Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Happy Allergy-Friendly Birthday! | Guest Post

I have vivid memories of attending birthday parties as a kid. I loved running around with my friends, playing games like pin the tail on the donkey and musical chairs. But what sticks out in my mind from the majority of the parties I attended was having to be very diligent about what I ate. I was sent with a list of instructions from my mom about what I could/couldn't eat and usually a bag full of food that was just for me. Now didn't I sound like the life of the party?!

Being so hyper-aware of allergies and what was and wasn't typically in both homemade and store bought food at such a young age definitely wasn't something I enjoyed. In fact, I hated it! All I wanted to do was eat what the other kids were eating! But knowing the ins and outs of cooking and eating for allergies has come in very handy over the years, more than ever, now, as I have a child of my own who is leaning in the direction of being just like me in the allergy department (sorry kiddo!). But I'm ready. I can swap out ingredients in recipes like nobody else. So if you're new to the allergy arena, cooking either for your own little one, or that poor, allergy-riddled kid who will be coming to your son or daughter's next birthday party, here's a bit of help. Just a few simple swaps can make any recipe safe for even the toughest-to-feed child.

So what's on the menu for an allergy-free party?                                        
It's a party so toss out a bowl of salt 'n vinegar chips and some Doritos and you'll be all set, right? Wrong, especially for dairy sensitive kids. Salt 'n vinegar flavouring, for example, almost always contains milk ingredients, and of course, anything nacho-flavoured will as well. But this doesn't mean you can't have easy snacks lying about. Just choose crowd pleasing yet safe flavours like salted; try corn or rice chips for gluten/wheat sensitive individuals, served with salsa or guacamole; or pop your own kernels and top with a little olive oil and different herbs or nutritional yeast for a healthier popcorn.

Fruit and veggie platters are always safe bets as well, and can be made more appealing by using different shaped cookie cutters (stars, hearts, etc.) or creating fruit kebabs. 

Main Course
Pizza, hot dogs and deli sandwiches are all great regular party staples, but can be loaded with danger for the allergic kids in the group. If you're looking to make a meal everyone can enjoy without a ton of work, I suggest sticking to whole foods. These are foods that have not been processed in any way. You know all the ingredients because you can see all the ingredients, right in front of you. If the idea of serving just whole foods is leaving you a bit stumped, I suggest the following, very easy to handle homemade fare, which are all kid and adult favourites, made allergy friendly. The best part is, those with regular diets won't even know they're eating 'safe' food!
  • Chicken breast tossed in gluten free breadcrumbs and oven baked for everyone's favourite - chicken strips!
  • Chicken wings made by ditching any flour dredging and opting instead for a salt and pepper toss before throwing them on the bbq
  • Tacos - you can even have a 'make your own' taco bar set up with corn tortillas/shells, rice, beans, veggies and meat
  • Homemade burgers - turkey, beef or veggie - with regular buns as well as gluten free buns or lettuce for wrapping the patties of wheat sensitive diners
  • Meatballs, omitting the breadcrumbs or eggs, depending on the allergy
  • Sushi platter, safe for most, so long as you steer clear of any rolls with sauce (soy allergy) or any tempura rolls (gluten allergy)
  • Side dishes - potato salad (use olive oil instead of mayo for egg allergies), green salad, macaroni salad (gluten free macaroni is easy to find!), potato wedges baked in olive oil and herbs, rice or quinoa salads...the options go on and on here!
Birthday Cake
If you'll be making a cake or cupcakes from a box mix, there are a few swaps that can be easily accomplished. Usually, the recipe on the box calls for the cake mix, water, butter, vanilla and eggs.  Let's address each one separately.

Dairy Replacement
For a dairy allergy, you'll obviously want to avoid the butter. An easy substitute for butter in a baking recipe is an equal part of mashed up fruit, such as pear or apple (canned or fresh, either works). The fruit flavour will be subtly present in the finished product, which isn't a bad thing, I personally enjoy it, but it's something to be aware of, especially if you have potentially picky eaters. You can always add in a few dairy-free chocolate chips (like those made by Enjoy Life Foods) to distract them though! If you don't want to use fruit, another option is to use coconut oil as a butter substitute. If you've never experimented with coconut oil, I recommend it! It comes in a tub-style container and is actually solid at room temperature, not liquid, so you can scoop it out just as you would with butter. It can be a bit pricey but you only need to use 3/4 of the amount the recipe calls for. Example - recipe calls for 1 cup butter, use 3/4 cup coconut oil instead. Just like the fruit substitute adds a bit of extra flavour, so too will the coconut oil. But if you enjoy the taste of the tropics then you'll like this swap.

Egg Replacement
To replace eggs, there are a few tricks. Eggs act as binders in recipes so you're looking for something that has a sticky quality. The easiest option, if you're already running to the store, is to buy a box of egg-substitute. It's just a powder mix to which you add water. I like EnerG brand myself and it's pretty readily available. If though you'd prefer to use ingredients you already have on hand, you can try any of the following to replace one egg: 1/2 mashed up banana; 1/4 cup tofu (make sure soy isn't an allergy issue if going this route); 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 3 Tbsp water; or a mix of 2 Tbsp water, 1 Tbsp oil and 2 tsp baking powder.

Gluten-Free Replacements 
If gluten free is what you're after, well, you'll have to either make the cake mix from scratch with gluten free flours or try out one of the amazing new Betty Crocker gluten free cake mixes. They are available in yellow or chocolate at most grocery stores and are my go to when I need to quickly whip up a cake. I've fed them to avid gluten eaters and they can't tell the difference. If you'll be using the gluten free yellow mix, be sure you also use gluten free vanilla flavouring. The regular kind may trigger a reaction in gluten sensitive kids.

Planning an allergy-free party doesn't have to be a ton of extra work and ensures all the party-goers, especially the ones with allergies, feel included and just like all their friends. And having a safe menu allows you to relax and have a good time too, focusing on making memories with your kids, not worrying whether or not Johnny is staying out of the trail mix and Suzie has her hands off the icecream cake.

OneStopMamaShop is a blog offering advice, information and practical tips for all new mamas who are navigating the wonderful worlds of pregnancy and motherhood. 

The blog's author is based in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, so some of the posts are regional and apply specifically to mamas in that locale, though the many product recommendations, general pregnancy and baby-care information, and stories on the ups and downs of motherhood are universal, for any and all mamas to share in and enjoy.