• Gayle Rigione, Allergy Force CEO

The Peanut-free Table—yes or no?


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When my oldest son went to Kindergarten, we were brand new to town and knew no one.


My son was severely food allergic so I was especially anxious about the school year’s start. The school nurse asked if we wanted our son to sit at a peanut-free table in the cafeteria. Sounded like a great idea to me, nervous mom in protect mode.


During the first weeks of the school year, parents were invited to eat lunch with their Kindergartners, but siblings were not welcome. With two-year twins (and no babysitter) I couldn't visit.


A classmate’s mom reached out to me and asked if I knew how the lunchroom was working out.  She told me the peanut-free table was a tiny table placed by itself at the front of the lunchroom.  She’d observed my son sitting there alone, and lunchroom monitors cajoling unwilling classmates to eat with him. Classmates didn't want to sit at the peanut-free table because they'd miss out on fun with friends at the regular tables. The mom thought I needed to know…so kind of her. My son had never said a word about it.


I cried.


Being new to town I had no idea that for social reasons, parents at the school preferred their children with food allergies to eat at the regular tables. The school didn’t tell me the way things really worked. I hadn't known enough to ask.


I didn’t realize that by opting to seat my son at a peanut-free table, I would single him out as 'different'.  I would isolate him. I thought I was doing the right thing, the responsible thing.


After crying, I got busy. 


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I worked with school administrators to re-integrate my son into a regular lunch table.  We seated him at the end of the table closest to the lunchroom monitors.  The school designated a specific monitor to keep an eye him, and that monitor was tasked with relocating classmates with peanut butter in their lunches to the other end of the table.


Lessons learned


Whether to seat your child at the 'peanut free' table or not is a very personal decision that should weigh your child's safety & the associated risks of the situation versus the chance for social growth through inclusion. Here's what I learned from my parenting misstep that might help you think through lunchroom seating for your child with food allergies.

  1. Don't let fear and/or ignorance dictate your decisions.

  2. Get informed. Talk to other parents {especially other food allergy parents if you can find them}, administrators and the school nurse — to fully understand the lunchroom dynamics.

  3. Decide with eyes wide open.



"Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it."

—Unknown


Postscript: My twins (who do not have food allergies) attended Kindergarten at a different school in the same school district four years later. At their elementary school, the allergy table was the 'cool' table and everyone wanted to eat lunch at it with their friends. This is why it's so important to talk to other parents who can give you the inside scoop on how the lunchroom really works.

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About the Author: Gayle Rigione is CEO and Co-founder of Allergy Force, the food allergy app. She’s also an allergy mom. She’s lived the heart stopping moments when her son ate the wrong thing, second guessed reactions and spent the night in the ER. These experiences inspire her to create tools for people with food allergies that make life safer, easier. Whatever you do, do it with a full heart. Audentes Fortuna Iuvat


Photo Credit: Thank you to Wix and to CDC on Unsplash for use of the images