Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Catering for dietary restrictions at kids’ parties: 10 hot tips.

A dairy, soy, gluten and sugar-free "ice-cream cake" replacement.

One of the hardest times for a child with allergies, intolerances or other dietary restrictions has to be party time. More than anything else, a party is judged from a child’s perspective by the sheer amount of cake, lollies and other goodies that can be devoured before you feel sick. Of course, as food sensitivities become more common, many parents kindly provide some allergy friendly alternatives, but this can’t be relied upon. And simply turning up and hoping for the best isn’t really a viable idea, unless you want to run the risk of your child leaving the party hungry and upset. To make parties more fun for everyone, I’ve compiled a few tips to help your child enjoy their friends’ celebrations without feeling left out or ill.

  1. ·      The first thing I do when I receive an invitation is always to contact the party parent and ask what food is being provided. Is it home made or from packets? What are the ingredients? If food is being catered, call the relevant organisation and ask them the same questions. You might think you’ll be perceived as a pain, but I have always found people to be very understanding. You aren’t asking them to change anything, just to let you know what your child can eat, so that you can plan ahead. Once they know your child’s needs though, they may even be more mindful in their catering and include some allergy friendly options.
  2. ·      Now that you know what party food they can eat, you know how much of a gap there is to fill. You can’t be expected to recreate the menu exactly, but often there are a few simple and common party foods that can easily be made allergy friendly and/or healthier. For example, fairy bread is never in my experience dairy and soy free. Apart from the butter, the bread will almost always have dairy or soy in it. So I often make my own version for Ethan, which looks the same but wont make him sick. Even better, I get to use my lovely Hoppers hundreds and thousands that are made without artificial colours and flavours. The more similar you can make the replacements to the original, the less left out and different your child will feel. Hence, the importance of asking what’s on the menu and planning ahead.
  3. ·      Sometimes other children will have similar food requirements and you can take it in turns with their parents to make supplementary party food. This is not always the case, but if your child does happen to have a classmate with allergies it might be worth teaming up with their parents. If nothing else, it’s always beneficial to have another person in a similar situation to bounce ideas off.
  4. ·      Allergies or not, it’s always helpful to fill your child up with a healthy meal before they go to a party. That way there’s less desperation involved when the food comes out. And importantly, they will be more able to control themselves around foods they aren’t allowed to eat.
  5. ·      For younger children, it’s a good idea to be present when food is being eaten. That way you can do any last minute packet checking, give them their replacements, steer them clear of foods they can’t have and remind them of any other limits you’ve put in place. As they get older of course they will have to learn to make sensible choices without you, but when they are young, they will need some adult guidance. If you can’t be there, perhaps ask another adult to supervise who will be able to make sure they choose wisely.
  6. ·      Cake is rarely free of the major allergens such as gluten and dairy, but may well be fine if the problem food isn’t a common cake ingredient (such as nuts). Asking, as always, is the key. I always make sure I bring my own allergy friendly cake, because that’s one part of the party kids really don’t want to miss out on. I make a big cake, chop it up, and freeze individually wrapped pieces until I need them. This is an awesome time saver.
  7. ·      Tell your child before the party what they can have so there’s no uncertainty or upset at the time. I always spell out exactly not just what they will be allowed, but how much. Just because the marshmallows don’t have dairy and soy doesn’t mean I’ll let Ethan eat the whole bowl! Then let them know what replacements you have brought so they know what to expect and that there are options for them.
  8. ·      Party bags are usually full of lollies, many of which are out of packets, thus providing no list of ingredients. What I tend to do is bring a few little toys and maybe one acceptable food item to replace the party bag lollies. I ask the parents for the bag during the party and do any necessary swapping whist they’re playing. That way the bag looks the same, but the contents are different (unless of course you have an enlightened parent who has only put toys in the bag).
  9. ·      When it’s your child’s party it’s nice to make sure you cater for others dietary needs too, as what goes a round comes around. Also, it’s really lovely to see kids who are not used to being provided for be able to eat the same as everyone else. Not to mention what a lovely break it is for their parents not to have to worry about what their children are eating.
  10. ·      Although allergies and intolerances can be annoying, sometimes it actually helps our children to be healthier. It means we do have to look at ingredients and consider what our kids are eating, rather than just assuming they can have a free for all of refined junk every time there’s a party. Children need to be educated about food, and this includes party food. Yes it’s ok to have treats every now and again, but these are not everyday foods and there are limits. And when party food makes Ethan bounce off the walls I point this out to him, because I want him to make the connection between what you eat and how you feel. It’s not something you’ll find in a pass-the-parcel, but knowledge about food and its affect on your mind and body is one of the most important gifts you can give your child.

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