As food allergies become more and more common—researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans now have food allergies—there’s a good chance that you’ll soon find yourself hosting a birthday party where one or more of the guests has some type of allergy or dietary restriction. For parents of children without an allergy, it can be an intimidating prospect.
- How do I keep track of all the things he’s allergic too?
- What do I do if she has a reaction?
- Will I have to administer an EpiPen? Will it hurt her if I do it wrong?
And while a bit of nervousness is natural, there’s no reason to panic: Hosting an allergy-friendly party takes a little extra planning and coordination, but for the most part it’s easy. To help, here are six tips on throwing an allergy-friendly kids’ party from the experts at Boston Children’s Food Allergy Program.
Get to know your guests early.
As host, you’re in charge of the party’s venue, menu and all other logistics. To make sure your eventual plans are safe and fun for all guests, you’ll need to do a little information gathering beforehand. On the invitations (or in an accompanying email), ask parents if their child has any allergies or special requirements you should know about. If you already have menu ideas in mind, let the parents know early. This way, if any complications do arrive, you’ll have plenty of time to reconsider or make a few adjustments as needed.
Keeping kids safe is a team effort; embrace it.
Just because it’s your child’s party doesn’t mean that guest safety is your responsibility alone. Many parents of children with food allergy are used to being vigilant about monitoring their children in social situations and will likely be willing to help you keep the party safe. If you know some guests have specific dietary limitations, ask their parents for tips and/or help in preparing and serving safe foods. It will lighten your workload and hopefully lessen any major concerns you may be feeling.
Let someone know if you’re uncomfortable.
Preparation can help alleviate a lot of worry—but it’s not a cure-all. If you find yourself really stressing over the thought of supervising a child with food allergies at the party, talk to her parents about your concerns. They may be able to help supervise or send a sibling, relative or more experienced babysitter along with the child to lend a hand. Asking for help isn’t always easy, but the parents will most likely appreciate your honesty and dedication to keeping their child safe.
Get to know the medications.
If a guest has a serious allergy and will need to bring medications with her—including an auto-injector of epinephrine—make sure her parents provide you with all the information you need. (When is the drug needed, how much is used, and other such question.) Once you’re comfortable with what each medication does and the circumstances in which it may be needed, make sure you keep them in a safe, accessible place.
Location. Location. Location.
Bowls of finger food like chips, snack mix and fruit are great party treats because they allow kids to take as much as they like as they come and go. But unless children are washing their hands constantly (highly unlikely), having multiple bowls of foods in one area can really raise the risk of cross contamination.
For instance, if a partygoer helps himself to a handful of a snack mix containing peanuts, then reaches for the grapes, he may accidentally get peanut crumbs on the grapes, making them potentially dangerous for some guests.
Save the fanfare for the birthday boy.
When a food allergic guest arrives, possibly with her own treats or snacks, be discrete. Welcome her as you would any other guest, and as an aside, let her know that you’ve already talked with her parents and that you’re here to make sure she’s safe. Tell her to feel free to come to you with any questions about the food or if she needs any special help.
If you’re planning on the traditional cake and singing, but one of the guests can’t eat cake, have a special treat for her waiting to go.
Making the child feel safe—but not singled out—is important in making the party more fun for everyone.
“There’s a sizable segment of children and teenagers with food allergies who say the worst part about living with the condition is the social isolation they often feel,” says John Lee, MD, director of Boston Children’s Food Allergy Program. “Parents of children without an allergy should try to keep this in mind when planning social events. Taking even a few extra steps to make guests with food allergy feel included could make a big difference in the life of a child.”
To speak with a member of Boston Children’s Food Allergy Program, please visit their website.