Collaborating for Student Allergies: A Recipe for Safety and Inclusivity

in Fall 2023 by

At Park, ensuring the safety and well-being of our students is paramount, and one crucial aspect of this responsibility is managing student allergies effectively. Allergies can range from mild to severe, and their consequences can be life-threatening. To comprehensively promote allergy safety, and emphasize health and wellness within the school community, Park encourages collaboration between key stakeholders: Chef Anthony Marco and School Nurse Fabiola Sanon. Together, they are working to create a lunch program that will benefit the entire school community.

A Transparent Dining Experience

As you enter the dining room, one of the first things that will catch your attention is a chalkboard displaying information about the menu and a daily allergen checklist for items such as milk, soy, wheat, legumes, etc. There are also signs at every station describing the ingredients in each meal, with allergenic ingredients highlighted in red. If students don’t see the ingredient board that lists all allergies, each food station calls these components out in a printed menu that is switched out daily. 

Chef Marco and his team are dedicated to creating menus catering to students’ dietary restrictions and allergies, and he actively modifies meals for students with allergies and dietary restrictions. ​​All students can access nutritious and delicious meal options, including allergen-free alternatives prepared with care and attention to detail. Every food option is prepared separately to avoid cross-contamination or exposure to allergies. For example, quesadillas are made with gluten-free wraps or dairy-free cheese, meatballs are prepared without eggs, bread, or dairy, and more vegetables are added to enhance the nutritional value of our meals.

Maintaining a balance between accommodating dietary needs and providing nutritious and appealing meals for all students is crucial. Chef Marco highlights that this balance is built into the production process, ensuring enough time to prepare allergy-free options, which are manageable in quantity compared to the regular menu items. Nurse Fab takes the time to educate students about their dietary restrictions when needed and is always happy to walk cautious eaters through their options and collaborate with families to determine if specific arrangements are necessary.

While these additional options accommodate allergies first and foremost, they also promote inclusivity in the school cafeteria. The crowd-pleasing “Breakfast for Lunch” menu features vegan and gluten-free pancakes alongside traditional ones, and they look identical, even though the ingredients are different. This approach ensures that students with allergies don’t stand out by eating an alternative, and students can enjoy meals alongside their peers without needing separate tables based on allergies. The team works hard to prevent feelings of “otherness.” A Lower Division Parent shared, “My child doesn’t have to wear something different like a wristband to stay safe, which can feel othering. I appreciate that Park thought through the sense of community belonging while keeping my child’s safety and health in mind.”

Comprehensive Allergy Management and Collaboration

New this year, families can add allergies and dietary restrictions to their child’s health information in MAGNUS to provide a more comprehensive understanding of students’ needs. Nurse Fab maintains an allergy list by grade, detailing students’ allergens and dietary restrictions, which is shared with all faculty and staff members to ensure everyone knows students’ allergies. “It’s helpful for everyone to have this list since everyone is in different places. If a staff member volunteers in the lunch room, they can check if anyone at their assigned table has a food allergy.”

Nurse Fab also provides Chef Marco with this allergy list, allowing the kitchen staff to assess dietary needs among the student population. The Dining Services team plans options for each school week using this information. While Nurse Fab may see these students regularly in the Nurse’s Office, Chef Marco makes an effort to meet these students personally in the Dining Room: “When first-grade students come to the lunch room for the first time, I strive to get to know and build a relationship with them so they trust me and feel comfortable coming up to ask me any questions about the food.” While it is up to the student to ask questions or let Chef Marco and other Dining Staff members know about an allergy, Park wants students to feel empowered to take ownership of their dietary restrictions. An Upper Division Parent shared “My child’s allergies have shifted and changed as he’s getting older…he’s able to ask the necessary questions and double checks those foods he has already deemed safe to eat. Chef Marco is highly responsive when answering questions about the cafeteria menu.”

Nurse Fab and Chef Marco communicate regularly to address students’ needs effectively. If one partner has concerns about a student or their parents have questions, they consult to explore available options. Nurse Fab shares, “When parents have been concerned about their child eating enough at lunch due to dietary concerns, we work together to figure out additional food options that I can keep in the Nurse’s Office for these students.” Both recognize the importance of collaboration to ensure the best outcomes for students.

The partnership between the Nurse’s Office and Dining Services at Park School exemplifies a commitment to student well-being and care. By collaborating, communicating, and adapting to changing needs, the school ensures every student can enjoy a safe and nutritious meal while fostering a sense of belonging within the school community.  A parent shared, “Nurse Fab and Chef Marco were so welcoming when we came to Park. They answered all my questions, and I knew I had nothing to worry about.” This approach not only safeguards the well-being of students but also promotes a culture of awareness and understanding for students, their families, and faculty and staff members. As the awareness of allergies grows, Park continues to prioritize partnerships such as these to ensure the health and safety of all their students.