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What Can You Pack if You Can't Pack Peanut Butter?

Posted Aug 24 2010 12:00am

I was recently asked to provide a list of peanut butter free lunches that this mother could pack for her child, who did not have food allergies but ate lunch in the classroom with peanut allergic children and, thus, was unable to pack the only meal that was acceptable to the child. Sounds fuzzy, but I think you can understand.

We first found out that Gabriel was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts when he was 18 months old. We could not figure out why he had hives much of the time, had 6 asthma attacks, and was often seen with swollen, runny eyes and a beet red face - and hands, when we went to one memorable party.

I left to buy some Benadryl.

We took him to a very recommended allergist at Children's Hospital and she did an extensive panel of tests on him, both skin and blood. He tested very, very allergic to dogs and cats,  tree nuts and coconut and mildly to peanuts. Since that time, we've scrupulously avoided all nuts and he's had a couple of accidental exposures. He's wildly afraid of that Epi Pen. :) (Note: testing this year removed almonds and coconut and we've challenged both successfully, but peanut has jumped WAY up there.)

I have a philosophy about my kids food allergy that might surprise you. It certainly has gotten me some arguments over the years.

His food allergy is not your food allergy. 

I once met a woman whose child had multiple anaphylactic food allergies, much like my own son. This woman cooked and baked every single food that her kid came in contact with, to the point that we weren't supposed to bring in treats for our own child's birthday - we were to allow her to make it all. She didn't want her child to feel left out, or like he was different.

But he is different. And he will always be different. And I won't always be there to protect him, to keep him safe, to screen his food. So I've taught him to read labels and check foods and to avoid when he's not sure. I do send in treats to store in the classroom and if he's not able to eat a special birthday treat, I make sure he gets something later. It's not an obsession, though - if he misses a treat, oh well. A treat isn't the end of the world.

So, long story long, that's my philosophy on food allergies.

But. Gabe is older and he eats at the Nut Free Table at school. I completely understand the philosophy behind a nut free classroom. I've never requested it, and when a teacher offered it to me, I didn't take her up on it. I am NOT saying it's a bad thing, I'm NOT saying you are wrong if you did so, so save the hate mail. You make your choices, I make mine. I'm trying to help my kid navigate the world long term - I don't want him to have a dynamic shift from "Everything is safe and wonderful" to "Now I have to be aware of labels and worry about food". In my mind, it needs to be the same story all along.

Here are some of Gabe's favorite things to take for lunch, and I'm betting that you can find one or two that your non peanut allergic child will enjoy eating.

  • Tupperware bowl of cereal - buy milk at lunch, because milk in a thermos sometimes isn't so fresh
  • String cheese, crackers and applesauce
  • Soy butter/almond butter/sunflower butter - now, I know that those are acquired tastes, but start young, start early in the year, and mix it with peanut butter while at home, in order to slowly adjust the taste buds - beware that it takes time
  • cheese and crackers and lunch meat cut into shapes
  • frozen yogurt tubes and mini muffins
  • chicken noodle soup in a thermos with goldfish to drop on top
  • leftovers, such as spaghetti, in a thermos. Key to the thermos: fill it with boiling hot water and cap it. Let it sit for five or ten minutes. Dump out the water, insert the piping hot food, and seal it. Be aware that often a thermos can seal a bit too tightly with the heat
Do you have a meal that's nut free that your kids (or you!) enjoy that would pack easily? Share it with us!

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