One Mom's Method for Managing her Child's Peanut Allergy at School

By Carmen Staicer - Chief Mom at

My son's allergy to peanuts is severe and life threatening. We learned of his allergy when he was two-years old, when we couldn't figure out why his asthma was so severe, requiring multiple emergency room visits, steroids, and the like. He also randomly developed enormous hives all over his body and had difficulty breathing when the hives occurred. We met with an allergist who tested him with both a skin test and a blood test, and we learned of the severity and breadth of the allergies.

Food allergies and food intolerances are not the same. A food intolerance can cause stomach upset, gastric distress, and possibly digestive issues in the form of diarrhea and constipation. Many people claim they have a food allergy when a food does not agree with them, and this diminishes the severity for those with a true, life threatening allergy. A food allergy is defined as an abnormal response to a food triggered by your body's immune system, and is most often triggered by the so called "Big 8," the eight foods that are responsible for 90 percent of all food reactions. These are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, sesame, wheat, and soy.

Perhaps your child, or his classmate, also suffers from a food allergy. Your child's school may have even implemented a peanut-free policy to accommodate the children who have an allergy. Each year, parents are up in arms over this issue. "What will my child eat?" they query. "He only eats peanut butter! Nothing else! It's not fair to me to have to figure out something different to pack! It's difficult!"

Yes, it is. However, if it keeps one child from death by anaphylaxis, I'll gladly do it.

As your child's advocate and teacher, you must teach your child how to responsibly manage his allergen. Teach your child to read labels. Have lessons on the tricky words that manufacturers use to disguise ingredients. Help your child learn to ask restaurant servers for ingredients. You will not always be there to ask, and so it is vital that he be able to fend for himself.

Many schools, due to fear of lawsuit, as well as the reality that a small amount of those with peanut allergies will react to airborne particles, have decided to go peanut free. Maybe your school has created a special "nut free" table, but it's entirely possible that the entire cafeteria will be a nut free zone. If your school has done so, do not despair. There are many delicious and nutritious substitutions that you can make in a packed lunch.

Some simple ideas include:

  • Almond or other nut butter
  • Sunflower butter, made from sunflower seeds
  • Soy butter, made from soy beans
  • Tahini
  • Hummus and veggie sticks
  • Guacamole
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Pasta
  • Soup
  • Grilled Cheese
  • 8 Lunch Box Meals that Aren't Sandwiches

When our peanut-free journey first began, my son struggled with avoiding peanut butter, even at his young age. We chose to remove it completely from his diet and didn't even try to use a look-a-like substitute. Instead, we focused on finding other foods he could enjoy. Sandwiches were cut in to spirals, finger sticks, and other fun shapes thanks to sandwich cutters, making an alternative food more enjoyable. I baked bread in shaped tubes and let him sample many different spreads until we found the ones that he enjoyed. I have rolled a piece of bread flat, spread it with almond butter and jam, rolled it up and sliced it to look like sushi.

A peanut allergy does not mark the end of an enjoyable, kid-friendly lunch.

As the mother of a food allergic child, I've learned that I must often provide foods for my child that are safe at birthday parties or sporting events. In fact, I don't take my son to an event without bringing a food that is safe for him; It saves the party host from managing one more thing. I also carry "safe" chocolate bars in my pocketbook so that he, or I, have a safe option for those days when you just need a chocolate fix!

Learn More About Planning a Healthy Back to School:

How to Send Your Gluten-Free Kid Back to School

Guilt-Free Packaged Foods for School Lunches

5 Ways Teachers Can Improve the Health of Their Classrooms