Happy (allergen-free) Birthday!: Plan, Plan, Plan

As adults, birthdays kind of become “just another day” at best, or worse, a day to be avoided and/or dreaded, but children anticipate the day with almost the same amount of excitement as Christmas. For a kid, what’s not to like? Treats galore, a yummy cake, friends to share in the fun, everyone’s focused attention, and of course, the gifts.

Just because the celebration often centers around food laden with allergens doesn’t mean that food-allergic kids have to suffer, at least not on their own birthday. It’s definitely possible to host an allergen-free birthday that both children and adults will enjoy without feeling slighted in the least.

I’ll be blogging about my adventures in planning and hosting my Certain Little Someone’s birthday over the next couple weeks, so stay tuned. I also want to hear about your own experiences – both good and bad – in celebrating your food-allergic child’s birthday, so join in the conversation in the comments section below.

Before I start in on this year’s celebration, check out this post on my other blog about his very first birthday and how I made it special and allergen-free without breaking the bank. And here’s a post detailing how I made his allergen-free cake.

Now for this year, here’s what I have done so far…

Plan, plan, plan. And plan some more.

An allergen-free birthday requires a little more thinking ahead perhaps than most. When food allergies are not a concern, your food options are wide open: platters from Chick-fil-A, bags or boxes of pre-made kid-friendly foods from the freezer section, or even a party hosted at a restaurant such as Chuck-E-Cheese. Of course, as food allergy mamas, we’ve already learned to think outside the box – literally – when it comes to feeding our children, so a birthday is nothing new. It’s just a lot bigger! Feeding a crowd (whether it’s just your family + extended family or the whole entire neighborhood and then some) can be a daunting task considering the expense and effort of allergen-free foods.

And, of course, there’s no question that at a child’s birthday party, all the food must be safe for him or her. There’s simply no other option. If it never happens any other time in the course of a year, it should definitely happen at birthday time. All the foods should be ones he or she loves and can safely eat.

Easier said than done, perhaps, depending on your budget, time constraints and other limitations. That’s why I started thinking about the menu about 2 months prior to his birthday, because I knew it would be a tall order to come up with foods that:

-are free of all his allergens

-inexpensive to feed our large extended family

-familiar in taste and texture to everyone attending, not just the birthday kid

-easy to prepare

-foods my Certain Little Someone likes to eat

Like I said, it’s a tall order and requires more mental exertion than simply drafting an allergen-free menu for the family at home. It’s one thing to feed him chunks of avocado straight because he loves it that way: it’s quite another to expect all the birthday guests to feel the same way!

One thing I decided to do that helped was to hold the part between meals, in our case at 2:00pm. Most people will have already eaten at least a small lunch by this time, and are not hungry enough for dinner yet, so appetizers will likely suffice. The party still revolves largely around the food – what party doesn’t? – but at least I don’t have the stress of trying to fill everyone’s tummy with a full meal. Another side benefit of this plan is that it will cost less, an important consideration in any case, but particularly when it comes to allergen-free foods that can quickly get pricey.

This immediately helped me narrow my focus on what sort of foods to serve – appetizers! In particular, I decided that I wanted the menu to be all finger foods. This just makes the party easier all around – I don’t need utensils, just toothpicks, so less expense and less clean-up. Also, coming up with that theme helped me narrow down my food choices considerably. Expanding on this theme, I decided to compose the menu entirely of bite-size finger foods and dips. I like to think in terms of themes when it comes to parties and hosting dinners; it’s fun and it helps focus the planning.

Following this train of thought to its conclusion, I came up with a list of finger foods and dips that fit the requirements above (all allergen-free of course):

Food Items

– chicken nuggets

-meatballs

-tortilla chips

-plain potato chips

-fruit chunks

-veggies

Dips

-sesame-free hummus (for veggies)

-coconut milk yogurt dip (for fruit)

-guacamole (for tortilla chips)

-salsa (for tortilla chips)

-BBQ sauce (for chicken and meatballs)

-ketchup

The chicken nuggets and meatballs I can make ahead and freeze. Many of the dips can be store-bought; the others I can make a day or two ahead of time.

Planning ahead also allows me to buy items as I find them on sale. I’ve already purchased the chips for next to nothing by keeping my eyes peeled for sales that combined with coupons to make great deals.

What about the cake, you ask? Well, for sure, that’s the centerpiece of the birthday, so you can bet plenty of planning and thought went into that! That deserves a post in and of itself, so we’ll save that for next time.

In the meantime, I’m curious: what foods have you served for your child’s allergen-free birthday (or other event)?

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