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Ask an Expert: Kids with allergies and school lunch

Boulder’s so-called “renegade lunch lady” Ann Cooper says parents can work with food service officials to ensure school lunch is safe for their students. See video.

Q. Can my first-grade son, who has several food allergies, eat the lunch served at school?

A. We really see a lot of kids having allergies now so we really work hard to try to help parents and kids be able to eat the school lunch even when they have allergies.

Students eating lunch at Boulder Valley’s Columbine Elementary School. <em>EdNews</em> file photo
Students eating lunch at Boulder Valley’s Columbine Elementary School. EdNews file photo
Alan Petersime

We post allergen information for every single item on our website. We also have an allergen list-serve. If a parent is concerned a recipe might change or a new item is introduced or there is a food tasting, a parent who signs up for the list automatically gets an allergen alert about what might be going on. In Boulder Valley, we have been peanut-free for a number of years, for example.

Not every school district is doing this kind of stuff. Here’s what parents can do:

  • Talk to food service people, or the food service director, and say, ‘My kid is allergic to fill-in-the-blank. How can we best negotiate that?’
  • Understand that we need to protect the youngest kids and educate the older kids. For the youngest kids, we need to make sure none of the allergen is around the kid. As the kid gets older – kids don’t live in a bubble – we need to teach the kids so they know what to ask for so they know what might be in something and when they should be worried.

The final thing is if kids have severe allergies. We take their picture and post that along with what the child is allergic to and post it on a little bulletin board that faces the lunch lady. Also, with our computer system, every child has to ring in their meal. The photo and allergy also pops up there for lunchroom staff to see. In every way, we try and work with kids and their families to make sure there are no allergic reactions.

I think everyone’s grappling with the amount of allergies we’re seeing now. We have children who are severely allergic to something, then we have kids and/or parents who believe they have an intolerance. We’re seeing a lot of that – wheat intolerance, dairy intolerance. More kids are saying they are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free. This is also something we need to take into account.

We serve vegetarian every day, but we don’t always serve vegan. We make sure there are gluten-free options two or three times a week, but we’re not doing gluten-free bread or pasta. We just can’t afford it on the limited budgets school districts have.

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