Whitby School recognizes that caring for the whole child includes providing a safe and inclusionary environment for students, and that extends to safety from life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergens in school lunches and snacks. As a nut-free school, Whitby proudly supports Food Allergy Awareness Week May 12-18, 2013, in raising awareness of food allergies and promoting ways to help keep students safe, involved, and healthy.
Whitby will be participating in a Twitter chat at 7pm EST this Thursday, May 16, 2013, hosted by Food Allergy Buzz. Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) and other leading food allergy organizations will be talking about the latest hot topics.
Food allergies affect about 1 of every 13 children in the U.S., and the rate may be higher in the northeast. Exposure to food allergens, the proteins that cause an allergic reaction, can potentially be life threatening, even in trace amounts. Nationally, food allergy sends someone to the emergency room every 3 minutes. Although nearly any food is capable of causing an allergic reaction, only eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions in the United States. These foods are: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish
Because the numbers of children with allergies to peanuts and tree nuts are rising most quickly, the reactions are most severe, and children with peanut and particularly tree nut allergies are least likely to outgrow them, Whitby School decided several years ago to ban peanuts, tree nuts, and foods that contain nuts from the school lunches and snacks. The school policy reads: “Due to an increasing number of children diagnosed with life-threatening peanut and nut allergies, no peanut or nut products, peanut butter, or products with peanuts or nuts in them will be allowed at Whitby School at any time. Many store bought baked goods that appear to be nut free are in fact produced with peanut oil or other nut products. This nut free environment also applies to cooking classes, Whitby special events, school trips, and any other occasion where food may be involved on campus.”
“At our previous school, while other parents were mostly concerned about their children’s grades and social connections, our primary concern was whether our child [with a tree nut allergy] was going to return home safe each day, and whether we had given the school enough nut-safe snacks to give our child when the others were having a celebration,” said one Whitby parent. “We’re relieved to find a school that has this policy, so our son can participate the same as other children, and we don’t have to worry about whether he’ll be safe from the foods at school.”
Whitby also points to research on pediatric nutrition indicates that better food leads to better attention spans and classroom behavior, enhanced learning, and improved health. The school’s efforts toward school-wide superlative nutrition contribute to Whitby's standing as a model for excellence in children's education. Whitby also does not allow foods containing artificial colors or flavors, preservatives, additives, trans-fats, or artificial sweeteners, and organic foods are provided as much as possible. The guidelines apply not only lunches, but also field trips, special celebrations and school sponsored events. Food brought by families to share for special events must also follow these guidelines.
Whitby provides a daily selection of healthy snacks for students up to the ME (4thgrade) level, consisting of organic fruits and vegetables, yogurt, cheese, cereal and crackers made with organic ingredients, and a variety of additional items throughout the year. The school recommends that birthday treats should be appropriately sized for the age of the child, such as 2 bite-sized or mini cupcakes for LE (2nd grade) and below, and the school asks parents to consider alternatives to cupcakes, including fruit kebabs, frozen all-juice pops and homemade cookies.
Food allergies, while potentially life-threatening, don’t have to interfere with a child’s education. With a safe environment, proper precautions, and a quality, renowned educational program, students can continue to be engaged learners, inspired by discovery, and fearless achievers, especially at Whitby School.
For more information on food allergies, research, diagnosis, treatment, and dealing with food allergies, the FARE website provides numerous resources at http://www.foodallergy.org.