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Food Allergies and Library Programs

A year ago I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. That meant I had to cut out anything with gluten in it from my diet. No wheat, barley, rye. I eat gluten free cookies, bread and pasta. I've learned how to adjust my diet, but I wasn't expecting my new food allergy to overlap with work, other than what I took for lunch and not being able to eat at staff potlucks.

I discovered that there are a lot of products, not just food products, that contain gluten. Lots of craft supplies that I come in contact with on a daily basis in the library are not always gluten free. For me, I'm extra cautious about when I'm using crayons, play dough, and glue and I make sure to wash my hands a lot, especially after handling any of these items. But it got me thinking about making sure our library programs are allergy friendly.

This winter we hosted a Cookie Club in which patrons got a card stamped on each visit to the library and after six visits got invited to a cookie party. I had a parent tell me, oh, we can't come to the party because my kids can't have gluten. I told her I couldn't have gluten either and that I would have gluten free cookies at the party. They ended up not coming to the party and I saved the gluten free cookies I had brought for myself, so it wasn't a waste. But it did get me thinking if patrons are avoiding library programs because of food allergies.

The top eight food allergies are: Milk, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Fish, Shellfish, Soy, and Wheat.

Whenever we host an event with food, we advertise that there will be food involved. And if the library started to order special made food for every program on the off chance that a child with an allergy would come, that would start getting expensive. And I just don't think it would be possible to cut out every possible allergen someone might possibly be allergic to.

Yet I do think we have a responsibility to make sure those patrons feel welcome at programs. If at times we can provide a special food that would be great and very welcoming. Or if we host a cooking program (we've done Teen Iron Chef and Tween Picnic Lunch programs) we could make sure we have supplies and ingredients that could be allergy friendly, like fruits and vegetables. And we can encourage patrons to bring their own food item so their child doesn't feel left out, which many with food allergies are already used to doing. I also think we can try to make sure we offer brands like Elmer's and Crayola that state that their craft items are gluten free. I don't want anyone to feel as though they can't come to the library because they are afraid of possible food programming.

So I'm curious. Have any of you encountered issues with food allergies at library programs? Do you offer alternatives? How do you handle food at programs?


  1. I don't participate in library programs at this time but I do belong to two quilt guilds. When it is my turn to bring food, I make sure that I bring gluten/dairy free food. I am only lactose intolerant and regularly at wheat products. I bring bluten free because I feel bad that those members of our guild have so few alternatives. My sister and several friends must be gluten free, and I love to surprise them with food. I did bring treats for a quilt show that were gluten free and specified that they were only to be served when specifically asked for as they were so darn good that they would have been eaten immediately (no exageration). I don't think anyone asked for them, but they were there just in case.

    1. It is nice to have options on hand and as someone who needs gluten free I appreciate it!

  2. I'm sugar-sensitive, so staff events are usually kind of painful for me. However, I do host a regular teen program ("Teen Talk Time") and have found a local pizza purveyor who will make--at no extra charge--gluten free/dairy free pizza!

    It's not great pizza...but then, the regular wheat crust/cheese pizza is kinda ordinary as well. The best part is that the gluten free kid(s) can participate without anybody making a big fuss.

    Since this is an inter-cultural program, we also regularly discuss dietary restrictions--many of the African youth won't eat pork, for example--and a few of the Korean girls are vegetarian (but not vegan).

    1. It can be a great talking point and I think it's awesome you can include the kids with allergies at your program!

  3. Hello!

    This is a great post! I am the Teen Program Coordinator at my library and I run a monthly Food Science program for the teens. I typically do programs that incorporate foods that most should not be allergic to for this program. We have studied pickles, smoothies (using coconut milk as a substitute), caramels, honey, tea, and root beer to name a few. I also think it is important to try to include and think of as many people as possible when doing a program like this, so thank you for your tips and insight too as they are extremely helpful!

    Would you mind telling me a bit more about the Teen Iron Chef program, that sounds really interesting!


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