School Meals: Allergy Menus in the Wake of Natasha’s Law

Time to read: 5min 24 May 2022

How has your school meal service responded to the requirements imposed by Natasha’s Law?

While the purpose of Natasha’s Law is to enforce accurate labelling of potentially fatal allergens, it also represents a shift towards further inclusion and care for people living with food allergies.

Restaurants are now providing bespoke allergy menus to give everyone a wide range of desirable food options; could your school be doing the same?

As it currently stands, schools are beginning to struggle to increase meal uptake. Recently, we spoke to 3,000 school staff working in the UK and 50% of them told us that they have largely seen no change in school meal uptake in the past two years.

We’ve also heard from 140,000 parents that one of the key barriers preventing them for opting for school meals is the variety of meal choices that cater for different allergies and dietary requirements, and the lack of visibility and promotion of these options.

Now that schools are being asked to pay more attention to their provisions for children living with food allergies, it’s imperative that school meals are treated with proper care.

Catering for children with food allergies can have fatal consequences if not handled correctly, especially as it’s estimated that 1 in 5 people in the UK suffer from an allergy.

But there is help available for schools. Aside from Natasha’s Law, the Children and Families Act 2014 exists to support children with allergies in some way. The act states that the governing bodies of schools “must make arrangements for supporting pupils with medical conditions”, and this extends to food allergies.

Coupling this with Natasha’s Law, which focuses on identifying food allergens on packaging and menus, it’s more important than ever that children with allergies are wholly included and given proper care. After the 2019 ruling, ‘Natasha’s Law’ has now come into place as of 21st October 2021.

Schools aren't left to their own devices

What is Natasha’s Law and how is it affecting schools?

Natasha’s Law is the requirement that pre-packaged food items must provide ‘potentially life-saving allergen information on the packaging of the food’.

Led by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a teenager who passed away after suffering an allergic reaction to sesame seeds which went undeclared on the packaging, the group ‘Natasha Allergy Research Foundation’ lobbied to force more information to be available on pre-packaged food.

By law, pre-packaged food now must clearly display the name of the food and the full ingredients list with allergic ingredients emphasised. With this new law now in place, schools are required to list all ingredients and allergens on the labels of food prepared on site such as snacks, sandwiched wraps, cakes, and other items pre-packaged prior to break times.

This means that schools have to be more vigilant when working with caterers to provide their school with safe, accurately labelled food.

Is providing accurate labelling enough?

While the laws and acts around safeguarding children against food allergies focus on protecting children against potentially fatal reactions, this doesn’t necessarily mean that children with allergies are wholly included in the school meal service.

School caterers, for example, are not legally required to provide meals for children with food allergies; they are required to point out allergens and potential cross-contamination, but not to provide allergy-safe alternatives.

So it’s up to schools to work with caterers to ensure that their pupils with allergies are aptly catered for on the school dinner menu. That’s a lot of extra responsibility for school staff who are already strapped for time with overbearing workloads.

The first step would be to engage parents to understand what allergies are prevalent at your school. Craft a thoughtful questionnaire to communicate with your parent base, involve them in the process, and have their children’s needs heard.

Once you’ve listened to your parents and understood their concerns, spend some time working with your caterer to create a range of quality meal alternatives for children with allergies at your school.

Crafting a bespoke allergy menu with clearly labelled allergens and a variety of options for all children is what every school should aim for.

Crafting a bespoke allergy menu

Children will feel included, with a range of attractive meal options, and parents will feel satisfied with your school’s care and attention to their children’s allergy needs.

But it doesn’t stop at just having a well-crafted allergy menu. You’ll need to be able to clearly display allergen information to parents who book their children’s school meals, so they can rest assured that their child will be safe at lunchtime whilst also engaging them throughout the school meal process.

Meal selection software like Cypad, who put pupil safety and allergen management at the heart of their product, presents all relevant information, including all allergens for each meal option, to parents in an easily digestible and understandable format throughout the meal booking process.

With software like Cypad, human error is reduced, minimising risk of allergen exposure and giving parents peace of mind.

Don’t go too far the other way

Being able to effectively manage allergies in schools is not a task to be taken lightly. Without proper management, children could be at high risk and there could be devastating consequences.

It may then feel appropriate to take a sure-fire, blanket approach to safeguarding against allergens, especially when considering more serious allergies such as nuts.

Some schools have implemented bans on certain ingredients within their boundaries, extending from the catering classroom to school-prepared dinners and restrictions on packed lunches.

But banning ingredients can in fact cause more harm than good, and the Anaphylaxis Campaign doesn’t advocate these blanket ban policies.

Research conducted by the Anaphylaxis Campaign has found that these types of policies can be harmful in the long term, creating a false sense of security for children with allergies and hindering awareness.

Instead, working with parents and caterers to create bespoke allergy menus can help to cultivate a safer environment, empowering students to learn more about food safety.

Banning ingredients can do more harm than good

Managing allergies to improve the school meal service

We know that one of the biggest reasons parents are reluctant to utilise the school dinner service is the lack of attention and variety of options given to children with allergy or dietary needs. Choosing to be able to have full control of their children’s meals, parents are continuing to opt for packed lunches.

But spending some time investing in your allergy management capabilities would not only provide a much safer environment for pupils at your school, but also reinstate parent faith and improve school meal uptake.

And there are some steps you can take to help with this.

One approach could be to start understanding the risks of food allergies in the wake of Natasha’s Law and working with parents for an audit of the children at your school with different allergies.

With this information, you could work with your catering provider to provide inclusive allergy menus that deliver desirable meal options that are safe and accurately labelled.

But this isn’t the only issue affecting school meal uptake, and certainly not the only issue that schools are facing today. Recently, we took a deep dive into understanding the current education landscape in the UK and how the pandemic has left its permeant mark on modern schools in our latest whitepaper.

Click below to get your copy of the report:

Download our whitepaper

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