Kids’ parties are an iconic part of childhood. Someone else provides the food, the activities and entertains the kids. But what happens when your kid has allergies, food intolerances, or Celiac Disease?
If your child is gluten free, you should contact the organizer and ask several questions to determine how to prepare. Discover what food will be offered, the activities planned, and any other details. Make plans to provide alternatives to anything with gluten.
As the parent of two gluten free children, I understand the difficulties of planning for parties, anxiety around them, and how hard it can be for people to invite my children. I put together the best tips I have learned over the years for people with gluten free kids and those thinking about inviting gluten free kids to their events.
How To Handle Gluten Free Kids At Parties
Whether you are thinking of inviting a child to your party that is gluten free or you are the parent of a gluten free child looking to take them to a birthday or other party they have been invited to, you may have a lot of questions.
You might think that just avoiding this would be best, want to know what food to provide or bring, and how to handle all the details.
- Always invite the kids to the party. If you are unsure how to handle gluten free, you can chat with the parents after they accept your invite.
- If you know the parents, contact them and have a chat about what they might need, or you can wait until they accept the invite to see.
- If you would have otherwise accepted an invitation to a party, don’t avoid them due to a diagnosis or food sensitivity.
- It is not rude to bring food with you to the party. This will keep your child safe and not make it anyone else’s responsibility to provide food for your kid.
- If you can find out what food will be served, it can be nice for kids to feel included with the same type of food. Make sure you supply any food for activities as well as cake.
- You may need to find out what activities are planned. If they are planning on making food, PlayDough, etc it may not be a safe environment. You also want to find out if any extra treats are being provided for activities.
- Prepare yourself for the anxiety of crumbs and cross contamination everywhere.
- Plan to enjoy yourselves and talk with your child about what they can expect at the party ahead of time.
If you want more information on any of these subjects, keep reading below for the best things I’ve learned about handling these situations.
Should I Invite Gluten Free Kids?
I want to start by addressing people who are not gluten free and considering whether to invite a child with food allergies or intolerances.
Always invite them.
It is up to the parents if they feel up to preparing themselves and their children for a party with food that is restricted from their diets. (More on this below.)
What is up to you as the person considering inviting them is whether you will exclude children due to disabilities, allergies, or other medical conditions. I would encourage you not to go down the path of exclusionary policies.
It is so great for kids to have friends and be exposed to those who need to live slightly different than them.
Inviting a child with allergies to your party does not mean that you need to change everything about what you are planning. In fact, you shouldn’t plan on changing anything.
Whether they accept the invitation, it is important to make sure that all kids feel included.
How To Have Gluten Free Kids At A Party
I am assuming throughout this article that the party we are referring to is a birthday party or other similar child-centered party.
When you are inviting guests, if you know that one or more children are gluten free, include something about contacting you or provide more details of the party.
In fact, you may not be aware of someone’s allergy, and providing details to everyone may help make a better experience for the children.
Things to include in an invitation:
- food you plan to serve
- activities planned
- desserts or treats planned
- any additional food you will have
You shouldn’t need to change anything about it for planning the party itself if you are inviting a kid with an allergy. But parents should be able to prepare their families.
Including this information can also help parents with kids who have developmental delays or are neurodiverse. In general, kids do better with knowing what to expect in a situation, and including this information can help everything run smoother.
Should I Accept An Invitation To A Party When My Kid Is Gluten Free
If your child is gluten free, any situation that is not a controlled environment can be stressful.
At school, we have the option of 504 plans or IEPs. For parties and other social situations, things are a little more out of our control.
If your kid is younger and expected to attend, it can be easier than dropping them off.
But instead of avoiding these situations, you should embrace them.
If you would otherwise have accepted the invitation, don’t let food allergies, intolerances, or diagnoses stop you.
We must show our kids that we can go into situations that are not designed for us and be flexible. And attending social situations is difficult even for adults who are navigating gluten free.
The key to having an enjoyable time is to prepare as much as you can ahead of time. If you prepare, you will let them enjoy the party and put your own nerves at ease.
Is It Rude To Bring Our Own Food To A Party For My Gluten Free Child?
Let’s take this a step further and say that not only is it not rude to bring your own food, but it should be the expectation.
This isn’t to say that people will not want to accommodate your dietary needs, but that most people do not know what gluten is, let alone where you can find it in food all around them. For your child’s health, you should always plan on bringing food you know is safe.
One thing to consider is that if it is not in someone’s home, the event location may not allow outside food. This is something that you should deal with before the day of the party.
Give the venue a call and ask them about their policies. If they do not allow outside food, let them know that your child has a severe allergy.
In this situation, I recommend using the word “allergy” and not gluten intolerance, Celiac Disease, or explaining any other reasons they need not eat gluten.
Most party venues are not equipped to deal with food allergies. If they can provide safe food for a Celiac child without cross-contamination risks, that’s great and a lot of work avoided!
You may need to request to speak to the manager to get an exception to their no outside food policies. I have not come across a venue yet that has challenged this when requested. In fact, they mostly do not want to deal with food allergies and special requests. If it is just one person in a party bringing it, it is not a big deal.
