Birthday Parties 101: Attending & Hosting When Food Allergies Crash The Party
Updated: Jun 26
Birthday parties are such a fun part of childhood... and it was one of my biggest concerns when my oldest son was first diagnosed with his allergies. How was this going to work when he certainly wasn't going to be able to eat the birthday cake and probably much else that was being served at the party? How could I make him feel truly included and a part of the fun with these variables floating around? Well, I'm here to tell you that this one is SO easy to pull off! Whether you are sending your child to a friend's party or hosting a kid with food allergies at your home, there are some very practical ways to make this safe for everyone.
If Your Food Allergy Kid Is Planning To Attend A Friend's Birthday Party...
Think ahead and ask questions, particularly about the menu. When you receive a birthday party invite and go to RSVP, take that opportunity to ask the host about what type of food will be served. If you don't feel comfortable with your child eating the food at the party, then plan on bringing your own. And, if you want to take it a step further, try to safely replicate the menu so that your kiddo will be eating the same foods as the other children. This is a great way to make sure that your child feels included. Also, discuss where your child will eat in relation to the other kids if there is unsafe food being served, and talk about the necessity of handwashing after meal/dessert time. If you have any concerns at all, don't be shy about bringing them to the host's attention; your points are probably ones that the adults in charge haven't thought about and will be grateful to discuss with you.
Bring your own dessert and make it special. As we all know, the cake is the best part of the party, so take the time to make this part special for your child, too. Send in a sweet treat that he or she will love. I can't tell you how many times my boys have come back from a birthday party telling me that everyone wanted their "safe"cupcake because it looked so yummy. If you hear that, mission accomplished! Another trick is to stockpile treats ahead of time for this purpose. I always have a huge ziplock bag of our favorite chocolate cupcakes in the freezer because the last thing I want to do on the morning of a birthday party is cook up a batch of cupcakes! If you have them ready to go, you will never get stuck.
Make sure the adult in charge knows how to use your epinephrine autoinjector. This is the most important thing I'll say in this entire post: If you are dropping your child at a birthday party, you need to be certain that the adults in charge understand how to use your epi. They need to know the signs of an allergic reaction and be clear on the steps to take (including administering Benadryl). Also, make certain that they know exactly how to reach you in case of an emergency.
Offer to stay if that makes you and the host feel more comfortable. Back to your spidey sense... If for any reason you do not feel comfortable leaving your child at a birthday party, then DON'T! Chances are the host will actually appreciate having an extra set of hands with a roomful of children. And, the adults in charge may also feel a sense of relief knowing you are there to keep an extra eye on your child. If the party is at a bounce house, skating ring or park - even better. Bring a book or your laptop, and enjoy the down time.
On The Flipside: If You Are Hosting A Child With Food Allergies at Your Kid's Party...
First and foremost, don't let fear overwhelm you - this is doable (more on this to come later in the week). I have two big tips:
Communicate with your food allergic guests's parents. Go through the checklist above with them and promise that you will do everything you can to make sure their child is safe at your kid's party. I can assure you that food allergy parents want to make these moments as easy as possible for the adults who are looking out for their children. They are so appreciative of your questions and concern, and they are overwhelmingly grateful for your willingness to work as a team.
From a practicality standpoint, the most important thing you can do to avoid any issues at your child's party - especially if there is food present that your food allergic guest can't eat - is HANDWASHING. Just keep in mind that any kind of food that is off limits for a food allergic kid (the residual cheese from goldfish or Doritos for a dairy-allergic kid, or bread crumbs and cracker remnants for wheat-allergic child) can cause a cross-contact risk. While this sounds scary and overwhelming, simple handwashing can ensure that allergen residue won't be an issue after the kids are done eating and ready to play. It really is that simple. Soap and water will do the trick!
This is just the start of the conversation... stay tuned! Tomorrow, I will follow up with the very first allergy-safe recipe I ever tried, my go-to chocolate cupcakes (and I'll include a couple of easy frosting recipes to go with it). Then, later this week, I will feature my very first guest blogger - a dear friend of mine who has something to say from the perspective of a mom who does not have kids with food allergies. Hope you'll keep reading!