March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
With nearly 1 in 13 children under age 18 suffering from food allergies, birthday parties can pose problems. Many common food allergens — including milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts — lurk in store-bought cakes and other birthday treats. But hosting a food allergy-free birthday party may be easier than you think.
Follow these five tips to host an allergy-friendly birthday bash that's fun — and safe — for everyone.
- Ask about Allergies
Ask parents to list all their children's food allergies when they RSVP. This is an easy way to start a dialogue with other parents about what foods to avoid serving. While the responsibility ultimately falls on the parents of the food-allergic child to broach the subject, no one wants a child to have a reaction.
- Favor Non-Food Prizes
Avoid guesswork about allergens by giving out non-food goodies such as small toys, books, trading cards, bubbles or glow sticks. Besides being free of allergens, non-food treats also are free of added sugars, which likely are already being served in the birthday cake and other party sweets.
- Manage the Meds
For drop-off parties, talk to parents of kids with food allergies to ensure they'll bring an action plan and medications. Ask parents how comfortable their child is with administering epinephrine. Then, on the day of the party, ask the parent or child where the medication can be found in case of emergency.
- Accept Help
If parents of children with food allergies offer to bring a safe snack or treat to share, accept it graciously. And, don't be afraid to ask for help or consider inviting parents of children with food allergies to ensure their safety.
- Keep Foods Safe
To prevent cross-contamination, follow these simple rules: Keep "safe" foods safe by storing them in a separate, clean area away from foods with allergens. Use separate dish cloths and utensils for "safe" and "unsafe" foods. And insist that all guests wash their hands before and after handling and eating anything.
Other ways to keep food allergies in mind at a birthday party include serving whole foods such as fruits and vegetables and researching brands that are safe for attendees with food allergies.