Allergy-free birthday parties

When I was growing up, no one had allergies like me. Fish and nuts are common allergens nowadays but decades ago, having anaphylaxis felt as rare and weird as having a third ear. On bad days, kids at school would tease me and say I should live in a bubble -- like John Travolta in this movie. It's funny in retrospect because fish and tree nuts are relatively easy to avoid for me now, but it speaks to how unusual food allergies were in my world. My parents would send a list of the foods that I was allergic to for all of my friends' parents, to make them aware of what I could and couldn't eat when I went to their house to play. It mostly worked. 

allergy friendly birthday parties

When I got a bit older and went to sleepaway camp, I had to choose a friend to eat separately with me every time fish or nuts were served in the dining hall. The social pressure on that was enormous. Some girls fought over who got chosen and others wanted nothing at all to do with me. The other two hundred campers were instructed to wash their hands and brush their teeth after those meals to keep me safe. Over a loud speaker. Twice a week for 8 weeks. Whether or not they all complied, I can't say for sure, but as you can imagine, it was an unwanted spotlight that highlighted the ways that I was different when all I wanted to do was fit in. The world is a tiny place so it shouldn't have surprised me that during my first semester at college, I ran into someone from that camp. But it did. The first thing she said after recognizing my face was "I washed my hands and brushed my teeth for you!" That's how she remembered me. And so it goes for allergic kids, even today when the rate of allergies is so prevalent and supportive communities are everywhere. We're singled out. 

My kids have an increased risk of having food allergies but as of today, only my youngest has allergies. She can't have dairy or berries but neither of those allergies is life-threatening and I'm told she's likely to outgrow them. She's never tried nuts or fish so we're not sure about those. One of her friends, a sweet, smiley darling kid has lots of food allergies - to gluten, chicken eggs, dairy, nuts, and a whole host of other foods including certain fruits and vegetables and black beans. His mom is used to bringing food to birthday parties so that he's safe, as most allergy moms do today, but given my own childhood allergy experiences, I didn't want him to feel singled out at my daughter's birthday party. 

I spent a week testing several recipes for chocolate cake (my daughter's choice) that were free from gluten, nuts, cow dairy and chicken eggs. The first one, made from dates, butter beans, flax meal and cocoa powder was a complete fail. Also it broke my mini Cuisinart. I consulted the child's mom (she's an absolute pro!) and posted on Facebook and Instagram for recipe help. The internet is a wonderful place, and I received great feedback. Ultimately, I made four cakes with three different recipes for the party -- one that was made without flour of any kind and two that were made with gluten free flour. Two of the three were made with duck eggs (which are safe for him) instead of chicken eggs and one of them was made with goat milk in place of cow dairy. One of the cakes was free from both eggs and dairy. 

Below are links to the recipes. I hope they're useful for you. If so, drop us a line

Gluten Free Wacky Cake

Gluten and Dairy Free Chocolate Roll
allergy friendly birthday cake

Allergies, Birthdays and Special Treatment in the Classroom

I came across this article the other day – a rant from a mom who is fed up about having to accommodate the various food allergies of her child's classmates. The piece was obviously designed to be inflammatory so I hesitate to even get involved here. But this line just fires me up: "Some schools have even gone the route of banning all classroom birthdays and celebrations, which is ridiculous. The fear of one shouldn't outweigh the rest. We don't always get to eat things we want to eat." 

Since when did birthdays become only about the food we eat? How sad it is that our celebrations revolve around food in this way and that as a culture, we have lost the creativity to design birthday celebrations (in schools and otherwise) around the birthday girl or boy and not the sweets. And at what point did the in-class birthday celebration become the end-all, be-all? The author says that "it makes sense to ban certain items when children are too young to ask and avoid foods that they might have sensitivities toward. But once we cross a threshold, personal responsibility and parental education need to come into play." When, I wonder, do people cross that supposed threshold? Is it the same age for everyone? Does it happen when children are ten? When they're thirteen? When they're seven? I highly doubt that parents of children with severe allergies would ever agree on any kind of threshold. I am a grown woman with children of my own and my parents still worry about my allergies. 

