When told the safest way to protect her children from allergic reactions from food during school lunch time would be to have them eat at a "peanut-free table," Christina Robinson-Race initially worried that her children would feel like outcasts.
"I thought, 'My kids are going to be those kids who are sitting at a table by themselves.'"
However, Colin Race, 7, and Anna Race, 9, both students at Iles School in Springfield, Ill., are allowed to invite a friend to join them for lunch. And Robinson-Race speaks highly of how the school district takes care of students who have severe allergic reactions to certain foods.
"It (has) meant so much to us that our kids are so protected," she said. "I couldn't feel more confident knowing how protective everyone is and how the kids look out for each other. District 186 (in Illinois) does an awesome job with allergy management."
Of the roughly 15,000 students attending Springfield public schools, 460 are on record as having a diagnosed food allergy, said Barb Germann, health services coordinator for the district. That's up from 194 who were listed during the 2001-02 school year, when enrollment was 15,037.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the number of Americans under age 18 who reported a food allergy rose 18 percent from 1997 to 2007.
"We're talking chocolate and oranges, peanuts and shellfish, ranch dressing, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries and cinnamon," Germann said. " ... There is one first-grader who is allergic to squash. I don't think we serve that much."
Dealing with food allergies covers more than just what's on the menu when schools serve students lunch. Germann said the district addresses food allergies by teaching employees the proper administration of epinephrine and alerting them to students' allergies.
Parents are told about foods that should be eliminated from class parties. In some cases, peanut-free cafeteria tables are provided for students who might have a severe allergic reaction.
Except for a couple of times a month when peanut butter sandwiches are on the menu, Robinson-Race's children are able to eat the food served in the cafeteria, she said. But they miss out on classroom treats such as cupcakes purchased from a bakery because of the possibility of cross-contamination by baked goods, such as peanut butter cookies.