We recently had a birthday party for Dana and Charlotte. It was a relatively small gathering for a few friends and family members at our home. We served lunch, sang happy birthday, and enjoyed cake. No one would ever know that our family, and specifically, our kids ate a diet that was different from any other child at the party.
The lunch spread included deli trays of ham, turkey, roast beef, salami, cheeses, and other antipasto treats like olives and sun-dried tomatoes. We did provide some dinner rolls for those who chose to make sandwiches. The crowd favorite was an enormous bowl of freshly made guacamole. We provided corn chips (gluten-free) and veggies for dipping. There was also lots and lots of fresh fruit. We received many comments on how fresh and delicious the food was. It was not limited to a Paleo diet, as most of our friends and family members eat grains and dairy, but we were still able to provide the birthday girls with a delicious lunch of their favorite Paleo foods.
I can assume that the positive comments that we received from our friends and family were based on the fact that our fare was considerably different from a typical meal served at a kids’ birthday party. Foods of convenience like pizza or frozen hot dogs or hamburgers are the mainstay at kids’ birthday parties these days, and if you are trying to raise a Paleo family, you recognize what a challenge this is.
In the defense of other parents who choose throw a *traditional* party for their child with pizza delivery and store-bought cake, it was a lot of work and a significant expense to provide the spread we did. We woke early to prepare food, made a trip to pick up the deli trays, budgeted the expenses, and planned ahead to find a gluten-free cake that would be okay for the girls to eat. Our situation and lifestyle demands this type of planning and preparation.
We take that same mindset into modern-day parties and social events outside of our home when we know that there are going to be limited options for our kids to eat. Being prepared to attend a birthday party or social event with your children is the same as being prepared to go anywhere. You pack your child’s homework and anything they need for the day when they go to school. You pack a suitcase for going on a trip. Before a birthday party, you even buy and wrap a gift. Thinking about the food that you and/or your child will eat at that party is an often missed but crucially important next step.
Here’s some things to think about when you RSVP for your next kids’ party:
Meal or Entrée
*Email or call the parent and ask what they are planning to serve at the party before you attend. Explain that you are making some changes to your child’s diet and you want to be prepared. You may get lucky and have grilled sausages or barbecued chicken with fresh fruit and veggies.
*Feed your kids a big breakfast or lunch before attending a party where the entrée is not Paleo approved. If they feel full and don’t have a strong desire to eat, allow them to nibble on a few pieces of protein and spend their time playing and enjoying the party.
*Bring your own food. Pack a large snack or a lunch box for your child just as you would if they were going to school. If you feel the need, reach out and explain your child’s special diet. In my experience, this typically does not offend a party host or hostess, especially if you’ve taken care of the meal yourself.
Cake or Dessert
Oftentimes, the cake is the most sought-after part of the party for kids. After they have just consumed pizza or other convenience food, they can’t wait to wolf down a store-bought cupcake loaded with unrecognizable dyes and flavors, not to mention gluten and sugar.
My trick for the cake part of any party is providing a substitute treat that my kids love to eat.
Our family favorites include Curious George Bars and Tootsie Pops. These products including are sugar-laden, but typically gluten-free. (They may not be labeled as such as they may be produced in a processing plant that also processes wheat–please check with the product manufacturer if your child is particularly sensitive) Other options include homemade Rice Krispy treats or a homemade grain free dessert. Our favorite cookbook and website for delicious homemade grain free treats is from Bill & Hayley at the Food Lover’s Primal Palate. We all love the Coconut Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting in cupcake form.
Preparation–for the kids
This post wouldn’t be complete without a note about the uniqueness of your kids. After living Paleo for 2 years and attending numerous birthday parties with a 4-year-old and 7-year-old, I can safely what works for us, but I can obviously not predict what will work for your family.
Some kids are more sensitive to eating something different from the other kids. Other issues may be around giving up favorite foods and sacrificing party foods may just be too much, too soon. If you are leading your family on this Paleo journey, only you know what your kids can handle.
That being said, talking to your kids before any non-Paleo outing and setting expectations is a good rule of thumb. Understanding the needs and listening to the concerns of your kids before you are stuck in a no-win situation at party mealtime goes a long way. With Charlotte, we often show her pictures of where we are going, show her the food we have packed for her to eat, and let her know she has her own treat instead of cake or a cupcake that will “give her a tummy ache.” Dana can tolerate more non-Paleo treats than Charlotte can, so we often compromise with her. She’s a smart and sassy 7-year-old and has learned what we can live with as parents and when we put our foot down. She recognizes that this is our lifestyle, but we also try to be sensitive to how she feels eating something different from other kids. If she really wants a cupcake or piece of pizza, we try to discuss it before we arrive so we are all on the same page.
All of this may seem overwhelming and intimidating at first, but it does get better. Try to be as consistent as you can with your kids while still understanding that they are just kids, after all. As you progress with eating more Paleo foods, they realize that eating birthday party foods makes them feel yucky and cranky. Consistency with your food choices also helps your friends and family members understand that you are making conscious health choices for the sake of your child. Over time, they may become more sensitive and accommodating to your dietary needs. Until then, preparation and practice are the keys to success.