Should Highly Allergenic Foods Be Served at Daycare?

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?


5 thoughts on “Should Highly Allergenic Foods Be Served at Daycare?

  1. Wow… seems to me that highly allergenic foods should not be served. Why go there? It took us quite a while to introduce our son to shellfish and peanut butter, and I would not have appreciated being rushed. Turns out my son doesn’t have any allergies, but a child at his home daycare has a peanut allergy. Our provider doesn’t serve peanuts OR shellfish, though no kid is allergic to the latter (that we know of yet). This is a life-threatening issue for some children. I would think a childcare center would be more sensitive & accommodating.

  2. I believe daycare should serve the shellfish & peanut butter after 2 years old at least. Can parents get weekly menu ahead? or can they bring their own food until baby are ready for those type of food? I know this is not realistic to bring food to daycare for working mom, but just wonder if they have option.

  3. I think this is a slippery slope. First we say no peanuts, then no shellfish, then gluten is band, then milk products. It has to end somewhere. I think as long as no kid has a specific allergy in the daycare they should serve everything. I would want my kid to eat a variety of foods not some super strict diet. If parents don’t like the menu then they can pack their own.

  4. Amen, Jessi. I want my daughter to eat a varied diet and be introduced to many different foods. I feel like its overkill to limit the entire class. And the beauty of the system is… if you don’t like it, don’t send your kid to that daycare.

  5. My family is vegetarian. Peanuts were a favorite source of protein for my children, who were very picky eaters, and now are popular a protein source for my grandchildren. Yes, some children are allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, gluten, etc. But they also live in a real world where such foods exist and are enjoyed by the vast majority. Unless a child in the class has a deadly allergy to a food (a proven allergy, not one assumed by a parent responding to the latest hysteria du jour), the daycare should be free to serve it.

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