This is a touchy subject for me…and I just got the annual letter from school asking for a meeting with parents to discuss special dietary needs. Quick back story – ‘old’ caterers use to feed Molly every day. They were very helpful, keen to include her. Sadly the quality of the food was not great so the school sacked them and brought in a small company. This company is run by someone who isn’t switched on about allergies. So we gave up on school dinners for a while; but after the dust settled they agreed to feed her once a week.
So the letter asks for any parents with dietary issues to come to a meeting and supply copies of medical evidence to support the dietary requirement. They are then going to send home a ‘risk assessment’ and may refuse to cater for children in a ‘high risk’ category.
I’ve a couple of issues with the requirement for medical evidence. First off it’s a trust issue. Parents don’t make up allergies or intolerances, we don’t lie to cover up fussy eating. Demanding medical evidence really does send the message that parents can’t be trusted to tell the truth.
Often parents figure out for themselves food intolerances and allergies. I wonder - will extra tests be needed to ‘prove’ an allergy that parents are sure of, but perhaps hasn’t been tested for? And what about intolerances? How do we provide evidence for those? Will GP’s write a letter? Our GP charges for letters so who bears the brunt of that cost? And is this what GP’s should be doing – writing letters about school lunches? We know that Molly can’t have Oregano. Figured it out ourselves. She’s not been tested so we have no ‘proof’ as such – but we’re lucky as it’s mentioned in her file. But is that going to be enough? I certainly don’t want to put my child through a skin prick test to prove something to the school.
This ties in with the whole ‘free school meals’ issue and the ability to cater for allergic children. Can each school decide what qualifies as ‘evidence’? Will administrators and caterers be able to refuse to cater for allergies because there isn’t ‘evidence’ and insist that the child eats the standard menu or not be included? More exclusion for kids who already suffer will be the result. Or worse, perhaps, children getting ill because they are fed food that the parents suspect is an issue but can’t prove to the schools satisfaction. With delayed reactions the schools may never see the consequences – or perhaps dismiss the ‘sore tummy’ as attention seeking.
The more likely scenario is that parents of children with allergies, intolerances and reflux will just opt out of school lunches because it’s too risky, complicated or intrusive to provide copies of medical evidence. More exclusion, not to mention financial hardship for some families where free lunches would really make a difference.
These issues affect thousands of children and families. We need to ensure that any caterer working in schools has an understanding of allergies, and how to adapt recipes, so that everyone can safely be included. The issue isn’t allergic children, fussy eating, or parents trying to avoid their child being given something to eat they don’t like; the issue to making sure caterers are properly trained, able and willing to cater for allergic children. I fear costs is another issue – it takes time, energy and more money to cater for allergic children. We all know the extra costs associated with gluten, milk or egg free products too well. This is too important an issue to be left to individual schools; it will mean a varied approach across the country.
Anyone else in the same boat? I’d love to hear from you.
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