It's this kind of disrespect for allergies that keep us down as a society. I have life threatening allergies to nuts and fish and I am tired of this debate. I don't want to force my allergies on everyone and I don't expect to live in a completely nut-free and fish-free world. But I expect to be treated with the same dignity as my non-allergic friends. Having allergies is not a choice I made. 

my life-savers

my life-savers

Two nights ago, while on vacation with my family, I took a bite of a piece of grilled chicken and within seconds, I developed hives in my mouth and had to take Benadryl which put me out of commission for the entire night. There were no nuts or fish hidden in my dish but something was wrong. Somehow in the kitchen, the same utensils that were used on salmon must have been used on my chicken. This kind of lack of hygiene is absolutely abhorrent to me; not only because I have allergies, but also because I have respect for proper food preparation. Cross contamination is a big issue in the allergy community. And that's why even when we talk about having special items available for the allergic children in the classroom, it's never that simple. One of the commenters on that article, a self-proclaimed teacher, wrote "I think it's bullshit. Peanut allergy? Reasonable, don't bring peanuts or peanut butter in. Anything else? Your child can sit on the hallway with a piece of licorice while everyone else eats their homemade cupcakes. Other children shouldn't have to be punished because your child happens to be allergic." Putting aside the fact that there are many allergens that cause reactions just as serious as peanuts, it's completely terrifying that a person who teaches children as his profession is so obtuse about allergy reality. Isolate the allergic child in the hallway in a shaming way? Inhumane. How sad that as a society we are so poorly educated about these issues and that we equate being punished with not eating cupcakes. Frankly I think it's shameful that teachers and parents would ignore this enormous opportunity to teach compassion and understanding about the (very serious) needs of others. My second grader has classmates with anaphylactic allergies. Her teacher espouses tolerance, acceptance and shared responsibility. Schools have an obligation to make the safety of children a top priority. I look forward to the day when we look back on these issues and wonder how we ever could have been so uncaring. 

Special thanks to Sally at Real Mom Nutrition for compiling these terrific food-free ideas for birthday celebrations. 

For an amazing cupcake recipe to celebrate outside of school, here's our family favorite (contains gluten and dairy). 


I've been making cupcakes for my kids' birthdays since my daughter turned 1 in 2007. Over the years, I've experimented with recipes and flavors (for example, one year my daughter requested chocolate mint cupcakes with mint frosting). But I keep coming back to a classic, tried and true recipe for white cake that I got from my mom, who has earned well deserved praise on the subject as a cookbook author and food writer. 


Today my son turns 2! I can't believe how time has just whizzed by. Two years ago, he was an 8 pound, tiny, pink, wrinkly bundle. Today he's a smiling, running, opinion-expressing, jubilant little dude. And that dude has made it very clear that he'd like white cupcakes with purple frosting. He's been talking about it for at least two weeks and telling everyone he meets about his upcoming purple frosting cupcakes. The idea came from one of his current favorite books, Cupcake, by Cherise Mericle Harper. My son's favorite cupcake in the whole book has purple frosting with blue flowers. 

Back to the cupcakes. Friends have been raving about this recipe for years. In fact, even though my daughter's birthday parties are now drop off parties, some of my friends like to either stay or arrive early to get in on the dessert. I'll share my mom's special recipe now (thank you, Mom!) - and wish you all the best in your cupcake adventures. 

White Cupcakes (makes about 12 cupcakes)

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBLSP. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/4 cups milk
  • 5 large egg whites

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with liners. In a large bowl or an electric mixer beat the butter and 1-1/4 cups of the sugar until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If your butter is already at room temperature, you can do this by hand. Add the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in parts, alternating with the milk and gently mixing after each addition. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they stand in soft peaks. Still beating, gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until the mixture stands in stiff peaks. Fold the beaten egg whites into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake tin. Bake about 20-22 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Frost with buttercream frosting and enjoy!