Birthdays and Food: When you have allergies

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“I’m sorry, but I can’t come.”

The general consensus is that December 25th is  the worst date for a child to have as his or her birthday.  I disagree.

Adults have sympathy for children who have to share their limelight with Jesus. While it’s true that the child’s birthday and Christmas present will most likely be rolled into one, the adults in his or her life usually try in some way to make the birthday special to compensate for having to share their special day.  And because the birthday is a traditionally celebrated family holiday, the child is usually surrounded by relatives, wishing him or her a “Happy Birthday!” in addition to “Merry Christmas!”

The worst dates to have as a birthday are January 1st and around Memorial Day weekend.  No one is available at either of these times to celebrate a child’s birthday.  After the craziness of the holidays, most folks are looking for a quiet respite on January 1st, and Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the start of summer and when folks are opening up summer places or having family gatherings.

I know because my brother and I have those birthdays, and time after time our birthday parties were cancelled because the responses were “So sorry, but we have . . . already scheduled for that day.”

My parents were great about compensating, though, and we had the family tradition of going to a movie (which was a treat for us) and having pizza and ice cream cake (also a treat) on our birthdays instead.

As a child, though, whenever I was at someone else’s birthday party, I felt a little left out, because I was like that bridesmaid adage – always celebrating another child’s birthday, but never knowing the thrill of having my own birthday party celebration.

When you’re a child with food allergies, you can feel the same way.  It’s awkward to be the person who can’t eat the birthday cake and ice cream with everyone else.

So what can parents do to help their children?

1.  Take initiative on your child’s behalf:  If the party is hosted by a relative, ask them if they’d like your help with the birthday cake.  My relatives are always willing to let me bake an allergy friendly cake, because it’s one less thing for them to do for the party!  If the party is given by a friend, ask if they’d mind if you baked some cupcakes to add to the cake choice.  I’ve never had a friend say, “No.”  And if the party is being hosted by someone you really don’t know, simply explain to them that your child has severe allergies and ask if they’re fine with you contributing some allergy friendly “ice cream” to the celebration.  Once again, I have never had anyone refuse my request or not understand.

2.  Educate people:  I realized early on that most people simply are not aware of the types of food allergies children can have, and once they know, they are quite happy to do what they can to help a child feel included.  Early on, as we were invited to other people’s homes, I would talk with them about my children’s food allergies and how difficult it can be at parties, and it wasn’t long before the invitations began to change.  Included on them most often now is a little question about whether anyone has any food allergies that the host should be aware of, and when my children arrive at these parties, the host has made sure to provide food for all the food restricted children.

3.  Start a new trend:  The highlight of birthday parties always seems to be the cake, but it doesn’t have to be.  Because of my own history, I’ve always tried to make my children’s birthday parties memorable, but we’ve always hosted parties where the children are busy creating their own pizzas (allergy friendly, of course!) or making crafts or doing a science experiment or playing creative games.  And what I’ve found is that the children don’t really have an interest in the cake and ice cream part anymore.  And what’s happened is that some of my friends have begun to do the same thing.  So now, more often than not, even though cake and ice cream are served, once the “Happy Birthday!” has been sung, the children haven’t even stuck around to eat the cake but have gone back to the fun!

4.  Be prepared:  Sometimes “it’s just what it is”, and your child needs to be prepared for that reality.  If it seems like he or she will be the odd man out, unable to partake of the food at the festivities.  In that case, I simply make a special cupcake that I send with my child in a container, so he or she can enjoy eating with the rest of the children.  Have your child help you make and decorate the “special” cupcake, and he or she will most likely be even more thrilled with his or her cupcake than what is being served — or at least my children were always boasting about the cupcakes they got to make themselves!

5.  Talk with your child positively:  It’s easy to feel upset ourselves that our children are being “left out”, so we need to remember to share with our children all of the reasons to be happy about attending another child’s party.  Good feelings are contagious, and they’ll pick up on our positive attitude.

6.  Educate your child:  Children are bright.  They understand a lot at even a young age.  Make sure your children understands why they can’t eat foods at parties, and help them to think about their food allergies as just another part of what makes them the special people that they are.  My children don’t see their food allergies as handicaps.  They actually view it as an opportunity for mommy to continue to work on revamping even more recipes for them to taste test!

As I’ve become an adult, I’ve begun my own tradition of throwing myself a birthday brunch the week before Memorial Day weekend.  I invite local friends and give myself the gift of some time off from the hectic busyness of life with three children. To make my cakes special, I use the following frosting which is enough to frost a three layer cake.  It’s very tasty and not extremely sweet which is the way I like it.  It’s a slightly revamped version of a couple of frosting recipes you can find at http://www.elanaspantry.com

Chocolate Frosting

Ingredients:

2 cups Enjoy Life allergen free mini chocolate chips

2/3 cup safflower oil

2 tablespoons Agave

1 tablespoon gluten free vanilla

Cooking Instructions:

1. Put all ingredients into a microwave safe measuring cup and stir.

2.  Microwave for one minute, and quickly and vigorously stir until the chocolate chips are completely melted and the mixture is starting to be a little thick.

3.  Scrape the chocolate mixture into your mixing bowl (a metal bowl is best), and put into the freezer for about 15 minutes.  (You want the mixture to be hardening almost the whole way through with only the middle being slightly runny still.)

4.  Take out the mixing bowl and with a mixer, mix the frosting on a medium to high speed, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the frosting is completely whipped and creamy.  (The mixture taken from the freezer will be a dark brown with a glossy texture.  When it’s been whipped, it’ll be a lighter brown and a thicker, creamier, frosting-like texture.)

5.  Use the frosting to frost cooled cake layers.  Unused frosting will keep in the fridge.

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