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.
"Families who are not managing food allergies can do many simple things to make celebrations inclusive for kids with allergies," says Nancy Gregory, director of communications for the allergy awareness group Food Allergy Research & Education. "Hosts can create a memorable event by saving labels and perhaps setting aside a 'safe' stash of candy or chips for a child with allergies. You'll find kids with food allergies so grateful to recognize a safe candy in their treat bag or from the piñata."
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. "Both sets of parents should have the conversation, initiated by the parent of the food-allergic child," says Debra Indorato, RD, CLT, nutrition advisor to KidsWithFoodAllergies.com. 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 are also 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 food-allergic kids to ensure they'll bring an action plan and medications. "All emergency plan instructions should be reviewed and provided in writing to the host parents," Indorato says. Ask parents how comfortable their child is with administering his or her own 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. "Host parents may even wish to invite the parents of the food-allergic child to help with the party to ensure the safety of their child," Indorato says.
- 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 clothes and utensils for "safe" and "unsafe" foods. And insist that everyone wash his or her 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 food-allergic attendees. "Sometimes the difference between the food-allergic child being able to eat potato chips, ice cream or chocolate or not is simply a matter of purchasing a certain brand," says Gregory. "Go the extra mile and ask what is safe for the child."