Friday, 24 October 2014

Let her eat cake! - On Inclusion for Food Allergy Kids and Free School Meals

'Baby' has been eating a LOT of fruit recently. Good! Good! She's been so reluctant to do so, up until now. Problem is, it's not because she enjoys it very much more than she used to...

What she'd really like to eat is chocolate cake.

Chocolate cake is normal in our house (although not every day, I hasten to add). We love chocolate, we love cake, we love the two together. Daddy likes it, Mummy likes it (more than is good for her) and so does 'Baby'!!

A Genius dairy and gluten free cupcake. Who would know that it's free from??

Now, picture this: 

I've just picked up 'Baby' from school. As I'm loading her and all her school stuff into the car she nonchalantly ponders aloud, 'I don't suppose we have any chocolate cake at home??'

Me (thinking that she's remembering the cake she's had in the past few days, as a result of her first school cake sale) replies guardedly,  'we might have.' 

I'm also thinking of the two Genius chocolate cupcakes that I bought in Sainsbury's the other day, which I squirreled away in the cupboard - well, you know, they were on offer! However, I don't want to give in to her request too easily - as (obviously) too much of a good thing isn't, always a good thing!

'Can I have some, when I get home?' she asks. 

'Maybe, ' I reply evasively, 'we'll see when we get home.' I'm being evasive, as she is a little sugar monster and it's hard getting her to eat healthy foods - sugar and chocolate are such a draw! I now rue the day I ever first gave her some, 'cos now she evaluates every food as to whether she enjoys it as much as she does anything sweet or chocolatey!

Sure enough, as I'd hoped, by the time we've done Waitrose and got home, she's forgotten. 

'Yippee!' I rejoice quietly inside.

A few hours later, Daddy comes home, and a few more vital facts of her day slowly emerge - the ones that she neglected to tell me earlier. Chief among them, is the fact that everyone else had chocolate cake for dessert, at lunch, today... and she didn't. 

The alternatives? Yoghurt or fruit.

'Baby' doesn't like yoghurt (they stock dairy free Alpro yoghurts at her school) and 'ain't that keen on fruit. Consequently she had no dessert today. Hence that request for chocolate cake.

Now, as an adult, I might wryly think to myself, 'Oh well, I don't need those extra calories anyway.'

'Baby' is four. She DOESN'T think that way. 

She sees chocolate cake, so naturally she wants chocolate cake. What kid wouldn't? At home, if anyone was having chocolate cake, she'd be having chocolate cake too!

I WISH I'd given her that chocolate cake.

She DID get a choice of dessert tonight. Mummy guilt kicked in, so she had LOTS of yummy choices.  But my heart was silently sobbing (okay, I may have been a bit pre-menstrual at that point) - for a little girl who loves chocolate cake and couldn't have any, even though everyone else did.

Thing is, this 'ain't the first time - the other day, it was a teacher's  birthday and that teacher shared cake with the class.... well... all except 'Baby' - she was given a digestive biscuit. 

Better than nothing, I suppose! But it's not the same, is it??

I'm guessing this probably won't be the last occasion that something like this happens.

Now maybe you're thinking I should be pleased that 'Baby' is eating ore healthily - all that fruit!! Well, yes, that is good, BUT... 'Baby's' had a LOT of extra vile tantrums recently. I thought we'd got over the worst of these - once things settled down, after our move. Up until now, I thought she was tired out by the long day. Casually, I've asked the around the other mums, but unless they're lying, not so many extra tantrums there! It could still be that she's tired...

But now I'm wondering whether these tantrums are a sign of something else. I'm beginning to think that maybe she is becoming more aware of the difference between herself and everyone else in her class is coming into focus - the effect of milk was buffered at home - we all eat pretty much the same. It's not quite the same at school!!

At 'Baby's' school EVERYONE has dinners. No opt out. I thought I was (almost) fine with that. As an ex-teacher, I completely agree with all the benefits of children sitting down and eating a healthy, balanced meal together (as long as you can ensure it's healthy and balanced, of course - I'm still not convinced that all free school dinners are). However, it's hard trusting someone else to feed your kid safely, when not even your own parents can manage it!! Especially the whole cross-contamination thing!

My reservations were overcome when I was assured (before she started school) that they already have children with milk allergy in the school and consequently always do a dairy free alternative of what everyone else has. 

