I loved birthday parties as a kid, didn’t you? Getting to join in whatever activity was planned and ending the party with a slice of cake (cookie cakes were the best!) was so much fun. Fast forward to attending birthday parties as a parent of a child with food allergies, and the experience is much different.
On our journey with EoE and managing food allergies for our daughter, we have learned a few tricks to help birthday parties taste just a bit sweeter. Here are some things I wish I had known as we began this journey:
1. Don’t feel the need to apologize for your child’s allergies
When we first received Audra’s list of food allergies, I was so overwhelmed by reading labels of e.v.e.r.y. item that went into our grocery cart. If it was that hard for me as her mom, I definitely didn’t want to place that burden on another parent who was already working so hard to host a birthday party. My solution was to not say anything and to bring a little treat for Audra to enjoy when everyone else was eating the coveted cake. Having a few years of this under my belt now, though, I realize that people really are thankful to know about your child’s allergies and are even happy to be sure to have a snack that your child can enjoy, too!
2. Let the party host know about your child’s food allergies when you RSVP
While most people are genuinely glad to know how they can accommodate your child’s food allergies, it’s all about how you communicate it. After graciously thanking the host for the invitation, I now like to include a short line about our daughter’s food allergies. I always explain that we are very used to navigating around her allergies and are happy to bring a separate snack/treat for her if needed. That lets the host know that you are willing to help and also gives him/her a heads up if you pull out a different snack or treat when the time comes. This also gives them the option to reach back out with any questions. I’ve had friends text me pictures of the food labels at the grocery store for items they were going to have at the party to make sure Audra could eat them! If it’s someone you are close with, asking them to do that is a great idea!
3. Involve your child in picking out an alternative treat
Just because your child has an egg allergy (our daughter did outgrow hers, but it made birthday parties extra hard for a couple of years) doesn’t mean he or she has to miss out on the birthday treat. If you do know that you need to bring a separate treat for your child, involve him or her! My face is turning red as I type this, but it’s worth telling so you don’t make the same mistake. For one of the first parties we went to after Audra’s diagnosis, I packed a homemade cookie for her. I brought it in a sandwich bag that made its way to the bottom of my purse, leaving a pathetic and unappetizing crumble of less than ideal contents. It really was pitiful. Now I know that it could have been an opportunity to involve Audra in picking out a treat and maybe even making it together. Check out our allergy friendly board on Pinterest for the recipe we used for cupcakes for Audra’s birthday for a few years! And a pro tip: pack that special treat in something hard like a tupperware container and keep it in a safe spot so that it stays intact for the party. 🙂
4. Enjoy the food that is on the safe list
If cross-contamination is a threat for your child, you will know how to be careful to not put your child in danger. But, if you can safely do so, fix your child a plate of safe food from the snack table. Talk about how delicious the food is that you can eat and enjoy! And in case it is a party where your child can’t indulge in as many snacks, keep a few of your extra standby snacks in your car if you need to satisfy a hungry kiddo after the party.
5. Relax and enjoy watching your child have fun
Sharing experiences and laughing with friends is so powerful. Once you have your game plan set for the food for the party, relax and watch your child enjoy those carefree moments that make childhood so delightful.
Spread Hope (In the comments):
What tips or experiences do you have for navigating birthday parties with food allergies?
You may also be interested in our No. 1 Tip for Dealing with Food Allergies.