Hosting an allergy-free birthday party
This article appeared in Suburban Family Magazine in January 2014.
As food allergies continue to rise in the United States, hosting birthday parties for kids has taken on a whole new dimension. Nowadays, most parties will have at least one young guest with a food allergy, which makes careful planning all the more important.
No one wants to see a child unable to eat cake while others enjoy it, but a serious allergic reaction is much worse. According to Dr. Jacklin Janecek, a pediatrician at Downers Grove Pediatrics in Downers Grove, Ill., there are several things parents can do to ensure all kids have a great time regardless of their food allergies. The first things adults should do when hosting a party is ask parents if their kids have any food allergies.
“Some children may be allergic to a certain food, for example, nuts, but can eat food made in a factory where there may be nut products,” explains Dr. Janecek. “A parent would best be able to inform you of this.”
By asking questions, you can make sure there is food for the child to eat. In some cases, this could mean serving cake but giving the child with food allergies his or her own dairy-free or gluten-free cupcake. In other situations, you could choose to serve pasta instead of pizza to all the kids if you know a child coming to the party will not be able to have dairy.
Dr. Janecek recommends avoiding all nuts and shellfish at parties with kids as they can cause the most serious reaction. However, other treats that are generally safe for kids with allergies include popsicles, fruit, fruit snacks, Jell-O jigglers, hard candy, popcorn and Rice Krispies Treats. Even with these foods, she recommends reading the labels on prepackaged foods to make sure they are safe and there are no surprise ingredients. When it comes to the birthday cake, many bakeries sell gluten-free cakes and cupcakes. Many recipes for dairy-free, gluten-free or egg-free cakes are also online.
As a parent of a child with allergies, it may seem scary to send your child off to a birthday party. Dr. Janecek says there are a few things parents can do to make sure their child has fun and stays safe.
1. Talk to the hosts. Make sure to tell the parents what your child is allergic to and how severe the allergy is. Also, let them know what to do in case the child has an allergic reaction. Some kids only need Benadryl and others need an EpiPen.
2. Contact information. Leave your phone number so that the parents can reach you in case of an emergency.
3. Teach your child. Help your child understand what he or she is allergic to and what can be eaten safely, including which brands of foods are safe. In some cases certain brands of the same foods have slightly different ingredients. It is also important for kids to know the seriousness of their allergies and make sure they are aware of what can happen if they eat certain foods.
4. Pack snacks. Help your child feel comfortable by making sure there is food that can be eaten like a cupcake or allergy-free treat.
“I find that most kids, when told about their allergy and how important it is that they avoid that food, understand why they cannot always have what the other kids are eating,” Dr. Janecek says. “It becomes routine for them to have an alternative. With that said have a substitute treat that they really enjoy and can only have on those special occasions.”