Excellent news!! 

Clearly, however, they DON'T always have a dairy free alternative... NOT ALWAYS! I know they can do her cake - they did it, just the other week. So why not today? 

The school has been very good in many ways - much better than most, but then we're paying for her education - we opted for that course because the local primary quite clearly weren't au fait with allergies! When I raised the fact that 'Baby' has a milk allergy, at our local allocated primary school,the Headteacher said, 'Well she can have packed lunches, can't she??' 

At which point we decided to look elsewhere. 

Me, knowing that this particular school had been rated 'outstanding' by OFSTED, and that this Headteacher was very experienced and that school lunches were supposed to be provided in every school for all infants starting from the term when 'Baby' would enter school (see here), was speechless!! Never mind the, What will they do at milk time, to make sure that none is spilt? What will they do when they do cooking in class?? questions that were already raging in my mind!!

Thoughtfully, the school where we have sent 'Baby,' provide her soya milk served in a bottle almost identical to everyone else's - only a different coloured lid and her name mark it out as different from the others. They've also given her soya ice cream, when everyone else had 'normal' ice cream... It s unfortunate that this is not the norm in all schools.

BUT, the thing is, I believe that inclusion HAS to be consistent. It's good that they have a lot of stuff nailed, however, the occasions where inclusion is neglected, to my mind, equates to exclusion - these occasions are the ones which the child (and the parent) ultimately remembers!! 

And what does it DO to the child?? Long term...??

'Baby' HAS been very tempestuous recently.

Maybe it's a feeling of being different, left out, excluded, insignificant, that's exploding in completely irrational, hot, fierce, outbursts that can go on for an hour or so. After all, it would make ME feel cross, wouldn't it you?? I find it interesting that as one *report that covered the pilot studies of free school meals noted, the thing with Reception-aged children like 'Baby' is that they are reluctant or even unable to speak up - to advocate for themselves... 

It's too true! And not just concerning food allergies - 'Baby's' even been too timid to tell them when she's missed the toilet!! So much so, that she's walked around with wet underwear, until it's dried by itself!! At least one little friend has done the same!

And I am cross - for her! And for all the other little (or not so little) kids to whom this kind of thing also happens. 

I DO wonder what these kind of occasions do to 'Baby's' little soul... I don't want her to become angry, a 'victim,' or an 'outsider'...

PLEASE! Let her eat cake too... or let them ALL (unless they're allergic to it) eat fruit and yoghurt!!

(But NOT kiwi fruit 'cos that's a very common allergen and I can't eat it!!)

*apologies for the lack of a reference here - I know I read it in one of the reports, but cannot now ,for the life of me, find it!


  1. I wish they had a school meals programme like that in Dubai

  2. Ah I feel your pain. As you know my little Roo has coeliac disease along with having had allergies to dairy and eggs (and now intolerant to dairy), and the whole school thing has always been tricky...along with parties and other social events. Roo is brilliant about all of it. She has a packed lunch (the school dinner option was jacket potato practically every day and fruit for pudding) and she doesn't care...because she doesn't trust the lunch option. Most teachers are pretty thoughtful, but there are of course going to be occations when they forget her. To be honest, I think most of the time it bothers us mothers more than the child. They seem to get on with things a lot more than we do!!

  3. Oh bless. I completely understand your frustration and anger about this. I was 18 when I was diagnosed with coeliac disease and for the first few years, I was completely left out when it came to meals out with friends, etc. There were simply no options for me at that time (2003). And the thing is, unlike a 4 year old such as 'Baby', I fully understood the reasons for excluding the allergen from my diet. It was still incredibly hard and I can tell you, I've had a few of my own temper tantrums over the years! My biggest one was about 3 years ago, when our big boss lady at the (MASSIVE, national) insurance company I worked for bought everyone on our team easter eggs. Proper ones, with chocolate bars inside and everything. But apparently, it was beyond her to read a simple allergen list because do you know what she gave me? A single (teeny) bag of dairy free chocolate buttons. Deflated. Filled with righteous indignation. Desperately upset. Yes, I was all of these things. And I'm NOT four years old!! So frankly, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the recent tantrum increase from 'Baby' was the result of feeling left out. Maybe you could speak to the school and ask them to notify you if they'll be doing something like cake for the other kids, so you can send 'Baby' to school armed with a delicious dairy free alternative?