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Nut Allergies and Lunch Boxes in Canada – My New Challenge

“Duh” Warning on Almonds at Walmart

Quick peek into the hallway. Is she here? No. Awesome. She must be in the classroom with the kids already.

“Come on Mark, let’s put your lunchbox in the fridge!”

I dash to the kitchen. Quick check here too—sometimes she is having her morning cup of coffee here. Nope. All clear. Now I just have to take Mark to the classroom and hopefully, she will be busy.

Yes, I’m purposely avoiding one of Mark’s teachers.

Very mature of me, I know. And it’s my fault too.

She is a nice person and she obviously cares a lot about kids and their well-being. A few weeks ago, as I was dropping Mark off, she took me aside:

“Oh, I wanted to ask you… you don’t put juice in his sippy cup, do you?”

I could have lied right there. Yes, I fill the cup with diluted apple juice. Mark was going through a phase where he didn’t want to drink water and I’d rather him drink something than nothing at all during the day (and empty a bottle of juice at home in the evening).

But I didn’t lie because Mark was holding my hand and he was listening. Oh, it’s not the lying part that was bothering me—but I was fairly certain that he would have corrected me (“Mark drinks juice!”).

So I did the second-best thing I could think of and I somehow heard myself uttering “yes, I give him juice. It’s… organic. Actually, I make it myself. It’s a special blend. Super healthy!”

The teacher looked at me with a newfound respect for a second and was on the verge of saying something… but luckily (!), a kid fell from a toddler-size chair, started crying and the conversation ended abruptly.

And now I’m fairly sure she wants to quiz me about my special homemade juice blend. I can’t really admit that Mark’s juice comes from a carton. Bought at Walmart. On sale. Didn’t even read the label, fuck yeah.

I’m an idiot. And a bad liar to boot.

Look, I don’t usually lie but there is a lot of pressure around the lunchbox we, parents, have to provide every day.

Assembling a lunchbox is a minefield.

For a long time, when I took care of Mark, his on-the-go lunch was a peanut butter sandwich on rye bread, apple sauce or yogurt, a cereal bar or a cookie and a banana. “Okay, so we just give him that?” Feng asked as we were getting ready to start with daycare #3, a centre that, unlike daycares #1 and #2, didn’t provide food.

“Uh uh,” I said. I had read the paperwork in the admission package. There were precise and detailed guidelines based on Health Canada’s Food Guide—I had to make a “small nutritious meal” and encourage a “healthy and balanced diet.” For instance, lunch must be composed of one serving of meat and alternatives, one serving of vegetables and fruit, one or two-grain products, and one serving of milk and alternatives. One snack should have one serving of grain products and one serving of vegetables and fruit.


Quick test… are tomatoes fruits or veggies?

The worst part is, I’m fairly sure that the nice folks who wrote the Food Guide did so while eating Tim Horton’s donuts and drinking a copious amount of super sweet vanilla latte. Yeah, I taught French at Health Canada, I remember there was absolutely nothing healthy in the cafeteria there. Hypocrites.

Hell, maybe they were drunk.

I was facing a double challenge: assembling a lunchbox that met the requirements while providing food Mark would actually eat. He isn’t too picky but he is only two and a half and favours sweet easy-to-eat foods over vitamins and proteins.

“Meh, just give him the usual. You worry too much. Nobody is going to check,” Feng advised.

Ah. Innocent soul. Of course, I would be judged as a mother on my lunch boxes. When was the last time parenting was judgment-free? Oh, right. Ne-ver.

And I wasn’t being paranoid: on Mark’s first day, I stuck around with him to ease the transition and I witnessed the teachers opening the lunchboxes and writing notes to parents. “Jane was missing a serving of fruit” and “Jake needs to have a serving of meat and alternative.”

Told you so!

I have three rules with food: don’t label it as “good” or “bad”; enjoy what you eat and don’t make food an issue. I wasn’t sure how my philosophy was going to fit with the Canadian Food Guide and the daycare. And I took good note of the sign in the hallway that asked parents to provide “a tray of fresh fruits when celebrating a birthday.”

Seriously, fresh fruits? Who wants to celebrate anything with fruits?

And to complicate matters even further, there is the issue of food allergies—we were entering a “healthy eating zone” and a “nut-free area.” The daycare, like many public places in Canada, enforces a nut ban. Obviously, I can’t send Mark to school with a peanut butter sandwich, that’s a no-brainer (of a declaration of war…). But the ban extends to many kinds of spreads, such as Nutella and even nut-free butter alternatives because they look, smell and taste so much like real peanut butter. Many snacks (cereal bars, pastries, baked goods, etc.) have advisory labels that warn “may contain nuts” or “produced in a facility that also uses nuts” and they are banned, even if nuts are not the main ingredient.

“But how about the food we cook?” Feng asked.

I don’t know. Since we don’t have food allergies, I don’t pay attention to allergens. I won’t give Mark noodles with roasted peanuts, but I can’t guarantee the lunch I cook is completely nut free, and our kitchen certainly isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need to minimize risks for kids who have allergies and I’m sure it must be a headache for parents. Mark can eat nuts at home. But I can’t help wondering how far we can go with bans (should we also ban gluten? Eggs?) and I’m always afraid I will unintentionally pack a product with nuts.

Around Easter, parents were asked to bring treats for the kids’ party.

I volunteered for drinks.

No, I didn’t bring my “special juice blend”…

Now, if you excuse me, I have to go dice cheddar, shred ham and make my world’s famous jam sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch.

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