Families and Food Allergies :: Planning An Allergy-Friendly Birthday Party {Series}

Every 3 minutes, someone in the U.S. is admitted to the Emergency Department for an allergic reaction to food. Increased numbers of children are diagnosed every year, which means that you probably know at least one family with allergies – it may even be your own! Here at WMB, we have contributors in various stages of learning how to cope with what Allergy Life looks like in their homes. In this series, we hope to give support, insight, and helpful tips for those who are struggling to find what “normal” means after receiving a food allergy/intolerance/sensitivity diagnosis.

allergy birthday partyNothing says “Happy Birthday!” like cake and ice cream. Frosting from a can or handmade by my grandma; chocolate cake, strawberry cupcakes, even ice cream cake – it doesn’t matter. The textures and flavors of every birthday party I {and I’m guessing you} can remember all have those two things in common, so imagine my panic when I became the mom of two kids with pretty severe food allergies. Girl (soon to be 5) can’t have wheat or eggs, and Boy (almost 2) can’t eat wheat, eggs, or dairy. Cake and ice cream got a bit more complicated!

It is now estimated that 1 in 13 kids has some sort of food allergy – the numbers go up if we broaden that to include “intolerances” and “sensitivities”, which can be just as serious and uncomfortable. What does this mean to millennials who grew up knowing maybe one kid who had a food restriction? It means that around 2-4 kids our children’s classes will have to avoid specific foods. It means that when we’re planning those awesome birthday parties every year, be they low-key or over-the-top, eventually, you’re going to run into a guest who has an allergy.

But there’s no need to panic!

This list will guide you through a few easy tweaks and adjustments that will keep all your guests happy and healthy. As an Allergy Mom, I want to say THANK YOU for including a kid with allergies on your guest list, and not skipping an invite just because you don’t know what to serve them. Social isolation is the hardest part for kids with allergies – they feel punished for something that is out of their control. They are not being “picky eaters”, in fact, they would LOVE to eat what everyone else is eating. Just as you wouldn’t send your kid to a pool party without a swimsuit and tell them not to get wet, expecting them to still have fun watching everyone play, we don’t want to send our kids to a party where they can’t participate in games or eat tasty treats. Here’s how to make it all work:


When you send out your invitations, be sure to solicit allergy information from parents. Perhaps even sending a follow-up email to make sure you have everyone’s allergy info would be wise. At this point, allergy parents will usually offer to send their own “safe” cupcake or treat with their party-goer. They are used to it, and it is not a burden! I like knowing what will be served {cake & ice cream? pizza?} so that I can provide food for my daughter that is as similar as possible to what the other guests will be eating. I also don’t mind bringing enough to share – popcorn, a dozen cupcakes, a fruit tray – whatever makes it easy!


Have an idea of your menu in mind so that you can share it if parents ask. If you end up having multiple allergens to watch for, a quick Pinterest hunt or Google search will easily turn up recipes for allergy-friendly alternatives to common party foods. If big bowls of party snacks are available to guests, set aside some smaller bowls in a safe place for your little friends with food allergies. A child who grabs a handful of trail mix containing peanuts and then reaches into the bowl with potato chips has just cross-contaminated that bowl. No one is going to think your pinata is cool after little Johnny got to ride in an ambulance!


Usually not a problem – but keep in mind that a craft or game using macaroni, certain kinds of paint, or latex could pose a problem for kids with allergies. My kids can touch dry pasta with no reaction, but using an egg-based tempera paint is asking for trouble! This is why getting that allergy list ahead of time is so helpful – if you know to buy a bag of gluten-free pasta or some allergen-free Crayola paint, your crisis is averted before it begins.


Kids with food allergies can’t have certain kinds of cookies and candies – I really enjoy using stickers, tattoos, and other little trinkets for party favors. If you do wish to include food items, just make sure your allergic guests have a bag with extra stickers or a special item that’s safe for them.


Put your guests’ allergy medicines {Benadryl, Epinephrine} in a safe, easily accessible place when they arrive & know the dosage. Show the child where their meds are being kept, and then let them know that you have talked to their parents about food allergies and that special arrangements have been made so that they can have a super fun time, just like everyone else. Give them a quick rundown of the food options, maybe tour the snack table, and then turn them loose. They don’t want to talk to you, they want to play!

Are you still feeling a bit uneasy? Invite the child’s parent to stay and help make sure everything goes smoothly – if their child is on the younger side, they are probably planning on this already. We get nervous, too! Ask us questions or for suggestions/alternatives. Tell us what worries you. We want our kids to have fun making memories with their friends – and we are more than happy to help you in any way we can!



This post is part of our Families and Food Allergies Series. Read more posts from this series…

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