**I’m going to preface this post by saying that my children do NOT have life-threatening food allergies. I can’t imagine the level of diligence it takes to keep a child with severe food allergies safe. That being said, I’m sharing my experience of planning a party that was allergy friendly. I did a lot of research, but nothing I’ve written should be taken as medical advice.**
Last week we celebrated Izabella’s 8th birthday. I can hardly believe how much she’s grown in the last 5 years. She and Devin (her biological brother) were placed in our home for the purpose of adoption just days after she turned three.
We knew from her medical history that she had a significant dairy intolerance. She also was, (and to some extent still is), food obsessed.
I dreaded getting calls from the daycare that she had eaten food out of the trash. We figured it was a result of bouncing around the foster-care system at such a young age. We decided it was best to remove dairy from our home, since we couldn’t guarantee that she wouldn’t sneak or hoard food.
It really wasn’t that bad. Instead of trying to find a decent substitute for cheese and yogurt, we simply went without. We do use almond and soy milks for smoothies and cereal.
Fast-forward 5 years…
This past January, Devin (now 6 years-old) was diagnosed with an allergy to wheat. We were completely shocked because he had no typical allergy symptoms. He does have chronic fluid build up behind his ear drums. He had tubes placed in his ears when he was a baby, but had long since fallen out. His new pediatrician felt strongly that the condition, which was slowly robbing my son of his hearing, was allergy related. I agreed to the full allergy screening and the culprit came back as wheat.
This was a hard one for me because I made homemade whole-wheat bread all the time. It was one of my favorite ways to bless my family. Who can resist a fresh-from-the-oven slice of bread with a little dab of butter or jam? Not this girl! I LOVE bread!
I knew, as with dairy, it was going to have to go the way of the dodo bird. Devin is six, but is cognitively delayed and would not understand why we could eat “regular bread” and he couldn’t. Even if I made him a wheat-free option. I didn’t want him feeling “different” in our home.
With all our other activities, I just was not ready to tackle wheat-free baking.
**Note: “Wheat-free” and “Gluten-free” are not necessarily the same thing. There are many products that are made with wheat derivatives that are technically gluten-free. Make sure you carefully read all labels.**
I found a few wheat-free brands like Glutino and Udi’s for breads and English muffins. Due to the expense, I didn’t want to rely on these, so like dairy, we’re learning to do without bread (I keep whole wheat rolls in the freezer for when Herb wants to make a sandwich to take to work–we found this to be a great compromise).
So by the time Izabella’s birthday rolled around in late July, I felt pretty confident about making her party dairy and wheat-free. The party was planned for a Sunday afternoon. My menu plans were to have a variety of kid-friendly hor d’oeuvres plus the cake. No biggie.
Just days before the party, I found out through the kid “grapevine” that one of the kids invited has a severe peanut allergy. Peanut butter (and nuts in general) are a big deal in our house. I was concerned about what to serve that would be safe for all my guests.
I removed some obvious offenders from the menu (like celery sticks with peanut butter). It also meant not using almond milk to make the cake. Was soy milk OK? I scoured the internet to find out. My research found that peanuts are actually not nuts, but legumes. Soybeans are legumes too. Most people who are allergic to peanuts have no problems with soy. I felt comfortable using soy milk in the cake.
One of the best resources I found was the blog, Allergy Awesomeness! I found great info and recipes (I will link to those below).
Since I was using a wheat-free cake mix, I double checked that there were no nut ingredients. Check.
With my research done, I came up with the following menu…
Rainbow Fruit Kabobs with Dairy-Free Chocolate “Yogurt” Dip:
These are so fresh and beautiful that kids and adults can’t resist them! I didn’t want kids poking themselves with typical skewers, so I used Wilton Lollipop Sticks. It was great in theory, but because they’re paper, they got a little squishy after about 1/2 hour. Next time I will use something sturdier.
The dip was super-easy too:
- 1 8-ounce container dairy free vanilla “yogurt” (I used Silk soy yogurt)
- 1 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
Combine and stir. So easy! So delicious!
Fresh Veggie Tray with Dairy-Free Ranch Dressing
This one is an easy addition to any party. Kid-size veggies + great tasting dip = WIN!
Instead of buying a pre-made veggie tray from the grocery store, I bought all the veggies separately. It is less expensive, especially because I was going to have to make my own dip anyway:
This recipe is adapted from: Genius Kitchen
- 1 cup mayonnaise (I used vegan mayo, but you can use regular mayo if you don’t have egg allergies–more on that later)
- 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp dried chives
- 1/2 tsp dried dill
- 1/2 tsp dried parsley
- 1/4 tsp onion powder
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- Soy milk (enough to thin mixture to desired consistency)
Combine, stir, refrigerate…enjoy! This is now a staple in our refrigerator.
Next, I wanted to add some items that were a little more satisfying, but still fun to eat. Who doesn’t love food on a stick?
Grilled Asian Chicken and Skirt Steak Skewers
(Picture from Simply Recipes)
I used the marinade for both thinly sliced chicken breast and skirt steak strips. Click here for the full recipe and beautifully detailed instructions on preparing and grilling the skewers.
Finally, I wanted one last appetizer that was dip-worthy. Again, food on a stick!
Asian Quinoa Meatballs
I paired this with a wheat-free bottled barbecue sauce. Nom!
What I love about all the above recipes is that they are so easy! That left me time to work on the Piece de Resistance…THE CAKE!
I only make three cakes a year, so it is fun for me to make something spectacular! I wanted to have a cupcake “pull apart” cake. Many hours on Pinterest later…
Princess Poppy Cake with Cupcake Pull-Apart Hair
This was my “inspiration cake”. All the credit for this wonderfully designed cake goes to Mum Turned Mom.
Find detailed instructions Here.
This was my actual result. I spent hours agonizing over the color of the fondant (way too pink), which I had never used before. Herb encouraged me every step of the way…well at least until 11:30pm the night before the party and I was obsessively fussing over the icing. He went to bed while I finished. I ended up thrilled with the result.
Izabella loved it too, which is really all that mattered in the end.
Well this blog isn’t about cake decorating, but allergies and I had missed a big one!
So, imagine my dismay when the mom of one of our guests asked me, “Does the cake have eggs? My daughter is allergic.”
GASP!! I was so concerned with making dairy/wheat/nut-free options, that I didn’t consider one of the most common allergens. I sheepishly admitted that the cake indeed had LOTS of eggs (helps gluten-free cakes have that wonderful cake-y texture). I’m sure that with a little more digging, I could have make the cake egg-free too. I guarantee, the next cake I make will be.
I totally get this mom. I wouldn’t want anyone to go out of their way to accommodate my kid. That’s why we take our own food/snacks when we go out so I know my children will have food they can eat. I was also amazed that this 5 year-old girl was fine with not having cake at a birthday party. She knew she couldn’t eat it and that was that.
Food allergies are so prevalent these days, that the next time I throw a party, I am going to ask all guests if they have any food allergies. I hope you will too.
It really wasn’t difficult to adjust my menu to be allergy-friendly. Have you ever had to plan for kids or friends with dietary restrictions? I love to hear your ideas in the comments below!