Birthday parties can feel intimidating to attend when your child has food allergies. Parties are usually centered around food so naturally there is worry that your child could accidentally be exposed to an allergen which can potentially lead to a serious reaction.
While it’s normal to feel anxious, it shouldn’t stop your food allergic child from celebrating birthdays. In fact, figuring out how to attend a birthday party safely will help to instill confidence and model positive behavior in your child. With a little planning and communication, everyone can have a safe and happy time.
While most people politely ask the host what they can bring to a party, food allergy parents require the active participation from the host in order to ensure that their child can safely attend. This feels awkward at first especially when you do not know the parents. Food allergy parents do not want to seem controlling yet we need to ask these important questions in order to minimize accidental exposure.
* Note: Everyone’s allergies vary in scope and severity. In addition, every family has a different way of managing allergies. These tips and suggestions have worked for our family based on our daughter’s needs.
Also, below I refer to our daughter as having a “contact allergy” which means that in addition to ingesting food if she touches her allergens or someone she is in contact with (touches or eats) her allergens and in turn touches her skin, a reaction can occur.
So how do we do this? Reach out to the host ahead of time with an email like this:
Thank you for the invite. My son/daughter would love to attend your child’s party. I was checking in to see if you will be serving food and if so, could you kindly share the menu?
My son/daughter is allergic to (insert allergens here). We will bring her own meal and dessert however she is also contact allergic. In an effort to keep her safe, would it be possible to refrain from serving her allergens and foods containing her allergens? We would be happy to help bring food or a substitution. If this is not possible, we understand and thanks for your efforts!
- If food will be catered by an outside vendor, ask the host for the name. Call to discuss menu and allergens. Based on the conversation, decide if your child will be able to eat and/or be around the food.
- Pack similar food to what will be served. My daughter loves brownies so I make a batch ahead and freeze. I also bring extra snacks in case there are not safe options.
Feeling left out: following these tips doesn’t mean it’s always easy. My daughter( age 7) is now more conscious of how food allergies make her feel . After leaving a recent party, she burst into tears and said “Mommy I wish I could eat the cake, it looked so pretty. I wish I didn’t have food allergies”.
I brought her homemade cupcakes. When it came time to eat, my daughter asked me not to take her cupcake out and instead chose to eat it on the car ride home.
After the party when she had time to process her feelings, we talked about how it’s ok to be different; each one of us is unique. We all have challenges that make us strong and brave. I remind her of all the delicious food we can eat!
I shared this story on Instagram and received great feedback from fellow food allergy bloggers:
- “My daughter doesn’t like to take similar food anymore, she just eats before and takes snacks and safe candy” -Sonya from Snackroots
- “I sometimes find it easier and more enjoyable not to eat at social gatherings. Takes away pressure and stress. Everyone has a different comfort level. I know that a lot of people get uncomfortable when I don’t eat so I try to find a balance. It’s good that she is finding her comfort zone”- Kortney from Allergy girl eats
- “This is good practice for when they’re teens. Silver lining? It’s hard and I keep hoping that if we show consistency in trying to talk through this hard thing, it will be a good foundation for talking about other hard/emotional things later” -Meg from Allergy Awesomeness
- “She always says she’s fine and it doesn’t bother her. I don’t think it does bother her when she can’t, but when she can it’s an amazing TREAT. I notice the most when she is somewhere other than home that she can eat anything. It brings her SO much joy. This weekend at her celiac support group, she ate everything in sight. I could have bawled my eyes out because it meant so much”. – Laura from Umpalarain
When you are the host: While my husband and I have hosted many parties, we understand that having a food allergic child attend your party can feel unfamiliar. You might be wondering how you can help to ensure a safe and inclusive celebration:
- In your evite include a line that reads “please let us know if you have any dietary requirements and/or food allergies”.
- Reach out to the parent of the food allergic child and ask if there are any whole or packaged foods that are safe to serve. Even if food is brought from home, it might be nice to include snacks that everyone can enjoy together. Check with the parent by saving labels or sending a photo of the label with ingredients before the party.
- Notify the parent if there are any changes in menu so that the parent can adjust what they bring too.
- If there is a piñata or goodie bags, ask the parent if there are safe treats they can recommend . Non-food items such as stickers and toys are a hit.
What tips have worked for you?