Don’t let food allergies be a party pooper! From allergy-safe snacks to ‘free-from’ cakes and non-edible giveaways, here’s a guide to planning a kid-approved, allergy-free birthday party
Whether it’s a barbecue, picnic, or princess-themed party, when it comes to planning a birthday party for your kids, creating a plan for allergies and intolerances has become a necessity. While your son or daughter may or may not suffer from nut allergies, soy sensitivity, or wheat and gluten intolerances, one of their friends may have a food allergy or sensitivity. According to the CDC, as of 2020, 1 in 13 children (8%) in the United States suffer from food allergies. Follow these ten commandments and you’ll be able to throw a worry-free, allergy-free party...
Thou shall avoid the ‘big nine’ foods
Did you know that when it comes to food allergies, 90% of reactions are caused by milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts (ie: cashews, almonds, walnuts), fish, shellfish, soy, wheat and sesame. While you may think it’s impossible to host a party without any of the ‘big nine’ foods, you’re mistaken. You can substitute almost all of the nine allergens and you won’t be able to tell the difference. For example, you can replace cow milk with coconut milk. You can substitute eggs in your baking recipes with chia seeds, flaxseeds or water-oil-baking powder mixtures, while nutty chocolates can be substituted with granola and muesli bars. And here’s a secret - there are dairy-free butters and cheese too! Just check out your neighborhood vegan store.
Thou shall invite parents or babysitters of kids who have allergies
The first step, of course, is finding out how many kids have food allergies and what allergies they have. For younger children, it’s common to invite parents or babysitters so that they can handle the situation, administer the EpiPen, or take appropriate action when needed. The best time to find out about allergies is while sending out invitations, when you can ask parents to let you know of any food allergies in their RSVP. A good tip while planning is to find out *exact* allergies. That way you don’t have to avoid all the nine allergies and just focus on the key ones. This will help you plan your menu, games and party favors. You can also take their help and ask them to make a list of ingredients to avoid and create an action plan in case of any incident.
Thou shall make sure no one feels left out by the food options available
Asking kids to get their own food or cupcake, or keeping them separate from everyone else might make that child feel secluded or excluded. Often kids with food allergies sit at special tables, or eat from different plates, instead of enjoying safe items together as a group. Since it can be heartbreaking to sit on the sidelines, many hosts today choose ‘safe’ goodies that are eaten by all and everyone can enjoy together. This method ensures that all feel included!
Thou shall have your cake and eat it too
From dairy-free fudge cupcakes and gluten-free brownies, to cake-batter shakes and three-tier cakes, there are a plethora of baked goodies one can choose from. With bakeries catering exclusively to allergy-free cakes, and supermarkets stocking ‘free-from’ cake mixes, frosting and baking chocolate chips, you can bake or order an awe-inspiring cake. Some brands like Better Batter, Namaste Foods, Pascha Chocolate are not only free of all nine allergens, they ensure that their facilities are also allergen-free so that there is no cross-contamination.
Thou shall become a fruit fanatic
If you don’t want to squint and read complicated food labels, fruit is a superb go-to. It’s minimal fuss, bulks up a menu and adds a colorful flair. Think fruit skewers that are a hit among kids, colorful fruit rainbows bursting with Vitamin C, Pascha-chocolate strawberry truffles or even fruit pizzas made with a base of watermelon triangles topped with berries and dessicated coconut! Fruits also work well as drink refreshers like fruitilicious sangrias, fruity mocktails or a ginger-ale based fruit punch. Not only are they refreshing, they also contain natural sugars and have zero allergens.
Thou shall create fun savories and snacks
Did you know that hots dogs, chicken skewers and popcorn are free of all nine allergens? Ask the parents of kids with allergies to suggest some of their favorite snacks and try and include them for everyone. Finger foods like mini-pizzas, sliders, flatbreads and wraps can be easily substituted with gluten-free flour. Other grains that are effective substitutes to wheat include rice, oats, and corn.
Thou shall substitute ingredients, not flavor
Just because someone has a food allergy it does not mean that the food needs to be insipid or downright boring. While delicious items like nutella, mayonnaise, butter and peanut butter may be an allergy, did you know that there are substitutes that are equally mouth-watering? A creamy hummus can knock the socks off a store-bought mayo, and can work as a perfect dip with chips, sliced carrots and cucumbers. Sunflower butter is a unique replacement for peanut butter, and believe it or not, chocolate tahini spreads will make you forget about nutella!
Thou shall fill the piñata with lollipops and gummies
Since kids enjoy the games the most at a birthday party, it’s important that the games are inclusive and cater to every single child. This will go a long way in creating a wonderful experience. There are a range of well-known brands like Surf Sweets, Hubba Bubba, Jolly Rancher and No Whey! that have created candies, chewing gums and chocolates with ingredients that are 100% allergy-free. Additionally, their facilities are allergy-free too so there is no risk of cross-contamination.
Thou shall buy puzzles, toys, pencils, knick-knacks for giveaways instead of edibles
Since there are no rules that stipulate that party favors need to be candy, why not consider giving away something special? Colorful socks, mini soccer balls, rubik’s cubes, stationery, or even a fun puzzle can go a long way in getting kids excited about giveaways. And what’s better, these won’t pose any health risks. If the kids are insisting on candy, choose candies like lollipops and gummy candies that are nut-free and dairy-free.
Thou shall prepare and stay alert
Just taking care of the food is not enough. The host has to be mindful and go above and beyond to make sure there is no harm. So that involves cleaning utensils and table surfaces. Ask the parents of kids with allergies to help; they will appreciate your extra caution and awareness. Always make sure an adult is assigned responsibility and will take charge of the situation in case of an incident. That person needs to be watching out for symptoms, taught how to administer the EpiPen, should have the doctor’s number and should be able to drive the child to the hospital in case of an emergency.
If you follow these ten commandments you are well on your way to organizing the most inclusive bash of the year. One that everyone can enjoy. So take a deep breath and celebrate!