Birthdays are a time for celebrating! A time to eat good food with good friends and enough yourself!
The first time a child hands their parents a party invitation from their friends, it can seem daunting when their child lives with food allergies. It’s normal to feel anxious and worried for your child. But there are ways to overcome this fear by following the steps below. Although it may just seem easier to decline the invitations, you and your child should not avoid social activities likes birthdays, parties, football games, etc. as although it can initially provide a feeling of safety, it can affect quality of life and can perpetuate anxiety towards these situations in the long term.
Children’s parties are exciting, and your child should feel included in the party fun, just like every other child!
Step 1: Party Invitations
Contact the person hosting the party when you get the invite to ensure it will be safe for your child. This allows them to take your child’s allergies into account when planning and shopping for party food. Explain your child’s allergies clearly, indicating what foods they need to avoid and perhaps offer an alternative to certain foods, or a brand you can trust.
For example if the allergy is nuts, advise ‘Kitkats’ as a chocolate bar option rather than Mars or Snickers bars that contain or may contain nuts. This will make it easier for the host, as remember you are the expert on what your child can eat and the host may not have any prior knowledge on food allergies. You don’t want to panic them or add more stress so offer alternatives, like jelly sweets instead of chocolates or popcorn instead of flavoured crisps.
Top Tip: Lead by example with your child’s party invitations with a clear notice asking if any guests have food allergies or specific dietary requirements. Even if you know none of their friends do, it is a great way to spread awareness on the topic and will encourage other parents to include this on their child’s invitations.
Step 2: Party Food
Discuss the menu! Discuss the food the host is planning to serve and if it is suitable for your child.
They may have planned to serve pizza or chicken nuggets and chips, in this case if the food is safe you could offer a particular brand of pizza from the supermarket you trust so there are no unusual toppings/sauces that may be a concern.
Depending on what suits the host you could offer recipes that are safe, with a list of safe foods available from the supermarket, or bring safe food to the party similar to what is being served so the child won’t feel excluded. If you are bringing safe food, make sure your child understands they cannot share food or drinks with other children.
As mentioned above indicate what party food is suitable for example, certain brands of chocolate bars/jelly sweets/crisps so that the host can plan in advance when shopping for party food.
If unsure about certain food, ask to check the wrappers and keep them close at hand on the day of the party so that you can read ingredient labels for any food served. Be aware that the allergy information for ‘fun size’ sweets may differ from the regular-size bars and ask the host to keep an eye out for guests/relatives bringing extra food to the party that has not been checked for allergens.
Sometimes the food is safe but the cake may not be so you could send a small bun or cupcake for your child as an alternative.
Step 3: CAKE
Similar to the advice above, discuss the cake they plan to serve and depending on the hosts wishes you could recommend an allergen free cake brand from a particular supermarket that your child has had before. Some parents may be open to suggestions, but others may have their child’s favourite cake picked out or specially made for the day. In this case you cannot demand them to serve a particular cake just to suit your child- the party parents will be busy trying to make it a special day for their birthday boy or girl.
However, no-one wants their child to feel they are missing out, so you can offer to bring your own cupcake or cake for your child. The host shouldn’t have a problem with this and it can make things less stressful for everyone!
Step 4: Party Bags
Party bags shouldn’t be a problem if Steps 1 and 2 are carried out above.
But if necessary, you can come to an agreement with your child that they don’t eat anything from it until your home. You can check ingredients and swop unsafe treats for suitable alternatives.
Step 5: Drinks
Fizzy drinks are often served at children’s parties and are usually safe depending on the childs allergies. Ask the host if they plan to serve smoothies or juices that may contain certain allergens and suggest ingredient alternatives if necessary.
Step 6: Medications
If your child carries medication such as anti-histamines, epi-pen or inhalers, discuss this with your host. Initially, if the host has no previous experience of allergies they may be a bit overwhelmed but layout simple steps for them to follow if a reaction does occur.
- State clearly where the medication is located in their bag, when and how to use it. Store safety out of reach from children.
- Explain the symptoms to look out for and that the child themselves will know when a reaction is coming on.
- In the case of a reaction and the epi-pen must be used, call the ambulance as soon as possible.
- If there is any confusion or hesitation if the child is having a reaction to call the parent straight away as even if a reaction does not occur the parent will feel much better being there with their child.
Step 7: Party games and Activities
Depending on your child’s allergies this may not be a concern. But certain ingredients or additives in face paints, art and craft materials or bird/animal feed may initiate a reaction for some children, so it is best to check with the host for any planned party games or face painting.
For example, if a child has an egg allergy, ensure egg cartons are not used for games or chocolate wrappers in treasure hunts.
Step 8: Contact Information
Make sure to leave your contact details so if the host has any queries regarding your child’s allergies during the party they can call and check. Urge them to contact you if they are unsure of anything or notice any symptoms in your child.
Ensure you are contactable at all times during the party and your mobile is fully charged so you can be contacted or in case of an emergency.
Step 9: Prep your child
Along with teaching your child their ‘Please and Thank you’s’, it is vital they are aware of their allergy and the precautions they must take.
Teach them to check the label on the party food before they eat it, or to check with an adult if it contains any of their allergens. Even though you have called the host previously to check this, it is vital your child puts this into practice. Teach them not to try any new chocolates/sweets that they have not tried before with you or their parent/guardian present.
Make sure that they tell an adult when not feeling well and not to go off to the bathroom by themselves. Talk to them about the importance of not sharing food or drinks and explain to them the reason they may have to have a different slice of cake to the other children.
Although you are teaching them to be careful you do not want to scare them or worry them as this will affect their relationship with food and may discourage them to participate in outings, events or activities later in life.
Step 10: Stay calm
Although this may be a big step for you as a parent, it is important you remain calm and supportive. Sometimes our own worries trickle down to our kids. If you are anxious about your child going to parties/activities or feeling left out, they may begin to worry as well. It’s not easy to parent a child with a health concern.
Instead of anticipating the worst, prepare your child to be more than their allergy. Allergies and health concerns may set them apart, but it doesn’t mean your child will suffer. Encourage them to feel confident, and build friendships based on factors beyond what they can or cannot eat!