UCA T I ON 20
Philadelphia-based food-service giant
Aramark, concessionaire for Camden and
;; other districts in the state, does not
serve anything in the cafeteria contain-
ing peanuts, tree nuts or pork. But that’s
not enough of a control for the district
to label itself “peanut free.” “There is a
limit to how much we can really do,” says
Wickersty. “How do you monitor ;;,;;;
can’t. That’s not going to happen. That’s
one issue. The other issue is you can have
a child who will only eat peanut butter. So
how is it fair to him or her to not have the
If a parent wants a child’s school to
have a peanut-free table in the lunch-
room, the district will accommodate the
request, but it’s not a mandatory fixture.
The district tries to always have a meal
substitute available when a student with
allergies punches in his or her ID number in the lunch line.
Sal Valenza, food-service director for
the West New York school district in Hudson County and former president of the
New Jersey School Nutrition Association,
says his district opts not to o;er food that
contains peanuts. West New York and
hundreds of other New Jersey districts
use a menu app called NutriSlice, which
shows the lunch menu for the upcoming
month, denoting when allergens like soy,
egg and wheat are among the ingredients.
Parents use the app to customize meals
based on their child’s dietary needs. Low-tech school menus use the letters W, S,
D and E to denote when a meal includes
wheat, soy, dairy or eggs.
Wheat is another issue for school
diets. Charlie, a fifth-grader at Clinton
Elementary School in Maplewood, was
diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease, when she was in second
grade. For those with celiac disease,
foods with gluten (a protein found in
wheat, barley, oats, rye, malt and spelt)
damage the lining of the small intestine,
causing a range of digestive and neurological symptoms, including bloating,
migraines and seizures.
Before Charlie was diagnosed,
she never liked the “kid food” served
in schools because it made her sick.
“Everything we feed our kids—chicken
fingers, pizza, pasta, mac and cheese,”
says Charlie’s mom, Martha, “it’s all
gluten.” Since snacks containing nuts are
banned at Clinton Elementary, Martha
sends treats like corn chips, Skittles and
Junior Mints. “Her favorite candy bar is
a Baby Ruth, and I obviously can’t send
that to school.” Out of the ;;-plus kids
in the fourth grade, Charlie was the only
gluten-free student. Luckily, the class
parents have been supportive. Martha
receives calls from class moms asking
for Charlie’s favorite gluten-free foods
to prepare for birthday celebrations. “It
makes me so happy,” she says. Charlie
even took an after-school cupcake-deco-rating class—and gave her finished treats
to her younger sister.
Remarkably, celiac disease is now four
times as common in America as it was
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