When a party invite comes home from school, instead of sharing in my son’s delight, I curse silently. For me, this means worrying about whether the food will be allergy friendly, if the venue is nut free (or even worse if it’s a home party – is the house allergy friendly and without pets?). I see the other parents drop their kids off enthusiastically and run, looking forward to a ‘free’ two hours, while I stay to supervise my son for the length of the party, amongst the screaming kids and lack of comfortable chairs, trying not to look out of place.
For a parent of a child with food allergies, birthday parties can feel like an ‘allergic reaction waiting to happen’. There is so much that is unknown, and the chaos at these events makes it hard to trust that someone else will be able to effectively keep an eye on your child. Here are a few strategies that can make them a little less stressful:
-when you RSVP, be upfront about your child’s allergies, so the hosts aren’t caught off guard when you arrive. Accept offers to accommodate, and suggest specific items so they don’t have to try to figure out what your child can/cannot have
-offer to help out by bringing the ice cream for everyone (i.e. few ice creams are peanut free – so bringing your favorite for everyone to share solves your problem, and helps out the party host at the same time)
-ask the hosts which food vendor they are using ahead of time, so you can check ingredient lists on their websites
-if you discover that your child cannot eat what they are planning to serve, arrange to bring your own similar allergy safe food and drink so that your child doesn’t feel left out (i.e. bring your own pizza for your child if it is a pizza party)
-adopt a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach. Party hosts may take offence that you can’t eat their food, or insist that the cake they made has nothing in it that your child is allergic to. Teach your child to be polite but firm when explaining they can only eat what foods have been approved for them by Mom or Dad.
When you are the one hosting the party, think in terms of what you would want as a guest, and take some of the guesswork out for the parents of the children invited.
– although more expensive than a home party, do yourself a favor and have the party at an allergy friendly venue. Cleanup will be easier, and most kids play venues are ‘peanut aware’ these days, so finding a great place shouldn’t be too difficult.
-ask parents to declare any allergies when they RSVP so that you are aware
-print out ingredient lists and have them handy at the party in case someone needs to check
-keep it simple. Skip complex foods and go with classic standbys that are easily identified. Avoid home-made goodies and stick with packaged goods that have any potential cross-contaminates listed on the label.
Lastly, pour yourself a big glass of wine after everyone leaves. Pulling off an allergy friendly party is no small feat!