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  • Writer's pictureEmma

Allergy Safe cooking in schools

When the opportunity came up in early 2020 to be a part of Garden to Table at the boys school I jumped at the chance. I don't have a green thumb (although I try every year....sometimes we have veggies, sometimes we don't) but I can work my way a round a kitchen. I mentioned to the organiser that there was a small catch, I have coeliac disease, and so do my kids (one will be doing the programme). "No worries" she says. Do you want the Kitchen Specialist role and we can make the programme gluten free! "I'm in!"

I saw this is a way to start educating the school on the needs of our tamariki and how important it is to have an inclusive programme. So often we have rewards or events at schools based around food and more and more are unable to feel a part of these celebrations because there is a lack of understanding around their allergies/dietary requirements. This was really exciting!!

We needed to consider the fact that we were working in a communal kitchen that is used by the school, but also community groups out of hours. How could we ensure that our utensils were not used between classes? We would need to have chopping boards that were out of site, how would we keep ingredients "safe".

This kicked off the start of another great list! Small cupboards we could put locks on, large plastic bins for utensils and cooking equipment, plenty of large labels "DO NOT USE - G2T ONLY". This was a great start. Again, it came down to educating people around the risks of using our equipment and not cleaning it correctly.

We have had a number of dietary requirements come through the programme in the 18 months we have been going. And none of them are an issue. Yeast, egg, gluten, dairy, tomato, fish, kiwifruit. These are all manageable in class, if you understand how to handle the foods and cross contamination.

With all of this work going into setting up our kitchen, and then educating students, parent volunteers (we can't run the classes with out the volunteers) and teachers as they popped in for a nosey, it opened up the dialogue around school sausage sizzle, offering a midweek treat muffin or cookie option, and other food based fundraising and celebration needs. I am so proud to see the school taking this stuff seriously.

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