This morning the girls were setting up a pretend birthday party in their playroom. They laid out plastic play cups and plates, Lillie donned a birthday crown, and as far as I could tell Daisie was the only guest. I overheard Rosie tell Lillie that the cupcakes were gluten and allergic for her. Lillie responded that at this party noone is allergic to anything. I thought it was bittersweet. Cute in how even in play Rosie warned Lillie to be careful of the cupcakes, yet a bit sad that my girls could only eat whatever they want in pretend play.
In reality, one who has special dietary needs must be prepared for parties and celebrations. Our holiday season just ended, and for many around the world theirs is just beginning. I have a few strategies to help manage parties with your celiac or allergic child (or even yourself). But, above all your mantra needs to be "Be Prepared!"
1. Talk to your Host: Although it may be awkward to grill your host on what they are serving, it is necessary. I don't expect the host to prepare anything special for my children, but I do try and find out if there is anything they can eat. Recently, a very nice mother sat on the phone with me and read ingredient lists from items she planned to serve at her child's birthday party. I told her it wasn't necessary, but she very much wanted to provide food for Lillie.
2. Cross Contamination Conundrum: After ascertaining from your host whether or not your children will have something to eat at their home, you now have to explain that just because the food is gluten/allergy free doesn't mean they can put it in their mouth. You must explain the dangers of cross contamination, especially at a party when the food is often buffet style, and people may stick a serving spoon from permissible food into non-permissible food and back. Ask if they can take off your child's portion before the food even leaves the kitchen. I was very proud of Lillie when the mother of the birthday girl told me that Lillie said she didn't feel comfortable eating a certain snack even though she knew it was gluten free, because the children were sticking their hands in non-permissible food at the same time. The best thing you can do is prepare your children to advocate for themselves...you can't be there with them 24/7!
3. Pack a Lunch: There may not be food your children can eat at someone else's house, therefore you should pack them an appropriate meal and snack. I find it's always good to try and have your child's meal "fit in" with what the host is serving. This seems to foster a sense of inclusion. For a party last week, I spoke to the mother and found out what she was serving, then prepared a "corresponding" meal for Lillie. The other kids were having pasta, flavored potato chips and cake. So Lillie had gluten free pasta, plain potato chips and a gluten free cupcake. Her friends are used to her toting along food, and it's now basically non-issue. She came home talking excitedly about the games she played and a magic show, and not once mentioned the food.
4. Share a Dish: Ask the hostess if you can bring a main dish or dessert to the party that everyone can enjoy. This way your children will definitely have something to eat, and they won't feel "different". Gluten free lasagna is a good choice, as it is almost indiscernible from the wheat variety (I use Tinkyada brand noodles). Bring something that travels well, such as a casserole or salad. Pyrex makes a line of baking dishes that come with insulated carriers and hot/cold packs. They work beautifully and your dish can hit the table even without being heated up. The less it is "handled" the less risk you have for cross contamination. A plate of cookies or brownies is a good choice, as you avoid the need to use serving utensils. You don't have to worry about someone cutting into a glutenful cake and then using the same cake server for a gluten free cake.
Overall, you want to make the situation run as smoothly as possible for your child so they (and you) can enjoy the celebration! This means a bit of legwork on your part, but it is worthwhile in the end.
This versatile meatless recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin. It can be used either as a main course served with rice on the side or warm corn tortillas. Or, it makes a nice hot dip served with tortilla chips. The original recipe calls for dried beans and whole tomatoes, but why make your life hard, I substitute canned beans and diced tomatoes. The prep time is under 30 minutes with this simple sub.
adapted from Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin, p. 50
2 - 15 ounce cans kidney or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium sized onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
28- ounce can diced tomatoes
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
4 -ounce can mild green chilies, drained and diced (optional)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup sour cream or non-dairy sour cream substitute
2 cups grated (8 ounces) Monterey jack or cheddar cheese or non-dairy soy cheese
1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chilies, oregano, salt and pepper, and raise the heat to high. Cook for five minutes. Add beans, lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes (at this point you can use the beans as a vegetarian chili if you wish).
2. Pre-heat oven 375 degrees. Put half of the bean mixture in a large casserole sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, cover with half of the sour cream and half of the cheese, add the remaining bean mixture, and top with sour cream and cheese.
3. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
Serves 4 as a main course