Food Intolerances

Handling Birthday Parties and Social Situations With a Food Intolerant/Allergic Kid

Wednesday September 23, 2015

As Bean became more mobile and her first birthday approached, an odd panic set in: What are we going to do with her at birthday parties?? Or communal snacks at toddler classes?? Or if another parent gives her a snack at the playground??

As usual, this panic could mostly be attributed to suddenly having to deal with something I’d never even thought about before. When babies are little and barely crawling, it’s fairly easy to control what food enters their mouths. This gets harder and harder to do once they’re older.

And then there was that time where we walked away from a positive skin allergy test to peanuts and two days later showed up to an outdoor birthday party where all the babies and toddlers were eating peanut butter sandwiches and peanut butter covered celery sticks. The picnic blankets were encrusted with peanut butter slobber and goo, deep within the weave of the blankets, and all the toys and instruments were likewise smeared. Toddlers ran around with hands, faces, and dresses covered in peanut butter. I stared at the scene dumbfounded, debated dropping the present off, turning around and going back home. We stayed, but Bean didn’t get to play with her peanut-covered friends. (That allergy test ended up being a false positive.)

For a long time, I worried that I’d always have to follow Bean around, wipes in hand, policing everything she touched. Or, I’d have to continuously lunge to keep a well-meaning adult from handing her a cookie.

I’m happy to say the policing has actually been fairly…easy.

Here are some of my lessons learned, in hopes that if you also have a food intolerant/allergic kid, you can see that actually, birthday parties won’t be so bad. Well, that peanut butter birthday party was bad news, but it’s been uphill since.


People have been very good about not offering Bean food. Other parents are very cognizant of the possibility of allergies.

At birthday parties, or playgrounds, or group snacks, I rarely have a problem with someone offering a snack to Bean without first checking to see if it’s ok. And that’s before they know Bean has several food issues. Fellow parents just know that lots of kids have food allergies these days, and know not to share food freely.


But, their children don’t know, so you have to watch out for toddler-to-toddler exchanges

Toddlers very cutely share food with each other. Be on guard for a toddler wandering around with food that might harm your kid.

Thankfully, those toddlers usually also have those awesome, cognizant parents I mentioned above. You wouldn’t believe how many parents would start bringing food they knew Bean could eat too, so their kids could share with her. Other parents can be amazingly kind.


Your food intolerant/allergic kid will understand more than you realize

This is all new to us. But, to our kids, this is the way life has always been.

Bean early on looked suspiciously at anyone who tried to give her food. Or, she’d look up at me to see if it was ok for her to take it. This was all before we started talking about food that made her skin itchy or that made her tummy hurt. This was before she could even talk. I didn’t realize she was old enough to understand those things, but she surmised all on her own that I felt strongly about what she ate. She knew to look for me if food was being offered to her.

Likewise, I used to stress out about open platters of food, imagining she’d be diving for the cheese. That never became a problem. From the time she could walk, she knew Dave and I were the only people who gave her food. She would wait for us to give her food.

And shockingly, she would even recognize which foods we gave her and limit herself to those foods. At one party, a platter included several different brands of crackers, only some of which she could eat. She was only a year old, but she would only pick out the crackers I’d already approved for her.

Around 28 months, she finally knew the right words to tell a fellow toddler: “No thank you, it makes my tummy hurt.” I hadn’t even gotten around to teaching her that yet, but she knew it already.

Our kids are taking in so much more than we realize.


Bring alternative snacks/treats

Yes, it adds an extra layer of work to every social function we go to, but I feel that’s the cost of having a child who can’t eat most foods. It is what it is.

If we’re going to a birthday party, I make and bring dairy, egg, and soy free cupcakes for Bean. If we’re going to a toddler art class where I know the teacher offers snacks, I’ll bring special snacks just for Bean and sneak them over to the teacher before snack time.

In all cases, if I know what foods will be available, I try to replicate the snack as closely as I can so that Bean doesn’t feel separate from her friends. If I know the kids will be offered Goldfish, I bring Annie’s Bunny Grahams. She’s getting something different, but not necessarily less delicious (or less bad for you, sigh.) Kids notice these things.


Schools especially have been pretty accommodating, with a lot of rules against sharing food

In a way, we are benefiting from all of the older children of this food allergy epidemic, who had to fight schools for accommodations before us. All of the preschools we toured had very definite and clear rules about not sharing food, and most were nut-free campuses. One even had a perpetual dairy-free classroom for all the kids with dairy allergies. Usually, all I have to do is tell the teacher, and they treat it as seriously as I do.


Educating unknowing adults will also become routine for you. You’ll get used to being the “food allergy/intolerance mom.”

Bean doesn’t have any allergies, but her food intolerances are so sensitive that she’ll break out in body rashes if a dish has even previously touched dairy. Most people who haven’t been around food intolerant/allergic kids don’t realize how unbelievably sensitive your kid can be. And you will get used to explaining it. Repeatedly. Giving the “no, really”s when they express disbelief.


So, while you’ll still have to be on guard whenever your child is around food, and will have to ensure their safety when they’re at school, I feel that the food intolerance/allergy issue has become something routine for most adults that surround your child. And being the food police will become routine for you and your kid.

I know you’ll still stress about it, but know that it won’t really be so bad.

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