My seven-year-old client, Philip, is healing from multiple food sensitivities and severe eczema. He was on Stage 3 of the GAPS Intro diet when he was invited to a classmate’s birthday party, and his mom, Allison, was really nervous. She wasn’t even sure that he should go because there would be lots of corn and sugar-filled foods that Philip couldn’t eat. She was worried that he’d feel left out of the festivities, and she was also worried that he might sneak something that would worsen his severe eczema symptoms. She asked me how they should handle food allergies and birthday parties.
I’m a huge believer in healing diets, and was invested in Philip continuing to improve, but I also think that we need to evaluate each situation thoughtfully so that our kids don’t feel completely left out of so-called “normal” food traditions, or feel socially isolated.
Rather than making the decision for Allison, I chose to lay out these options, and explained how I think through them, so she could make the best choice for this birthday party, and the future invites.
Four Options for Food Allergies and Birthday Parties
Option 1: Arrive after, or leave before, meal or dessert time.
There’s no law that says your child has to attend this festivity for the entire duration. Ask the hosting parents if it would be okay for you guys to show up late or leave early based on when the food will be served. This might not work for every party, because some parties are organized around grazing the entire time, but if it’s a McDonald’s birthday party that includes eating and then going in the play area, for example, you can just show up for playtime.
Option 2: Bring a replacement treat.
The most common thing parents do to navigate food allergies and birthday parties is to bring a replacement treat that they’ve prepared at home. Depending on the age of your child you’ll want to discuss this with them, maybe giving them a couple of options, to be sure that it’s something they’ll be excited about and will feel satisfied with.
Option 3: Bring some of your super-delicious food to share.
Your special diet is working for your family or you wouldn’t keep doing it, so why not share a favorite discovery with everyone? If it’s a potluck or another type of party where it would be appropriate, bring something your kid enjoys that they can also share with everyone. What we think of as “health food” can be a real treat for other people who never get homemade food.
Option 4: Don’t follow your dietary rules so strictly.
If your kid isn’t suffering from a serious disease like Celiac or an anaphylactic allergy, it’s not life or death. I’m not saying you should throw out your whole way of eating for this party (although you could), but can you choose a compromise before you show up? What are the consequences of a treat? Are they worth it?
Maybe your kid gets bloated from corn tortillas, but isn’t allergic. How about giving them a digestive enzyme at meal time? Maybe they get a stomach ache after eating fries, but they are adamant that it’s going to be worth it. You can agree to it and talk through how they feel about that choice if they complain later.
If you’re early on a plan like the GAPS Diet, and it doesn’t allow things like fruit or nuts at the moment, you may choose to make an exception and serve something more “advanced” for this one afternoon. One meal isn’t going to blow a whole special diet.
There’s not one right answer.
Decide your boundaries and your treats in advance. They don’t have to be what you did last year, or last birthday party. And yes, you can change them next time too. In this case, Allison chose to bring coconut flour tortillas to swap for taco shells, and made some hazelnut flour cookies.
Use your best judgment here based on how your kid has healed and how far they’ve come from their super-picky habits. There may be consequences, and you’ll be the one to deal with them.
Other people’s opinions
When we make new choices, others become hyper-aware of their own food habits, and that can lead them to feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. You can communicate that you’re making the choices that are right for your family, and the choices that they make for their family are their own. No judgment on either side.
While some friends and family may have strong opinions about what your kid eats, it’s often when they sense your worry or ambivalence. When YOU are 100% comfortable with the path that you’ve chosen and how your kid eats, others will respect your decisions. Anytime you’re making choices that are outside of mainstream thinking, your mindset is vital to your confidence.