It’s September, and since we’ve been back to school, my daughter received a birthday party invitation. This is her first ‘school-friend’ birthday party invite, since she is just under 3 years old. She was so excited to get asked to hang out with her friends outside of school (she asks us all the time to invite her friends over for a play-date).
She’s been to three other birthday parties, but they were MY friend’s kids, who know all about her food allergy. Two of those parties were at their homes, which made things very easy navigating her food allergy. But, I did not know her school-friend’s mom and the party was at a Kid’s Birthday Gym facility.
Here are some things I did as a Registered Dietitian and food allergy mom that helped us prepare for her 3-year-old friend’s birthday party:
Text the Hosting Parents: This was the first thing I did. I wanted to introduce myself since I didn’t know the host. I told her we were excited to celebrate her son’s birthday party. I explained that my daughter has food allergies so we wanted to see what they were planning on serving? I also offered to bring my daughters food to the party if needed. The host said all of the food went through the Party Facility Vendor and she was bringing standard vanilla cupcakes for the kids. I then called the Party Facility and found out they serve pizza from a local pizzeria, and gave me their name and phone number.
Birthday Cake: My daughter is under two but I unfortunately have experience with this one already. Over the summer, we went to another birthday party at my friend’s house. I KNEW it was a birthday party so I made special cupcakes with my daughter that morning and she even added the pile of sprinkles to her cupcake and was thrilled….all was well! When we got to the party, the birthday cake came out so we could all sing. OH NO. IT’S AN ICE CREAM CAKE! I brought a standard cupcake…but it wasn’t an ice cream cake. They got it custom made from an ice cream shop so it was not a safe option for my daughter. After singing Happy Birthday, she wanted the delicious and fun looking ice cream cake! I was at a loss in the moment. Luckily, another friend there didn’t like ice cream cake and jumped up to start playing in the yard. My daughter followed and that activity was more thrilling than the cake after a few minutes. But, I learned a valuable lesson. OUTDO the CAKE. It sounds petty, but really do-up the safe cake you bring for your child. This can mean extra sprinkles, it can mean cake toppers, cupcake wrappers, fun looking icing, a cool looking carrying case, a special flavor, etc. This is only my opinion because I’ve seen the look on my daughter’s face when all the other kids are eating an extra fun slice of birthday cake together, and she has something different.
It would also help to ask the host parents about what type of cake they are serving (Chocolate, vanilla, ice cream, cup cakes, slices, the theme, etc). I know we cannot prepare for anything, but it may give you more information in advance, to help avoid tears or disappointment.
Talk to your Food Allergy Kids: This is so important at any age, whether toddlers, adolescents, teens, etc! Talk about how much fun the birthday party is going to be and how awesome it is to see your friends outside of school. Focus on the fun of the party…being with friends, doing the activity, relaxing on the weekend, etc. Of course, talk about food allergy safety in an age-appropriate way and remind them about party food being served at the event. Explain that you already talked to the host parents and there will be a lot of safe options there, but there are still unsafe food allergy foods mixed in. So, we may bring foods to keep everyone safe and focus on the party! Include your child on what foods would make the birthday party special for him/her. Have your child participate in that. This is another great time to discuss how we don’t expect people to change their life and their food choices for you. But we always come in prepared, but things may not be perfect. Emphasis how much your child is learning and becoming more mature to handle big decisions on his own. And how much support your food allergy child has. And when it’s his/her birthday, he gets to pick what foods he wants too. It’s also a good idea to talk about always carrying epi pens anywhere we go.
Expectation: your party experience may go off without a hitch! Or it might be a flop because your child is hurt that they cannot have the special _______ food that was served. These are two very possible scenarios!! Another back up, if you child ever feels left out, have a plan to make their night special. If you prepared and the party ended up serving a special donut bar with fun toppings that you were not aware of, take him/her out for a special dinner or treat that night or even the ride home from the party.
Remember mama, you are so supportive and are teaching your child how to be independent. And how to deal with things that go their way and things that don’t. You’re teaching them how to manage their lives and how to shift their focus on things they can control and know that you and your kids can’t control everything.