Birthday parties, holiday celebrations, and festivities at the end of the school year are huge events for kids. And food is often the centerpiece of these events.

Your child’s school may have already briefed you on food allergy information regarding safe lunches and snacks to pack. This same attention to detail is important when hosting parties where food will be served.

The Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization estimates that about 32 million Americans have food allergies (1).

Here’s how to plan a rocking party that keeps everyone’s safety in mind.

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The nine foods responsible for the most allergic reactions include (2, 3):

  • milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • wheat
  • soybeans
  • fish
  • crustacean shellfish
  • sesame (to be added as of Jan. 1, 2023)

In fact, these foods trigger up to 90 percent of all reported allergic reactions (2).

Each person’s allergy response is unique. One child might be allergic to only wheat, for example, while wheat, eggs, and tree nuts may affect another child.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, symptoms of allergic reaction can range from mild skin irritation to abdominal discomfort to life threatening anaphylaxis. These symptoms can include (2):

  • hives
  • flushed skin or rash
  • tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth
  • face, tongue, or lip swelling
  • vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • coughing or wheezing
  • dizziness and/or lightheadedness
  • swelling of the throat and vocal cords
  • difficulty breathing
  • drop in blood pressure

It may take only a small amount of a certain allergen to produce a dangerous reaction in the body. Since food allergies particularly affect younger children, try planning your menus with this information in mind:

  • Ask ahead. Chat with other parents ahead of time to learn about any food allergies their children have. Don’t feel that asking is invasive. Parents will probably appreciate your concern.
  • Write it up. If you’d rather not ask in person, consider adding a line in your invitation or RSVP notice where
    parents can indicate food allergies. That way, when you’re planning your menu, you can avoid ingredients that might cause a reaction.
  • Label foods. When you’re getting together all the party supplies and decor, write out clear labels for any foods that might contain allergens. You could also slap on a few safety stickers for easy and clear messaging that even younger kids can understand.
  • Avoid contamination. Avoid cross-contamination by placing food strategically. You don’t want peanut crumbs, for example, to get mixed in with peanut-free alternatives.
  • Go prepared. If your child has a food allergy and is going to a party, speak with the host. If you don’t plan to attend the party, make sure that someone knows about medication or emergency measures. Give the host your phone number and any additional instructions.

You can also give your child a printed card with their allergy information clearly outlined.

An allergy-free food party doesn’t have to be bland.

You can find a good number of exciting and tasty snacks, meal, and dessert ideas by searching databases like the one from Kids with Food Allergies. Browse by the dish you want to serve, define the ingredients you want to avoid, and get cooking.

You can also find ideas at Living Allergic and Snack Safely.

Food allergies don’t need to exclude anyone from the fun. With some planning and substitutions, you can host an amazing birthday party that everyone can enjoy. You might even find a few new favorite recipes in the process.