You may choose not to contact them, but it does risk the possibility of a confrontation at the party. And may even result in the child in question without food they can eat. Contact them ahead of time and make sure to get the name of the person in charge you spoke with.
Sometimes this does require some advocating on our part as parents. It can be awkward at first to do this, but you are the one responsible for the well-being of your children and need to speak up.
What Food Should I Bring To A Party For A Gluten Free Kid?
Talk to the party host to see what they will be serving. Food envy at a party is never fun for anyone.
See if you can make or find a safe version of the food they will serve for everyone else.
Typical foods at parties are pizza, hot dogs, burgers, chips, pretzels, and fruit. Of these, the only one I might trust is the fruit. But that can even be contaminated if it is cut on the same cutting board as gluten products.
For pizza, you can make it ahead of time, wrap it in aluminum foil to keep it warm, and put it in a thermal lunch pail. If the party is in someone’s home, you can even put the pizza in foil in the oven to heat it back up.
Hot dogs and burgers can be pretty easy. Bring your own buns. But if you cannot look at ingredient lists or they are cooking on a grill where gluten items may have been cooked before, wrapping previously cooked hot dogs, sausages, or burgers in foil and putting them on the grill can be perfect.
Bring your own chips, pretzels, and any other snacks that may or may not be gluten free.
Don’t forget the cake!
Most parties will have not only food but also some dessert such as a birthday cake. This is an easy one to replace. You can make cupcakes and freeze them to grab before parties, so you don’t have to bake every time.
There are also some pretty good gluten free cake slices or cupcakes at most grocery stores.
What Details Other Than Food Should I Prepare For?
Find out what activities will be happening at the party and ask any questions needed for clarification.
Things like PlayDough, cloud dough, or other sensory activities could be a problem for small children.
For older kids, if they plan on doing a baking project, it could cause an issue.
If the activity is not safe (such as flour in the air), it is ok to say that you cannot make it. You are finding out what you can replace or prepare for. But there will be some things that just cannot be made safe.
Ask about food or candy as prizes for activities and even in goodie bags.
Suppose it is something that you can replace with a safe option, plan on bringing it. For example, if a pinata has unknown candy, bring some you know is safe.
Try to find out as many details as possible. If you only keep your requests as food, some people will not connect the dots between candy or gluten products.
Ultimately it is up to you to provide a safe experience for your child, not other people. This can cause a lot of anxiety and stress on the part of gluten free parents. If it is too much for you as their parent to prepare, avoid going.
Crumbs Everywhere! How To Handle Parental Gluten Free Anxiety At Kid Parties
As parents, we are the ones responsible for their physical and mental well-being.
This is a big thing to be responsible for.
But being able to participate in social activities is important for children’s mental health. And we need to figure out how to navigate it for them and how to prepare them to do it on their own as well.
But you know far more about gluten and the dangers they face than they ever will.
Something that happens as we navigate this gluten-filled world for our gluten free children is that we start seeing every little bit of possible gluten in everything. And the anxiety coming from that makes you want to wrap your child in a gluten free cocoon and hide them away.
But that isn’t the most helpful for them.
We need to prepare ourselves to handle the anxiety by planning everything and talking with our kids about expectations.
We also need to accept that the world has gluten, and we need to do our best to make it as safe as possible, but there will always be risks.
How To Enjoy A Party With Your Gluten Free Child
The most important thing you can do is to prepare to enjoy yourself.
Try not to go in with too much anxiety. Do all your preparations and take confidence in what you have done.
Speak with your child or children about what to expect and what some expectations are they may not have to deal with regularly.
Some things to talk about are:
- other people will be eating gluten
- you will not be able to eat the same thing as them
- do not eat anything at the party unless we brought it or
- ask if something is gluten free
- wash hands frequently at the party
- wash hands before eating anything
When there is gluten food being eaten by children, there are going to be crumbs everywhere.
Frequent handwashing is going to be extremely important. This means that you cannot expect hand sanitizer to do the job.
While hand sanitizer is great for germs, it does nothing to gluten.
They need to make sure to wash their hands with soap and water to remove any trace of crumbs before eating anything at all to not risk getting sick from cross-contamination.
While this can be stressful, knowing the expectations ahead of time can make for a much nicer experience at the party. And you should enjoy yourselves!
What To Say When Your Gluten Free Child Is Not Invited To A Party
I’ve been on this side of the party experience as well.
Something so disheartening about being told that they did not invite your child somewhere because of something they have no control over.
People assume that if they invite a child with food allergies to a party, they will need to provide safe food for them or possibly the whole party.
The best thing that you can do is to reassure them that you do not have that expectation.
Let them know that you always plan and bring safe options for your children when you go to parties. And you would never expect the host even to know what to provide for them.
This situation is unfortunate. And I wish that it would not happen, but it does all too often.
The more the people around us know that we will provide whatever we need and not put that on them, the easier these social situations will be.