Birthday party time!
You’ve planned the games, chosen a cake and shopped for party favors. Then it comes—an RSVP from a classmate with an allergy. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), 1 in 13 kids have a food allergy. What’s the best way to accommodate this guest and still plan the perfect party? Don't panic. Parents of kids with food allergies want party hosts to know they don’t expect the whole event to revolve around accommodating their child. Here are their tips for creating a fun, safe party for all without it becoming a burden.
The Most Supportive Thing Hosts Can Do
Moms of kids with food allergies agree the best way to make them feel at ease is to inquire about dietary restrictions when sending out the invitation. Jenn Williamson of San Carlos, whose 11-year-old daughter has a peanut allergy says, “It lifts a weight and lets me know that the host is more approachable. I feel comfortable talking with those parents knowing they’re aware of food allergies and are open-minded about discussing it.” Tiffany Hinton, mom to three girls with severe food allergies and blogger of Gluten Free Mom Certified, says, “When someone asks if there are any food restrictions, it allows me to be an advocate for my children, share information to dispel myths and help keep them safe.”
Before the Party
Kids with food allergies are individuals and each family is unique. Be open to communication. Know that parents are grateful for any effort made to include their kids. After sending invitations, expect contact from parents of a child with allergies. A phone call or conversation in person best facilitates clear communication. They may ask what foods you’ll be serving, how the cake will be decorated and if there will be games that include food items (such as a piñata). This lets them know ahead of time what may need to be modified. My 6-year-old daughter has celiac disease and eats only gluten-free foods. With pizza and cake as standard party fare, parties pose a challenge. I usually provide a snack bag with foods that are safe replacements for her. I can even decorate a fancy cupcake to fit the party theme. It helps my daughter feel included and she gets excited for the party when decorating with me. Since one crumb can make her sick for weeks, I prefer to do the baking to make parties fun and safe for her.Susan Lemus, a La Mesa resident whose children have a dairy allergy, recounts a time when a conversation with a party host helped tremendously. The original plan was to take the girls for ice cream sundaes after a movie and provide a special cookie for Lemus’ daughter. “I don’t want to make it hard on the parents. I really want my kids to feel just like everyone else.” After speaking to Susan, the host better understood where Susan was coming from. She took the girls for sorbet so everyone could enjoy the same experience.
When a food-allergic guest arrives, review how you’ll handle food safety. Even kids who are old enough to be dropped off need this reassurance. Make sure you understand the child’s needs or ask the parent for clarification. If it puts you more at ease, ask parents to stick around. Ask for a contact phone number in case of an emergency.
If an Epi-pen is necessary, parents will train the host or stay at the party. Williamson reviews the steps with hosts before dropping her daughter off at a party. And since her daughter is older, she feels comfortable knowing her tight-knit group of friends looks out for her.
How to Keep Party Food Safe
Instead of big bowls of chips and pretzels that invite cross-contamination (a problem for kids with nut and gluten allergies), use individually wrapped bags. One of the kindest things a friend did was set up a table at her daughter’s party that included only gluten-free foods. My daughter could safely eat anything at the party and I didn’t worry about cross-contamination.
- Allow party guests to use the kitchen to prepare food they brought.
- Include non-food items as prizes and party favors.
- Allergy-free bakeries are fairly common now. Try 2Good2B Bakery & Café in Encinitas and Rancho Bernardo or Starry Lane Bakery in Hillcrest.
While celebrating with friends is lots of fun, parties can be a real challenge for parents of kids with allergies. Going the extra mile to create a normal party experience for their children is a gift of kindness that is greatly appreciated.
Cherie Gough is a local freelance writer and mom of two.
Published June 2017