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Both my girls are vegetarians and are allergic to meat. The daycare center has both veggie and meat options for lunch. They used to allow me to pack lunch for the girls on the days they have a meat lunch. The days they have veggie lunch, my girls can eat at the center.

However, now they want to impose that if you have dietary restriction, you need to bring lunch from home even if the center is having veggie lunch that day.

They are claiming it is a Rule. Can they do that?

The location of the daycare is Pennsylvania, USA.

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    This sounds like a question that ultimately is a legal one: is this permitted. At minimum you'd need to clarify your country of residence, and in general we don't really have legal experts on this site. – Joe Dec 15 '14 at 17:55
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    My guess would be that they are worried about cross-contamination. Even if they follow perfectly reasonable safety protocols, food that is prepared in the same kitchen with the same equipment could still come into contact with allergens. – Aravis Dec 15 '14 at 18:25
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    What country are you in? – A E Dec 15 '14 at 18:52
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    An additional, more general thought about allergies: <br>If my child had allergies, I'd insist on homemade lunches just to be absolutely sure what's in them. – Stephie Dec 15 '14 at 19:06
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    It sounds like they aren't confident they can keep your children safe while serving them food from their kitchen. If this is the case, they are doing the right thing by refusing to take on a job they aren't confident they can fulfill. Your child's safety has to come first. – Marc Dec 17 '14 at 4:46
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You will need to provide more information (e.g. where do you live?) for a definitive answer.

However, my hunch is that yes, the daycare center can do that. It might be a local/national government law, it might be a policy that they have put in place at this specific center.

If it's the latter, it is unlikely this is specifically about your kids, but more likely a general policy dealing with children who have allergies, intolerance, or other dietary restrictions. Consider what they have to do in order to ensure that none of the children get sick at lunch:

  • track every child's restrictions
  • evaluate the ingredients in the day's meal and determine which child can't eat what food(s)
  • carefully watch for cross-contamination (e.g. make sure bread or flour don't come near the meal of a gluten-sensitive child)
  • notify parents of what the meal schedule will be
  • have alternate meals available if a family is unaware of the schedule or forgets a lunch, or if the planned meal had to change last-minute

And there's potential legal liability if a child does get sick when they haven't paid enough attention.


So my guess is that they are allowed to do this, although it's unfortunate they have decided to stop being accomodating. I would, however, point out that you should be paying a bit less if you are supplying your children's food instead of the center.

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  • Thank you for taking the time to leave a response here. The daycare is in Camp Hill PA. They do not have any reduction in price for the tuition that they charge. so its like, if you have dietary restriction, you still pay the same tuition and also send in food even on days when the kids can eat at the center. This to me is frustrating. – Shri Dec 15 '14 at 18:22
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    That's pretty obnoxious of them. Unfortunately, your only recourse might be to find a different daycare and give angry reviews of this place to all your acquaintances :( – Acire Dec 15 '14 at 18:30
  • In the US, most childcare facilities follow one of two federal programs, and don't get reimbursement from the government for the meal if they don't/can't offer all of the required parts, and only approved substitutions can be made (see this post for more details on such matters -- paleomovement.com/… ). If the OP can get medical backing, she may have some more legal clout, but it still won't be an easy fight, especially given the nature of this particular restriction. – Shauna Dec 15 '14 at 20:14
  • Obnoxious is a bit strong. I doubt the cost of the food or even preparation time is a large part of the cost of daycare and I can see how it would make billing a nightmare, "Oh, but Jonny didn't have the teatime biscuit on Thursday"... – James Bradbury Dec 15 '14 at 20:18
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    @JamesBradbury It should be straightforward to implement a discount for eating none of the food, particularly since the daycare is saying that the OP's children aren't allowed to eat any of it (not just the food that they're allergic to). While this might be a gesture almost, something like $10/week, that adds up over the course of a year. Considering the high cost of childcare, and that they're making the OP pay for a benefit she can't use, I am comfortable with "obnoxious." – Acire Dec 15 '14 at 20:50
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According to the USDA Food Service, Accommodating Children with Special Dietary Needs in the School Nutrition Program, while schools are required to make accommodations per the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act):

Generally, children with food allergies or intolerances do not have a disability as defined under either Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or Part B of IDEA, and the school food service may, but is not required to, make food substitutions for them.

However, when in the licensed physician's assessment, food allergies may result in severe, life-threatening (anaphylactic) reactions, the child's condition would meet the definition of "disability," and the substitutions prescribed by the licensed physician must be made.

Your particular provider may not be explicitly bound by these regulations (depending on if they participate in an USDA program or not), but likely the same basic guidelines do have some impact - the ADA would at minimum apply. Essentially, they probably do not have to make an accommodation.

I would recommend that if you are concerned about this, you look into your state's requirements in more detail; someone at the Pennsylvania DHS may be of some assistance. The Pennsylvania Code (law) related to this can be found here, search for "Food". It's not very specific, other than requiring allergen lists be kept, unfortunately, so likely there are no regulations that will help you here. My state (Illinois) is a bit more specific in their regulations, but they still would permit the daycare to do this (although the wording seems to allow for some argument here, as the daycare must prove that it would cause undue hardship for them to meet these regulations).

I would guess that the particular reason for this change was that the daycare center failed an audit (either internal or external) in regards to its correct separation of utensils when preparing food. For example, with meat-allergic children in the center they likely would need to keep two separate sets of dishes - one for cooking meat, one for cooking things the meat-allergic children could eat. Just washing a dish may not be sufficient to prevent allergens from remaining. It's likely that they were not doing this before, and while your child's meat allergy may not be so severe for this to be a concern, laws and regulations tend to assume worst case scenarios.

As such, it's not surprising to me that they'd require you to bring all meals (including vegetarian) into the center. I would certainly recommend trying to negotiate a discount for this, and if they're unwilling (or it's too much of a burden to you to bring your own food) consider finding another center that is more capable of serving your children's needs; larger centers may be more able to handle the specific needs of your children due to volume, or even smaller (at-home type) centers may be more willing to change as well. You also may be able to find a vegetarian-friendly center, as that is becoming more common.

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