It’s easy for someone without food allergens to have the wrong idea about what comes along with them. They may even feel like they are being inconvenienced when asked to avoid certain foods when they supply snacks or foods to their child’s classroom or group of friends simply because they aren’t use to incorporating it into their daily life. However, we’re here to brush up your knowledge and let you know what’s the what with food allergies and shed a little light on going nut-free.
Schools ban peanuts or tree nuts when there are severely allergic children enrolled because those children can react even to tiny traces of peanuts or nuts dust in the air, or nut residue on a surface like a lunch table. In the worst-case scenario, these reactions can be life-threatening.
Unfortunately, peanut and tree nut allergies aren’t like other allergies. Most people with food allergies—even severe ones—can manage their allergies by simply not eating foods that contain those allergens. They read labels, don’t eat food if they don’t trust the food, and they as questions about potential cross-contamination.
People with peanut and tree nut allergies follow all these steps too. However, they need to take additional precautions, because it’s possible for them to react to traces of nut dust in the air (from peanut shells, for example).
In addition, nuts and peanuts are full of natural oils that leave residues. While these residues can be removed with common household cleaners, it can be difficult or impossible to clean tables in the middle of lunch, or for school cleaning staff to know to clean oils off tainted walls or doorknobs during the day. After all, they are already keeping track of many, many little ones and I think we can all agree that can be a hand-full.
Because of these issues, and because of the severity of peanut and tree-nut food allergies, many schools have responded by designating peanut-or-nut-free lunch tables or classrooms. In some cases, the entire campus is a nut-free zone.
Parents of kids with these allergies learn to read food labels to make sure they’re safe. For those of us who are new to packing lunches allergen-free, the learning curve can be intimidating. Manufacturers in the United States are not required to list the presence of allergenic ingredients on their manufacturing lines, which makes the task even more challenging. Here are some rules of thumb for reading labels:
Under federal law, peanuts and tree nuts have to be clearly identified in a food label if they’re used as an ingredient. Look for the word “peanuts” or a particular type of tree nut—macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, chestnuts, beechnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts (pignoli or pinon), gingko nuts or hickory nuts—in the list of ingredients, or following the word “Contains,” which appears (often in bold print) immediately below the ingredients statement.
Foods that pose a possibility of manufacturing cross-contamination are not allowed in peanut- and nut-free classrooms. Manufacturing cross-contamination can occur when peanuts or nuts are processed on one particular manufacturing line and then another peanut- or nut-free food is made on the same line, where it could potentially have been contaminated. Look for warnings like “may include traces of peanuts” or “manufactured on a shared line with tree nuts.” Package notices to the effect of “made in a nut-free facility” indicate safe snacks. Many products, however, include no warnings at all. If you want to pack such a food for your child, check your school’s list of recommended snacks (if available), or call the manufacturer to check on the possibility of cross-contamination.
Be aware that manufacturing formulations and practices sometimes vary. Even if you’ve bought a snack before, always look at the label each time you buy it to make sure the ingredients or cross-contamination warnings haven’t changed. Sometimes snacks are made in different facilities, some of which may come with warnings while others may not.
Make sure you follow school directions. Some schools will require that you send snacks in individual packages, while others may allow you to divide larger packages of approved foods into smaller servings.
So what kind of foods are good to bring to a peanut, or nut-free classroom? We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites below. You can also check with your school to see if they provide a list of acceptable snacks, and be sure to always check labels on packaged foods first!
Three Bears. Seriously—this is what we are here for! Our brand and products stand for just-rightness and no worries for all, including those with food allergies. So, whether you’re packing a lunchbox, craving a mid-day pick-me-up or planning snacks for the whole soccer team, you can count on Three Bears to always be safe and scrumptious.
Fresh Fruit. Bananas are popular year-round, apples and pears are great in the fall, and clementines are easy to peal and available through the winter. Obviously there are plenty of other options, including dried fruit, but those are a few favorites!
Veggies & Cheese. Most cheese is nut free (check the label) and, as long as no one has a dairy allergy, can be really kid-friendly when the cheese is cubed or stringed. Along with a few veggies it would provide a really balanced and nutritious snack.
Potato, Tortilla and Multi-Grain Chips. You’d need to watch out for what oils are used when processing the chips, but otherwise this is a crowd-pleaser among kids and parents alike and can be a good addition to any diet if you pick the right grain!
Thanks to Food Allergy Research & Education. Managing Food Allergy at School fact sheet. A version of this article originally ran on Very Well Health.