If your child is going to a birthday party or other celebration or event at a home where they do not know about your child’s special diet, always contact the host family before the party and discuss food options. Even if the host is familiar with your child’s diet, check with them ahead of time to discuss food choices and preparation.
When you call in advance, explain the special diet needs and ask what kinds of food will be served. If possible, get the brand names of all foods served, including ice cream, snacks and candy, so you can check to make sure they are gluten-free ahead of time. Then, with the hosts’ permission, prepare GF cupcakes or a gluten-free cake for your child to eat and provide gluten-free alternatives for any candy or snacks that they can’t eat.
Sometimes, especially with younger kids, the other kids will want to try some of whatever your kid has because it looks special (or delicious: check out the deep dark chocolate cake recipe on this site), so it’s a good idea to bring along some extra to share. Make sure your child gets served their special food first in case there isn’t enough for all. If you don’t have enough to share, be as discrete as possible when serving your child.
When the ice cream is dished out, be sure your child gets served first because the scoop can pick up crumbs from the cake and contaminate it. If other foods or candies will be served, check ahead of time and provide substitutes for your child if necessary.
Some hosts may offer to prepare a special cake for your child. While we appreciate the consideration this shows, this is not an ideal situation; it is hard to prepare a gluten-free cake in a house where gluten is used. Unless the family really understands food allergies and what is needed to make the cake gluten-free, including issues of cross contamination and the need to use a cake pan that is either new or spotless, it’s best to bring your own cake. Thank the host for their gracious offer and mention the challenges involved in preparing a gluten-free cake. Emphasize that making a special cake is part of your party routine and it is no trouble for you.
For pizza parties, frozen pizza (either homemade or purchased; see the pizza crust recipe on this site) can be heated up at home and carried to the party in an insulated carrier with a heat pack. If the pizza will be heated up at the party, provide a piece of parchment paper to bake it on to avoid cross contamination from the pan.
If you can’t go to the party with your child, be sure the host understands what needs to be done to assure that your child eats gluten-free. Older kids and teens should be taught how to navigate the challenges of parties on their own. While this sounds like you are being a helicopter mom or dad, remember that you are keeping your child healthy. Most hosts want their guests to have a good time, and are willing to work with you if you approach them openly, graciously, and with as much flexibility and consideration for their plans as possible. Be sure to contact the host well in advance of the event so they aren’t overwhelmed at the last minute.
For parties that are catered or at a party venue or restaurant, you’ll also need to contact the event coordinator at the venue.