By Eve Becker
Birthdays are a big deal in our house. Starting weeks beforehand, my kids carefully plan all the food and activities they want to have at their birthday parties. When your child is gluten-free, the planning intensifies. How do you keep the birthday girl safe while entertaining all her friends?
My youngest daughter, who has celiac disease, just turned 9. Over the past seven years, we’ve hosted many fun birthday parties for her, filled with games, crafts and amazing gluten-free birthday cakes.
Here are some of our tips for making gluten-free birthday parties a success:
— Make an awesome gluten-free cake. Let’s face it, the cake is usually the centerpiece for the birthday (though I am amazed that my kids have friends who “don’t like cake” — heresy!). Bake a trial cake beforehand to make sure the recipe tastes great. I love King Arthur’s gluten-free chocolate cake mix. The rich, fudgy cake is delicious, and kids always ask for seconds (and sometimes for thirds). For frosting, I use the “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Frosting recipe on the side of the Hershey’s cocoa box.
—If you don’t feel comfortable baking a gluten-free cake or cupcakes, try making an ice cream cake or offer a make-your-own ice cream sundae bar and have a multitude of toppings including sprinkles, chocolate chips, M&Ms, chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
— If you make a gluten-free cake or dessert, whatever you do, don’t advertise the treats as gluten-free. For some reason, if people (especially adults) hear the word “gluten-free,” they tend to avoid it like the plague. Teach your kid to be proud of being GF, but if you want people to eat your treats, don’t advertise them as such. (Or as I like to say, “I spent an hour baking that dessert, they better darn well eat it.”)
— Take a cake decorating class before the big birthday bash. A kid’s birthday cake must look good as well as taste good. If you can’t take a cake decorating class, toss on some colorful sprinkles and buy a couple of cute cake toppers (or even small plastic figurines) to put on top of the cake. For cupcakes, experiment to learn how to pipe frosting with a pastry bag.
— Plan the birthday party at a time that does not involve lunch, like from 10 am to noon, or 3 to 5 pm. Kids do not need pizza at every birthday party. Not only will this save you money, but you won’t have to decide whether to serve gluten-free pizza to everyone (if so, it better taste good), or to have both GF and non-GF pizza and then worry about kids running around with greasy-pizza-gluten hands.
— For gluten-free snacks, think about Pirate’s Booty, popcorn, Pop Chips and grapes. For healthy options, try make-your-own fruit kebabs or a make-your-own smoothie bar.
— Advocate for your school to adopt a policy of no edible birthday treats. Honestly, most kids do not need another cupcake. Instead, kids can bring in a non-edible treat to share with their classmates (pencils, erasers, party favors). Other ideas: Schools can announce the names of the birthday kids over the school’s P.A. system, or schools can invite birthday kids to pick out a special book from a stash purchased by the PTA. This avoids allergens in the classroom and helps to combat excessive sweets and childhood obesity. If your school makes it a rule (not just an optional choice), you’ll be surprised at how quickly it will become an accepted part of school culture.
— If your son or daughter is going to a friend’s birthday party, ask the host in advance what food they will be serving. Send your kid with a cupcake (in a cupcake carrier that will keep it from getting smushed), an individual-sized gluten-free pizza (or the GF equivalent of whatever food they are serving), appropriate safe snacks and hand wipes. Stay at the party to serve your kid her special food, or ask a non-busy adult to make sure your child gets her food on a clean plate, served with clean hands.
Eve Becker shares recipes and tips for gluten-free families on her blog, www.glutenfreenosh.com. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters, the youngest of whom has celiac disease. Visit Gluten-Free Nosh on Facebook (facebook.com/GlutenFreeNosh) or Twitter (@GlutenFreeNosh). Eve also writes about food allergies and food sensitivities for Living Without magazine (www.livingwithout.com).