A friend of mine is sending her daughter to daycare for the first time next month. Her 13-month-old will attend an excellent school in New York City, and while my friend is excited about this new milestone in her daughter’s life, she has some concerns about mealtime. The school makes all the food in-house and sometimes the meals contain shellfish and other highly allergenic foods. The school’s director advised my friend yesterday to introduce those foods to her daughter before school starts so that she could spot any food allergies in advance.
My first reaction when I heard this news last night was, Woah, what?! I could understand why a daycare’s administrators would want to be vigilant about a student’s possible food allergies — but what right does a daycare have to press parents to give their kids highly allergenic foods within a certain time frame? Even the experts don’t go there. A recent study found that introducing highly allergenic foods to your child before six months of age doesn’t appear to increase the incidence of eczema or wheezing in either infancy or later childhood, but I still haven’t heard an expert say that a child must (or even should) try highly allergenic foods by a specific time. (Thank God, because I still don’t have the guts to give Mason peanut butter.)
Of course, I’m sure the school would work with my friend. If she really doesn’t want her daughter to eat certain foods at school then perhaps they could serve her daughter an alternate menu. At Mason’s school, for example, parents receive weekly menus ahead of time and we’re able to let the teachers know if there’s a food that we don’t want our child to eat. Peanuts are strictly prohibited from the premises, although some shellfish is served, which parents can request that their child avoid. (A separate high chair is available for children with allergies or for children who follow a vegetarian or gluten-free diet.) Additionally, if a child is a picky eater then her parent has the option of bringing an alternative lunch and or breakfast for her.
But, ultimately, my friend’s dilemma makes me wonder whether daycares should even serve highly allergenic foods in the first place. There are so many other options out there — why even go there, particularly in classrooms that are filled with 1- and 2-year-olds? What do you think? Is it unwise for daycares to incorporate shellfish and other allergens into their menus? Or should parents just be prepared to give their child those foods before they start in a classroom where solids are served?
PHOTO: Crab Cakes — A don’t in daycare?