year.

But surely, in this day and age there has to be a solution to this problem of children with nut allergies having the threat of anaphylaxis upon them. When typing that last sentence however, it dawned on me that the “in this day and age” can actually be applied another way to the topic of the acute allergic reactions that are being evermore commonplace throughout the western world. Food allergies are on the rise.

“A study of hospital admissions from 2005 to 2013 found a 50 per cent jump in children with anaphylaxis, potentially life-threatening allergic reactions.” (Source; ABC News 15/07/2015)”

 And then, according to my wife who treats children with acute allergies, this is also true;
“According to Allergy UK, sometimes an allergy can’t be confirmed with a blood test because everyone’s immune system reacts differently. Some people simply experience slower reactions, resulting in minor reactions — like diarrhea — rather than a sudden bout of hives or anaphylaxis. (Source; Scratch or Sniff 19/08/2015)”

So with so many children having different allergies to so many things, what’s the solution?

Well, I have thought of one solution that I’m sure we can get government funding for, if not, we can raise the money through our school’s P&C funding raising organisation. If you’ve ever been to an international airport, once you’ve gone through customs you know that you cannot go back outside, and that means that smokers will either have to wait until they’ve reached their destination, or in many airports, these smoking rooms have been installed to allow smokers to enjoy their pipes and cigarettes without bothering non-smokers.

Airport smoking room room photo courtesy of Deseret News
Airport smoking room room photo courtesy of Deseret News

With smoking being banned in many other public places in many countries including South Korea, companies who build portable buildings are designing smoking rooms to take more smokers off the streets and allow them to enjoy their “dirty” habit without affecting others.

So why not dedicated peanut butter eating rooms? Why not a classroom or cordoned off area dedicated to those kids who cannot go without a peanut butter sandwich for lunch? With many peanut butters having a protein value of 25g per 100g, peanut butter is a great source of protein for children on vegetarian or vegan diets, or for fussy eaters of all persuasions who just love peanut butter more than any other sandwich filling. Just like our son.

The thing is, peanut butter is not a banned substance, and chances are, our son is going to consume his every-other-day peanut butter on toast breakfast and then go to school after washing his face and hands, and his ability to interact with a child with a peanut allergy is just as likely first thing in the morning after breakfast as it would be straight after eating his lunch at school.

I know that part of the reason why peanut butter sandwiches are discouraged is because children can swap lunches, but whilst I think that sometimes the onus needs to be on the child with the allergy, I know in reality, this cannot be policed to the nth degree. But what if the children who want peanut butter on their sandwich are forced to eat that in a controlled environment where they are obliged to wash their hands and faces before leaving the room?

I know that this is pie in the sky stuff and I am being rather frivolous suggesting “peanut butter eating rooms” when the reality is, the nut ban, whether enforced or merely encouraged by the school is going to remain the preferred method of control. But, knowing the following statement to be true, should the peanut butter bans still be in place?

“The majority of food allergic and anaphylactic reactions occur in preschool age children. Most food reactions, even to highly allergenic foods such as peanuts are not anaphylactic. Deaths from anaphylaxis are rare. Teenagers are more at risk of death; rarely do deaths from anaphylaxis occur in young children.” (Source NSW Schools July 2011)

Also, how far so we go with bans on foods? There are nine foods that cause 90% of food allergic reactions, which include cow’s milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, fish, shellfish and wheat, yet only the nuts seem to be on the banned foodstuff blacklist. With my own children having an intolerance to two of those items themselves, albeit it minor, and not anaphylaxic, should I promote the ban on them?

Through all the time I’ve taken to write this, I’ve never lost sight of the fact that we will need to ease him off the idea of peanut butter sandwiches in his lunch-box, and we are actively talking about this to him every other day. We are lucky in the sense that he’s still a big Wiggles fan and he gets the point of their Ooey, Ooey, Ooey Allergies song, so that’s been a real big help when discussing why he can’t take peanut butter sandwiches to school.

And to balance the scale, and because I do love both the song and the song’s topic myself, here’s the Wiggles singing the Peanut Butter song. And as they say on the album and the video before the song, some people can’t enjoy peanut butter sandwiches, but everyone can sing and dance along to the song. Too right Anthony, too right.

Do any of your kids have allergies? Are their nut bans at your kid’s school? Do you love peanut butter? Join the conversation, I would love to hear your thoughts…

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