Monday, July 23, 2012

When Are Allergy Accommodations TOO Much?

Any mom of a child with food allergies knows the anxiety that comes with the word "camp".  This summer, for the first time, mini is attending a camp outside of the city, leaving home each day on a bus for the 40-minute journey that will take her out of the city into "nature".  Even more concerning for this mom: the cafeteria (by the way, one must read "cafeteria" with the proper intonation to get the full effect, those familiar with the term Voldemort will know exactly the right tone of terror to hit).

Now, we could write a whole post about the level of coordination required to send mini there AND live without constant heart palpitations, but we've done that on smaller scale in years past.  Suffice it to say we are now on a first name basis with the head of the grade, the nurse, the head of catering, and might even have a few personal cell phone numbers.  It can be done.

In fact, the camp has been so good about accommodating mini at lunch that she is starting to take advantage of it.  You see, like many kids, mini is a picky eater.  She might be allergic to sesame seeds, eggs, and nuts, but when you throw in the fact that she refuses to eat fruit, doesn't like leftovers, and generally avoids foods that aren't white or brown, you can see how lunch might be an issue.

The counselors and kitchen staff, worried about making something she'd eat that was safe, bent over backwards to try and please her.  They sent the camp driver to buy a bag of a safe brand of fish sticks so she could eat what the other kids had (the bulk fish sticks had egg).  They made her her own pizza bagel when the frozen pizza bagels had egg.  They made a special batch of egg free fried chicken drumsticks on fried chicken day.

Experienced parents will see where this is going.

Yes, that's right, mini declared the safe fish sticks "disgusting".  She wanted a plain bagel and cream cheese instead of the pizza bagel, which was "mushy".  And apparently she does not like fried chicken, and the kosher kitchen will not serve it with ham and the green eggs...well, you can see how those might be an issue in this case.

The staff, who is absolutely wonderful, offered to make her a bagel and cream cheese or pizza every day, the two things she has eaten that are safe.  And truth be told, with the amount of physical activity they get at camp every day, she needs to eat.  So it makes sense to just say yes.  But here comes the parenting dilemma....when are the accommodations TOO much?

It's one thing to say she can have a bagel and cream cheese on fish stick day if the fish sticks aren't safe, but if she can have what the other kids are eating, why should she be special? After all, if a kid without food allergies declared the fish sticks "disgusting", he or she wouldn't have a special meal made for them.  So why should she get special treatment?  She's using her allergies to game the system!

So this is where we struggle.  She needs the food.  And on another hand, with mild sensory processing issues (typically these go hand in hand with food allergies), one could easily argue that she should eat whatever you can get into her.  But at what point are we as parents over-indulging our kids and letting them take it too far?  At what point do we invoke the age-old rule" You get what you get and you don't get upset!"?

We'd love to hear if other parents with food allergies struggle with worrying about spoiling their child with too many accommodations.  Heck, we'd love to hear from any parent who struggles with this in a related area.

Feed the kid and spoil the child?  Or do whatever you need to to get them to eat?

What say you, wise peeps?


Wendy said...

That's a tough situation. My children have their picky problems as well with food, although they have no allergies. I try to serve what I know they like and also what is a healthy, well-balanced meal. I also try to live by the rule of "no substitutions" unless it is an even exchange like a banana instead of cantaloupe. But for your own piece of mind, the counselors sanity, and your daughter needing to eat after physical activity, I would say let them make her what she wants, within reason. Like give her two choices each day (the bagel and pizza, I think it was) and that's it. She can't suddenly decide she wants those fish sticks she knows they have in the freezer or something. But, my opinion here may not be correct. It's hard to not let a child's unique situation give them an opportunity to have more control than they need. I do have more thoughts on this, but I am going to stop rambling now because I do not know all the answers. I am sure other moms with kids with food allergies probably know much better what you should do!

Emily said...

I'd say let her have the bagel and cream cheese every day, but couch it as "It's too much work for the camp to have to get special fish sticks." Kids with sensory processing issues aren't making it up, and it has nothing to do with working the system. To her, those fish sticks really are disgusting.

Margaret said...

In a camp situation, I might let her just have the bagel and cream cheese because its easier for the camp, you don't want to add extra confusion over allergens especially since they are already being so good.

On the other hand we do not allow our kids to be picky about food. We have a very strict rule (which we might waive in a camp situation), but is never waived at home or with relatives (our kids are homeschooled and we can't eat in restaurants so school and eating out aren't issues). If they don't like what is served to them, they get nothing else. If it makes them tired or extra hungry because of physical activity so beit. Its really a matter of survival. Multiple people in our family have multiple food allergies. It takes a huge effort to make something that is safe for everyone and it all has to be from scratch. In that situation, we cannot and do not tolerate personal preference.

Poker Chick said...

Really appreciate your thoughts. It's a tough one. Just bought two more bags of bagels that are going to go in her backpack tomorrow, clearly labeled, with an email to the counselors/staff tonight to expect them.

Emily, your point about the fish sticks tasting disgusting is a good reminder.

But it is an interesting dilemma. We work so hard to get her accommodations we don't often think about the non-allergy typical parenting dilemma of what to do when they don't want to eat it!! It's as if they have minds of their own or something :)

Vivian said...

Mini has to learn to advocate for herself, so what you view as gaming the system could be considered be a safe way for her to learn to get her own needs and desires met. The camp staff could set the limits on what to offer mini; they have their own relationship with her. You give the parameters, the camp staff decides how far they want to go, right?

My attitude with my kids has been that they won’t starve if they miss a few meals (if they don't like what is being served) but they can't be rude to the people who have gone to great lengths to keep them safely fed. They’ve learned they don’t have a very good time if they don’t eat enough.

J.D. said...

Mini sounds like one smart (and allergy-free) cookie. Could she have learned strategy from Poker Chick? Possibly. It's a tough issue for you, but isn't some part of you at least a little proud that she's so wily and astute?