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April 30, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Should we go farther to accommodate food allergies?

2018051819.jpgI’ve never thought much about food allergies when making meals for special events. But after seeing the happy group snack times at Shorenorth Co-op Preschool, which I wrote about in Pacific Magazine yesterday, I’m thinking more carefully about what to prepare for birthdays and bake sales.

In the preschool class, where most kids are between ages 1 and 2, parents voted to bring a majority of snacks that would accommodate the various food allergies and sensitivities among the kids, rather than bringing whatever we liked and having parents bring separate treats for those with issues.

I realize food restrictions can go to crazy self-inflicted lengths (just look at Michael Ruhlman’s recent post on “Food Fascism.”) But seeing the toddlers’ friendly group gusto every week has made me feel bad, in retrospect, about the times I’ve seen a kid at my older children’s parties eating a lonely gluten-free cookie rather than sharing in a birthday cake, or unable to enjoy either the peanut butter sandwiches or the cheese sandwiches because they had nut allergies as well as an intolerance to dairy. I’d always seen it as their parents’ problem to deal with. But I see now it doesn’t take much effort to either provide extra options or to serve something everyone can enjoy together.

I asked Seattleite Jeanne Sauvage, whose book on gluten-free baking is due out this fall, for her take on the issue. Sauvage’s daughter has a life-threatening nut allergy and is sensitive to soy, and I’ve been observing for a while on Twitter how she tries to be inclusive when navigating classroom foods.

She wrote me that she agrees with the tack of having something that everyone can eat.

“It’s a bummer when kids with allergies are always being left out of food celebrations or always having to bring their own thing. We always looked at this as going simple and basic…” she wrote.

“In our two pre-schools, we had kids with allergies (to) peanuts, wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, corn, shellfish, tree nuts. So, we had to work around all of those. We also had kids who were vegetarian. The way we did this was to stick with things like fruit and veggies. Turns out the kids loved snack platters: a plate with cut up fruit and veggies, sometimes with olives and beans. We gave them their own plates and they could serve themselves from the snack platter. Often with hummus. They especially loved black olives–placing them on their fingers and eating them one by one was a perpetual favorite. Another special treat was fruit-leather.

“I don’t know about you, but I found that parents were kind of reluctant to bake something that was allergen-free because it always felt hard to them.”

I’ve eaten and enjoyed Sauvage’s cookies and cakes myself without even realizing they were gluten-free, so I figured she would have sweet options to combat that baking fear. Indeed she did. Parents did feel pretty universally at ease making the “chocolate crazy cake” she still serves at her daughter’s birthday parties, which is free of the 8 main allergens. Here’s her recipe, if you want to try it instead of — or in addition to — your usual birthday cake or classroom treat.

Photo illustration: Susan Jouflas/The Seattle Times



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