Food allergies have changed society. From grocery aisles filled with allergy friendly food, to restaurant menus noting what allergens are contained in foods and even the food served kids’ birthday parties. With food allergies increasing by 50% amongst kids between 1997- 2011, chances are there will be at least one child at a party who will not be able to eat the cake because of allergies to wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts or soy.
While no one wants to see a child watching all their friends eat cake when they cannot, a serious allergic reaction is much worse. There are several things parents can do to ensure all kids have a great time regardless of their food allergies Dr. Jacklin Janecek, a pediatrician at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, IL.
1) Ask parents if the kids have food allergies and how severe they are.
“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 Janecek. “A parent would best be able to inform you of this.”
2) Have options. Serving a traditional birthday cake is fine but have a special cupcake for the child with food allergies. 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.
3) Choose allergy friendly foods. Janecek recommends avoiding nuts and shellfish at parties with kids because 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 Crispy treats. However even with these foods, she recommends reading the labels 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. There are also recipes for dairy free, gluten free or egg free cakes online.
As a parent of a child with allergies, it may seem scary to send your child off to a birthday party. However, 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 know what they are allergic to and what they can eat 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 food.
4) Pack snacks. Help your child feel comfortable by making sure there is food they can eat 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,” said Dr. Janecek. “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.”
By following these steps parents can be less nervous about hosting a party while kids are having a fabulous time.