Dealing with Food Allergies in Head Start

posted 3/23/21 -- LCCAA Head Start’s central kitchen feeds hundreds of students every day. While feeding your child at home may be challenging at times, balancing the needs of each student along with federal and state regulations is a full-time job in the kitchen.

Food restrictions managed by Head Start nutrition staff include medically diagnosed allergies, food sensitivities and parent preferences. One common substitution is soy or lactose free milk.

Health and Nutrition Manager Rebecca Rodriguez and her staff have worked with dietician Marge Robison and Pisanick Partners since 2015 to build nutritionally dense menus with more homemade items. Robison consults with every Head Start parent before enrollment is complete to discuss food allergies and restrictions and learn precisely what each child needs.

Children with food restrictions receive substitute items prepared in a separate station with dedicated dishes and utensils, Rodriguez said. Staff also work to make sure children don’t feel singled out when they need to eat something different.

“We try to get as close as we can to what’s on the menu,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve given it a lot of attention because it is so prevalent but also to keep improving our operations.”

Rodriguez and Robison also work closely with parents to help them understand the difference between an allergy, a sensitivity and something a child just doesn’t like. They can also provide information on substitutions available in stores that will provide good nutrition.