At the grocery store the other day, I overheard a woman talking to with another woman about her child's upcoming birthday party. She rambled on about how difficult it would be to accommodate one of the children coming to the birthday party-who was on a gluten-free diet. She complained that she wished that they had not invited the child, since it would be "such a pain" to accommodate their dietary needs.
I wanted to give her a piece of my mind, but held my tongue. Was it the child's fault that they had a food allergy? Did that woman ever look at it from the child's point of view? Did they ask for this difficulty? No. These children know they are different. It must be embarrassing for them to deal with such a unique allergy in the public eye. Instead of complaining, the woman should have been compassionate of the difficult situation, as well as the health risks that child has to deal with on a daily basis. For these children, and their families, it is not just an inconvenience, it is a matter of sickness, or even death.
I am fortunate to have a child with no food allergies. But I live in the real world (most of the time), and in that world, there are people around us who do have special dietary needs. We have kids at our house all the time, and I would hate to have one of those children get sick because of something I mistakenly fed them. It would also break my heart if they could not come to our house, just because I could not be bothered to accommodate them a little bit. They would feel left out, and my son would miss out on a friendship.
As moms, we need to know what to do when situations like this arise, so below are a few of my suggestions...
1. I send most of our party invitations online. When emailing the invitations to parents, I specifically ask if their child has any allergies, or dietary needs that I should be aware of.
2. If a child attending our party has an allergy, I call the parents to find out what I can do to accommodate their child. I find out if their allergy requires the use of an Epi Pen. Fortunately, I know how to use one from my student teaching/PTA days, but it is important to learn how to use one, if you have kids in your house with allergies.
3. I also go online and Google the allergy, so I am knowledgeable of the foods they can and cannot eat, the symptoms they may have if they accidentally ingest an allergen, and anything else that would help the child be more comfortable and safe at our house.
4. I make an effort to provide additional "safe" foods. I plan out my menus ahead of time, so send the parents (of the child with allergies) a copy of the menu, with additional dietary adjustments, for their approval.
5. Once I know a child's allergy, I keep a small file with their name, as well as a list of approved and unapproved foods. Most certainly, that child will come to our house again, so I will be able to refer to that file in the future, without going through the same procedure with the parents every time. I keep that file folder with my cookbooks.
6. Don't alienate the child or make a big deal about it. If you have already talked to the parents, the parents have also talked to their child, so they know what they can and cannot eat. Don't embarrass them by pointing out the accommodations you have made, especially in front of other children.
7. Within those dietary limits, offer foods that everyone can eat. One of my sons friends, who comes to all our parties, is on a gluten-free diet. I always keep Pirates Booty, a gluten-free snack, in the house, so everyone can snack on it, not just Lily. I also found that the frozen sorbet in real fruit shells from Costco, Island Way Sorbet, is gluten-free. Even our local pizza shop offers a gluten-free pizza (many pizza shops do now, just ask yours!) . We order a gluten-free pizza for her, and she eats pizza the same as the other kids--super easy! Of course, fresh fruit and veggies are always a healthy option for everyone (unless they have a particular fruit or veggie allergy.)
Offering a few additional foods to accommodate children on special diets is really not a big deal, and certainly not the big deal that the woman at the grocery store made! I realize that some diets are harder to adjust than others, but with parents help, you can make having kids at your house a fun and safe experience.