Planning a child’s birthday party can be stressful.

There is the entertainment, the food, the favors to consider. When one of the guests has a food allergy, it adds another planning priority in the mix, keeping that child safe.

My son’s best friend has a life-threatening food allergy.

Anytime my husband and I have his friend in our care, whether it be for a playdate, a sleepover, or especially a party (more chaos, less oversight) we try to put ourselves in his parents’ shoes. It becomes our number one priority to plan for that child’s safety, followed closely by our number two priority of inclusive fun. Ensuring a party is safe (and still fun) for a child with food allergy requires some additional planning and consideration. Here are 5 recommendations from me, an Allergist and mom, for planning a super fun, safe, and inclusive birthday party:

  1. Make a plan

Talk to party guests’ parents ahead of time. Ask about any food allergies. Be specific to ensure you understand exactly which foods they can safely eat and which they cannot eat. For example, some people mistakenly use the term dairy to include eggs and milk. Dairy refers to milk products only. Eggs are not dairy products. Peanuts and tree nuts are common allergens. Not all children with peanut allergy need to avoid tree nuts and vice versa. The bottom line is, find out which specific food names you need to look for on food labels to ensure you do not buy a food containing the child’s food allergen.

Alternatively, sometimes it is easier for parents of food-allergic children to tell you exactly what the child can have, down to a product brand name. For example, if the child cannot have most cakes and ice cream, and can eat a specific national brand cookie, you could have that specific cookie on hand for the child to eat instead of cake and ice cream. The parents may feel more comfortable sending along their child’s own treat.

2. Be food-inclusive if able

Once you know how many food allergies you are dealing with, decide on your menu, including all snacks, treats, drinks. For the sake of this article, let us assume you have one food allergen to avoid. You may be able to create your menu with your child’s favorite foods and still avoid the allergen.

Peanut is a common food allergen. If you were planning to have chicken nuggets with veggies, ranch dip, chocolate cake, and sports drinks, you could make the entire party peanut-free. This would be completely inclusive which is the safest option and the simplest for you.

3. Don’t stress if you are having a hard time making all food-inclusive

If there is more than one food allergen to consider or the food allergen is a common food ingredient, it may seem overwhelming to make the party completely food inclusive.

Milk is another common food allergen. It is a common ingredient in a lot of foods. It can be a hidden ingredient in things like chicken nuggets or french fries. In the same menu above, you would need to ensure the nuggets are dairy-free (no milk, butter, or other milk product). If you cannot find dairy-free nuggets, consider offering a grilled chicken strip option (cooked and presented on separate pans from the milk-containing nuggets). You could swap out the ranch for ketchup or hummus. The cake and frosting would either need to be made without cow’s milk, or you could provide an alternate dessert you know the child with food allergy enjoys and can safely eat. Being partially food inclusive still keeps you from preparing two separate meals.

After you have decided on a menu, review it with the food allergic child’s parent. Once they approve the menu or any substitutions, do not change the menu. With some pre-planning, you can come up with your “golden menu,” one that your child and other guests will enjoy, is within your budget and time constraints, and is approved as safe by the parents of the food allergic child.

4. Get creative with non-food games and party favors

Decreasing the amount of food and drink options at a party makes it easier on you and safer for a food allergic child. If you are thinking that entertainment does not usually include food, think again. Many party games include food, like pies in faces, bobbing for apples, candy tosses, homemade food facials. These are games to avoid. Instead stick with obstacle courses, laser tag, or a food-free spa.

The same advice goes for party favors. If you choose to provide a small gift to party-goers, keep it food-free. This is your chance to get creative within your budget. It is also completely reasonable to opt-out of party favors to keep things safe and simple.

5. Know where the medicine is and how to use it

When the food allergic child arrives at the party, expect to be handed an emergency medication bag. Take the time to step aside with their parent to review the emergency action plan for what to do if the child is accidentally exposed to their food allergen. The best made plans can still result in an accidental ingestion and allergic reaction. Make sure you know how and when to use the medications. Discuss when to call the parent first versus when to call 911 first. Keep the medication bag in a safe place accessible to the allergic child and all adults at the party. If you are not ready for this responsibility, invite the parent to stay for the party (prior to party day). An extra hand is always helpful, and maybe you will make a new friend while you are at it.

Throwing a food allergy-safe birthday party for kids may seem overwhelming. By following these steps to plan ahead you can make sure the party is fun and safe for your child and their friends.