You might have heard some recent news stories about a Toronto high school that was vandalized, in part, through the use of peanut butter. You’re not in high school yet – heck your little one hasn’t even started daycare or preschool! “So what’s all the fuss about?” you’re probably wondering. “Surely that peanut butter thing was just a prank?” Well, if your wee one is ready for the next big adventure in his or her life, an adventure that will include spending some time in daycare, then it’s also time for your family to become allergy aware. At Alpha’s, we take allergies seriously and we’d like to share why you too should care.

Peanut allergies, in fact food allergies in general, are on the rise in North America. It’s estimated right here in Canada over 300,000 young people under age 18 are living with allergies. That means that in any given school or daycare setting, a friend sitting right next to your child could have an allergy. Perhaps it’s your own son or daughter. Regardless of who, we know that as part of the Alpha’s community, you’ll want to join with us to make every effort to keep every child happy, healthy and thriving. Here’s how:

Bubble Wrap

Just kidding! There are lots of blogs out there about next generation parents who are “bubble wrapping” their children and “helicopter” parenting. We are not about to accuse anyone of anything like that. Our hope with today’s blog is to help parents understand the best way to create a safe environment for all children so that they can run around, play, get dirty and explore. After all, that’s what childhood is all about!

No Nuts / Peanuts at School or Daycare

This one is no joke folks. Our policy is to create an environment that is peanut and tree nut free for everyone. The most straight-forward approach to doing so is to strictly adhere to a “no nuts” policy at Alpha’s. If you are new to this daycare thing, you might not realize such a policy is not simply a banning of nuts but extends to all those items that are labeled “may contain” or that may “have come into contact” with nuts. It takes a bit of practice getting used to what this really means. For example, bringing in a box of Timbits from your local Timmie’s might be a nice gesture, but it will leave some children feeling excluded when they can’t partake.  Even if the treats you purchased don’t have actual nuts baked in, they could have been cross-contaminated in the kitchen of the coffee shop. For a child with an anaphylactic response to his or her allergy, this trace potential contact alone can be enough to trigger an allergic reaction. The same goes for products you might lovingly make at home but with ingredients that were purchased from a bulk food supplier.  Again, the risk of cross-contamination is high in these kinds of facilities so bringing in a bag of gummy worms or chocolate (unless wrapped and labelled as nut free) from the bulk food store is just too dangerous.

No Peanut Butter on Toast for Breakfast

Some families, when they hear about a child in the classroom with nut allergies, express concern over whether this means their child can even eat peanut butter at home. “It’s their favourite food” is a refrain we often hear.  It should come as no surprise that Alpha’s (or anyone else for that matter) CAN’T tell you what to feed your child in the privacy of your own home and we think, if you asked most allergy parents, they would agree! While we are strong proponents of the Canada Food Guide and encourage healthy eating – what you do at home is your own business.  What would be appreciated, if you have a child addicted to the brown, gooey stuff, is a thorough washing of hands and mouth before coming to school. Even better? A quick “once-over” of the outfit to make sure no peanut butter has come to land splat in the middle of your child’s t-shirt! Believe it or not, this kind of accidental contact can and does have potentially serious, even life-threatening, consequences.

Next – only send plain rice cakes and water for snacks.

Yuck! Ok – well, if you like rice cakes then hey, no problem. If water really is your thing, drink up! However, as we said above, we believe in promoting healthy eating and that includes a variety of snacks from all of the major food groups. We pride ourselves on having options available for your child and the bottom line is, we don’t dictate – we would rather work together with you as our parents and Alpha family – to establish great snacking routines that also reflect our concern for the safety of all the children in our care. As you already know from enrolment, we provide nutritious foods and have a strict no nuts policy and it is our hope and intent that with these policies in place, everyone feels safe and welcome.

Having a life-threatening allergy is no laughing matter. We take the safety of every child at Alpha’s very seriously and the fact is, we aren’t just talking about nuts.  Dairy, gluten, soy, egg – these are just a few more of the top 8 allergens that many children now attending school and day care experience. We are mindful of all allergies and ask our newest parents – those whose children are attending daycare for the very first time – to become familiar with all of our policies, including those around food and food safety. There is such a large variety of “Peanut and Tree Nut Free” products now on the market these days we are confident that both what we serve and what you might send from home (with permission) will be free from nuts.

Help us to ensure that every family, regardless of race, gender, ability and yes-even allergy- has a great and a safe start to their daycare discovery adventure!

*Author’s note:  Even those with the best of intentions can sometimes get it wrong.  Recently we have seen some products from the Original Food Company labelled Peanut Free. Indeed they are. However, these products are NOT tree nut free and for most children with nut allergies, exposure to any kind of nut product is dangerous.  Always read and check the label to be sure it says both “peanut” and “tree nut” free.