Easy Play Date Planning Tips For Kids With Food Allergies
It takes a village to keep Super Awesome kids with food allergies safe.
Preferably it’s a village full of people with medical degrees, photographic memories, and lots of free time. But if your village doesn’t quite look like that, don’t despair! As post-pandemic life begins to include birthday parties, play dates, and group events again, kids with food allergies can join in the fun. Splashing at the pool party, dinner at a friend’s house, or the family BBQ can all be safe activities with some extra planning and “village” education. Yes, it takes work and patience and a bit of hovering. It’s tiring to remind a family member or a classmate’s parents yet again that ice cream contains dairy, or that “just a little bit” of peanut butter is not okay. It's not easy to be the one kid at the party who can't eat the pizza or the chocolate cake. But your child can have fun with their friends and enjoy seeing family again without feeling left out. And you can prevent allergen exposure without losing your sanity or annoying everyone you know.
Here are some steps toward making parties and play dates less stressful and more fun:
Talk to the host several days before a play date or a party. Don’t wait until the day of the event when they’re busy or frazzled. Explain your child’s allergies and ask what food will be served. Even if the host is a friend or a family member, they may need a reminder. Let them know that you don’t expect them to provide lots of safe alternatives for your child – we all know how much work goes into planning a party! But you’re giving them a heads up in advance, which they will probably appreciate. Sharing our Digital Food Allergy Card can simplify this, so you don’t need to hand them a printout.
Choosing to bring a safe meal or treat for your child can take the pressure off everyone. Remember to label containers and try to bring easy things that don’t need a lot of preparation. If it’s a “drop off” event, ask your host if an adult will supervise while the kids are eating, explain the signs of a reaction, and how to respond if necessary. You might feel safer having most play dates at your own home if other parents are not comfortable taking action.
Talk to your child before any event and ask about their feelings or concerns. They might enjoy having their own meal or treat. Or, they might prefer to avoid eating all together and either leave a party before food is served or arrive afterward. If that’s the case, let your host know so they aren’t confused by your lateness or early exit. Tell your child what they can do and have, not just what’s off limits. They might not get to eat the piñata candy, but they will get to jump in the bouncy castle!
Social events can be opportunities to teach your child how to manage their allergies in public. Of course, this should be age appropriate, but starting early will help your child grow more independent. Go over important habits like hand washing and what to do if they encounter an allergen. Talk about how to politely refuse food or treats when necessary. Even foods with safe ingredients can have a greater risk of cross-contamination at an event. It might be harder for kids to say no to trusted friends or relatives, so give them the tools to speak up with confidence.
Unfortunately, not everyone in the village will understand about vigilance or know the difference between a food allergy and lactose intolerance. (Yeah, not the same thing, guys.) Well-meaning grandparents might still show up with homemade cookies or misread the soy ingredients on a package. Busy parents can easily forget to take the candy out of your child’s goody bag. But most people will genuinely want to help keep your child safe and make them feel included. And as you educate your village, you’re also helping every other kid with food allergies who lives there. One day, they’ll build you a monument!