My biggest worry about Felix starting school was how eating school dinners (or school lunches if you prefer) would work with food allergies. We’ve now had 3 school years without a mishap and I’d like to share with you how we made it work! There are a couple of points that have kept my motivation to make this work VERY high!
- I hate making packed lunches, to the point I have only let Felix have one once. I provide a pack up for school trips but the rest of the time he has to have the FREE school meals.
- We are on a tight budget and school meals are FREE for children from Reception to year 2.
- I think it’s better to have your main mean at lunchtime where possible. It will help children concentrate better for their afternoon of learning.
- I love the idea of all children queuing up together to share the same meal – eating is such a lovely communal experience.
SCHOOL MEALS ARE FREEMaybe I’ve made point 5 already?
I’m really lucky to have a mother in law who works in a school office and has lots of professional experience to share with me. Felix had also attended a childminder and nursery from the age of one so I’d made that mental jump that another person can take very good care of Felix without mishap. I would definitely plan for school to feed your child, however if you change your mind you can always send a packed lunch! Here is how Felix’s school made it work:
- I’ve written before about how we introduced the school to Felix’s allergies.
- I prepared myself by obtaining a copy of the school’s planned lunch menu from their website. Every option for the term was planned and shared.
- A huge sigh of relief was breathed when I saw there was a jacket potato option every day. If nothing else Felix would eat a spud and beans. That has got to be better than a sandwich.
- I made my plea with the Headteacher that I would like Felix to eat a FREE school meal (have I mentioned that before?) She felt it was a very reasonable request and suggested I meet with the head school cook.
- We arranged a date and I held my breath.
- Meeting the school cook is a bit like going on a blind date. If I was her, I’d size me up to make sure I was calm, helpful and reasonable. I didn’t want to come across like liaising with me would become a second, nightmarish job! I was sizing her up to make sure she was clued up about how serious allergies can be, understood how to avoid cross contamination and was resourceful to explore alternatives. I once met with a cook at a nursery (where we didn’t send Felix) who was surprised to hear pitta is a type of bread that contained wheat so the bar was pretty low as to what I could expect.
- We passed the blind date part of the meeting and got to work exploring the store cupboards for ingredients. I was in heaven and felt like a borrower. All those giant jugs and pans made me go a bit giddy!
- We accepted Felix would probably have the fruit or jelly options for pudding so that was the first step done. The school would buy a ‘free from’ alternative yogurt for the occasional treat.
- School were happy to offer a jacket potato, beans and cheese with tuna as an alternative to cheese on days where the menu couldn’t be adapted.
- All children come home with a menu weekly where I could choose the following week’s food. If I chose something that had a sneaky ingredient the cook would substitute it for a safe options.
- All the lunchtime staff would be briefed about Felix so they new to look out for him.
- I trained the lunchtime teachers (formerly known as dinner ladies) on how to use an Epi pen should a mistake happen.
- A lunchtime teacher would carry a bag with Felix’s medicine at all times to begin with, as time went on we changed this to storing it in the classroom with back up in the office. This way everyone always knew where to go in an emergency.
- In reception Felix would always stand behind the pupil of the day in the lunch queue so he could be served early to avoid mistakes.
- As Felix isn’t allergic to airborne allergens he could sit with his friends when eating but knew he mustn’t share food. This had been the case since nursery so he was well drilled.
- The school is already nut free but school regularly remind families that nut products are not to be provided in lunch boxes.
Through the whole process I kept reminding myself that little children are well cared for and it is exceptionally rare for a bad accident to happen. I should also share I was told by a few friends how it had been a disaster for other children with dietary needs and school would not make the effort feed Felix. Well, this was not my experience, the school cook had changed since then and I learned my lesson to ignore negative experiences and make our own minds up!
There had been occasions where Felix could be a bit alarmed if the food was different to what had been promised. It took a little while for school to source gluten free fish fingers. One Friday I got a phone call from his teacher asking me to collect him. Felix was clearly unwell as he looked so sad and refused to eat his lunch. Once I arrived to bring home the reported unwell boy it turned out he was in a monumental strop because of the lack of the promised fish finger. He would not touch the substitute potato and had a very sad face!
As time has gone on I meet regularly with the kitchen team to check labels and answer questions. It really couldn’t have gone better. I’m trying to not to weep as year 2 ends and I have to come to terms with paying for school lunches in September. Worse still I’m going to have to make more packed lunches!
I want to take this opportunity to make a very public declaration of thanks to the kitchen and lunchtime team at Felix’s school. You have kept him safe and well fed without mishap. You could have told me it was too hard, but, by embracing the challenge to feed the boy who couldn’t eat gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, coconut and sesame you have done yourselves very proud.
Thank you, Sophie xxx