My daughter, who’s in 7th grade, sits at a nut-free table in the school cafeteria and feels so isolated. What can be done?
Social isolation can be a challenging repercussion of food allergies, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s good that you are looking for solutions to help your daughter!
Does your daughter have friends at school she’d like to sit with at lunch? Perhaps they misunderstand the “nut free” designation—it does not mean that only people with nut allergies may sit at the table. Rather, it means that peanut products cannot be eaten there. (Check with your daughter’s school to confirm that this is how they define the “nut free” table, too.)
But seventh graders may not fully comprehend the difference. The first step would be to have someone explain it to them. Maybe your daughter could invite her friends to sit with her at lunch if they do not have peanut products packed with them, or a teacher could “announce a rule change” and let all the children know that sitting with your daughter is an option. This works best if there’s some kind of monitor to be sure peanut products are not slipping in under the radar.
A second option is to ask the school personnel to allow your daughter to sit at the end of a “regular” table, next to and across from friends who are eating peanut-free lunches. Teach your daughter how to clean the table surface before she sits down, or ask the cafeteria monitors to assist her. This is a wise practice regardless of where she eats her lunch.
Are peanut products available on the lunch menu? This would be a related issue to address, as would the importance of having your daughter’s classmates wash their hands with soap and water after lunch if they’ve eaten peanut products. Sometimes these preventative measures can make a bigger impact on peanut safety in the cafeteria than nut-free tables.
The most important thing is to raise the issue with school personnel so your daughter can feel included, not singled out. Lunch time is that rare opportunity during the school day for friends to bond and let loose, and it’s important that she be able to take part.
Whatever you do, don’t accept it as her fate! There are other options.
Cathy is just like you: She worries about food choices, where to eat and whether friends and family will be as careful about food allergens and cross contamination as you are. She is diligent, and she is also a food allergy warrior. If you would like to ask Cathy a question for a future column, please submit here: http://mykidsfoodallergies.com/ask-cathy-food-allergy-advice-column-submission/