My Own Slice of Cake: A Guide to Planning Parties with a Food-allergic Guest
Imagine being at a party where the host makes sure that you are able to eat the food so that you can have fun. It doesn’t take much imagination, right? Not for about 32 million Americans!
I’ve been to so many parties where I’ve had to bring my own meals, my own snacks, and even my own slice of cake. This may sound sad and not very fun. I’ve come to realize how much work it was for my parents, who had to pack all my food. But with food allergies on the rise to epidemic proportions, food allergy awareness has increased. With that, people have started asking me, “Hey, what can I do to help make sure your time at my party is fun and safe, especially since you have allergies?” This is an awesome question to anyone who has food allergies, and I hope that by reading this, you’ll be equipped to respond with an equally awesome reply!
Here are some tips you can give to your party planning friends who want to make sure that your time at their party is fun and safe:
Before the Party
Start with the Invitation
If you’re sending out an invite, chances are that you’re going to use an electronic invite form. Make a section for guests to write down their food allergies when they RSVP for your party.
Read Ingredient Labels Learn how to read an ingredient label. Big tip: Look down below where it says in bold, CONTAINS WHEAT or CONTAINS NUTS. Also, look to see if it says “MAY CONTAIN” This makes it easy to spot any food allergens in the food or any cross-contamination.
Take a Picture of Ingredient Labels In case you aren’t sure about whether or not the food is safe, take a picture of the ingredient labels and send them to your food-allergic guests. It takes experience to correctly read an ingredient label, and you don’t want to take the chance that you might overlook something. A big point is cross-contamination. Some food-allergic people can eat something made on equipment processed with their allergen; others can’t eat the food even if it’s made in a facility that processes their allergen. So taking a picture of the labels and sending them to your food-allergic guests could be the difference in safety and accidental exposure.
Talk to the Caterers If you’re not cooking the food, but you’re catering, give the main chef a list of the food allergens ahead of time. Do this in writing. And remember to ask about cross-contamination! If the chef cannot guarantee safety, then this is something to consider. Even if you tell your food allergic guest that the caterer cannot guarantee safety, your guests can make their own choice about what to do. Plus, they’ll really appreciate your efforts.
During the Party
Be Prepared! Ask your guests if they brought their allergy medicine, like their epi-pen. Help them keep their medication in a cool place, out of the sunlight. And another tip is to ask your food-allergic guests if they have a buddy who can spot an allergic reaction and call for help.
Food-Allergic Guests Go First Let the food-allergic person go first to get food in a buffet line before there is inevitable cross-contamination. If the party is fancy and people are served their meals, it still would be a great idea to allow the servers to serve those with food accommodations first.
Party Favors This might not apply to many parties, but something to consider is whether or not you are giving party favors. Be creative! Think outside the box in terms of party favors. Often the favors are candy or sweets, but you could try non-edible favors as well! There are a lot of things to choose from, such as small toys and books, trading cards, bubbles, glow sticks, and temporary tattoos. On top of these party favors being allergy-free, they are also a lot healthier than snacking on candy.
After the Party
Check-In Ask your friends how they felt during the party. Did they feel included? My family and I will never forget the parties when the hosts went out of their way to accommodate my food allergies. My parents didn’t have to worry about hounding the chef if the food was okay, and I ate hot food like everyone else. It feels really good when someone goes out of their way to make sure that you can have fun at their party.
Being a host means wearing lots of hats, but going out of your way to make sure your food-allergic guests are safe could be one of the best things you could ever do as a friend. It takes effort, but it’s incredible that you’re already thinking of how to care for them. Being a food-allergic person myself, I know how it feels when you’re included in the eating part of the party. My best party ever? The one where I didn’t bring my own slice of cake.