by Katrina Roe
As the parent of a peanut-allergic child, the biggest problem I face is this: people think they already know it all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that all the food at a child’s party is peanut-free, only to discover, on closer enquiry, that the food isn’t quite as ‘nut-free’ as they thought it was.
This is because many processed foods contain the warning: ‘May contain traces of peanuts’.
If a child is anaphylactic to nuts, these foods cannot be considered ‘nut-free’ or ‘safe’ foods. It’s wonderful that the food doesn’t contain actual nuts, but it doesn’t mean allergic children, like my daughter, can actually eat it. Having said that, it doesn’t matter if the allergic child can’t eat everything at the party as long as they know which foods are safe for them. Just quietly let them or their parent know. Try not to make a big song and dance about the child’s allergy in front of their friends. Nobody wants to be singled out as different. The whole reason I wrote my book, Marty’s nut-free Party was to make sure that allergic children aren’t excluded from having fun with their friends.
So here are a few tips on how to make children’s parties more allergy-friendly.
Find out as much as you can about the child’s food allergy.
Call the allergic child’s parents a week or two before the party to find out exactly what they are allergic to, how severe the allergy is and which foods are safe or unsafe for them. Although this sounds obvious, in my experience most parents don’t bother to do it. Don’t assume you already know. For example, did you know that Masterfoods tomato sauce carries the warning ‘May contain traces of peanuts’ while Fountain, Pops and Heinz are peanut-free? It’s so easy to replace the unsafe food with another brand if you know. –
Fresh is best!
Whenever I’m being interviewed about my book, radio announcers like to joke that all you can serve kids today is a carrot stick. While this is not exactly true, it touches on an important point. Fresh foods are safest. The more processed a food is, the more likely it is to be contaminated. Popular choices with kids are carrot sticks and home-made dips, fresh berries, watermelon and other fruits, popcorn, sandwiches and home-made cakes. Safer processed foods are those with fewer ingredients – plain rice crackers, plain potato chips, jelly and yoghurt (unless the child is dairy-allergic). There are also an increasing number of specialist nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free and gluten-free treats in the health food section of the supermarket. –
Keep the packaging of any processed food you serve so the parent of the allergic child can check the label and decide whether or not the food is safe.
Wash your hands, utensils and chopping boards regularly when cooking or serving food to avoid cross-contamination.
If possible, try to make a cake that all the children can eat.
So often the allergic kid is given a snake lolly when everyone else is eating birthday cake. If you’re unsure how to make a suitable cake, talk to the child’s parents. I always recommend wacky cake as it tastes good and is naturally free of egg, nuts and dairy (Just check the cocoa for traces of nuts!). Wacky cake can also be made with gluten-free flour. The birthday cake is such a key part of the celebrations that it’s nice if everyone can have a piece. Even though the children only ever seem to eat the icing!
Party bags can be a problem.
Try not to give the allergic child a bag full of treats they can’t eat. Ask the child’s parent to bring a few things to pop into their party bag instead. Most parents of allergic children are happy to go the extra mile to make sure their children don’t miss out.
Friends are more important than food.
If your child wants to eat a food that may be dangerous to their friend, remind them that it’s more important to look after our friends than to eat a certain food. Let them enjoy that food later in the day when their friend has gone home. Hopefully with a bit of care, we can make children’s birthday parties safe and fun for everyone.
What nut-free snacks do you provide at your parties?
Katrina Roe is a broadcaster, blogger and children’s author. Her picture book Marty’s Nut-Free Party was released with Wombat Books on September 1, 2012. Visit her at her blog or facebook. To see all of Katrina’s articles, click here.