Worried about inviting a friend with food allergies to your child’s birthday party? Which foods are safe? Which are not? What if the child has a reaction? Food allergies are on the rise among children. This can present a challenge when planning your child’s birthday party. A few helpful tips in the party preparation can ensure a safe fun memorable birthday celebration for all.
Most parents of a food allergic child understand that you will not feed their child a food containing the specific allergen. For example, you would not serve a cake with nuts or a peanut butter sandwich to a child with a peanut or nut allergy. The concern for parents is the cross-contamination of foods that might be considered safe.
Cross-contamination is when a “safe” food comes in contact with the allergen. One way cross-contamination can occur is through shared utensils and /or shared manufacturing equipment. This is often the case with birthday cakes that are purchased from a bakery. Even though the cake may not have nuts, it “may contain” nuts because it was made on equipment that also makes other products with nuts.
Communication with a child’s parent prior to the party can alleviate concerns. Discussing what will be served at the party, as well as safe food options, helps to avoid surprises. It is best to gain as much information about food restrictions or safety concerns prior to the celebration. This will allow you time to plan safe foods or to contact the parent if you are unable to make changes to your menu. In addition, this gives the parent the information they need to determine if they are comfortable having their child attend.
When inviting your child’s class to a party and do not know all the students, it is nice to add a line to the invitation “If your child has a food allergy please contact us, so we can discuss safe options”. If a child has food allergies, the parent may opt to bring their own food and only allow their child to eat the food they brought to the party. Do not take offense. They are being respectful of your time as well as the safety of their child. Most parents of food allergic children are used to providing a special cupcake or treat for their child.
Children with food allergies often carry an Epi-pen. This is emergency medication which is used to temporarily counteract an allergic reaction. If the parent will be leaving a child at the party with medication or an Epi-Pen, you may want to meet the parent prior to the party to review medical treatment/training. It is important that you or another adult at the party is comfortable with administering medication, and understands what steps to take in the event of an allergic reaction. If you are not comfortable, you may want to ask the parent to stay and provide an assignment (i.e. photographer, food server, game timer) so that they feel useful, and their child does not feel as though the parent is there solely to watch over them.
If you feel comfortable having the parent drop off their child, it is nice to leave all the food packages out or available should they want to confirm ingredients. While you may have gone over this, having the parent look at the labels can provide additional comfort for both you and the parent.
Another safe idea is to use more non edible items when possible. For example, there are numerous fun party favors that can replace candy in pinatas. Children love little toys for prizes. Party bags can include toys or crafts that were made at the party.
Taking a few extra steps prior to the party will eliminate uncomfortable or potentially unsafe situations. Parents will be so grateful for the time you took to ensure a safe environment for their child. Your child’s birthday is a special day, they’ll appreciate that you made it possible for them to include all of their friends. With some planning and communication both you and your guests can relax and enjoy your child’s party.