How to Have an Allergy-Safe Birthday Party

But first, a small rant:

Last week we were down in Southern Ontario visiting the grandparents, and I rather cavalierly didn’t pack too much food. I took some snacks and things, but mostly I thought I’d be able to get what we needed there. Because the people of Southern Ontario eat, right? They have access to food, somehow? Yes?

But I was surprised to find very few options for the Captain to eat. We hit up several grocery stores and they’d have rice milk, maybe, and one kind of gluten free pasta, if we were lucky, and one store had a small selection of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flours in the cereal aisle. That was IT.

Here in Kanata I live within a fifteen minute drive of not one, but two dedicated alternative food grocery stores – the Natural Food Pantry and the Rainbow Foods (shout out to both, you are AWESOME). My closest grocery store, the Superstore, has two whole aisles devoted to alternative/gluten free/allergy-focused foods and I can actually get at least half of the food I need for the Captain on my regular grocery run. Nearby there’s a Farm Boy, which is a smaller grocery store chain here in town – they have a row of gluten-free stuff and they also stock a line of local, fresh-baked breads and treats that are gluten, egg, milk, and nut free (AND tasty, you people are AMAZING). Right next door to the Farm Boy is the Bulk Barn, which is my number one stop for alternative flours of all kinds, as well as the corn pasta the Captain loves and plenty of other alternative treats and snacks. Oh, and in the rare instance I can’t find what I need at any of these FIVE stores, there’s the giant Loblaws in Barrhaven, still within a 15 minute drive, which stocks not only a lot of unusual gluten free foods, but has a huge selection of organic/chemical free toiletries.

So you can see why I kind of thought that access to foods like this was kind of…common. I am now so incredibly grateful to live where I live. I’m not sure if food allergies are just more common in the Ottawa area, or if we just have more enterprising entrepreneurs, or if we’re just more aware, or what, but in Cambrige and Mississauga at least, you can’t just wander into a grocery store and pick up some millet flour, corn pasta, and Enjoy Life cookies. No siree.

I admit I got a little sad and weepy while we were away because despite my son’s super restrictive diet, I never have to think of him as being really different from other kids, because food that’s safe for him is so widely available here. In Southern Ontario was the first time I ever thought of him as being really high maintenance, special needs, different. And it was tough.

But now we are home, all is well, and I’m putting it behind me.

Anyway! End rant. Moving on.

I get asked all the time what kind of treats the Captain can eat. It was his birthday this week and we had a very small gathering at the house and trust me, there was no lack of sugar.

Here’s what we served:

Gluten Free Cupcakes, as described in this post.

Krispie Squares:

krispie squares

These are made from Koala Crisp Cereal which are chocolate flavoured and make THE BEST treat squares ever. The Captain’s class went NUTS for them. Speaking of nuts, Koala Crisps are a may-contain product for peanuts/nuts but the Captain, who is super sensitive, is fine with them. You can just substitute canola oil for the melted butter and I use no-name brand marshmallows.

Corn Twists:

corn twists

These contain “vegetable oil” which sometimes means soy. But the Captain is fine with them. They are like bits of salty air. Yet SO ADDICTIVE.

Plain Flavour Pringles:


Actually most plain flavour chips are fine for him but Pringles are our This Is A Special Event treat food.

Ice Cream Sundaes:


The Captain had Rice Dream vanilla ice cream. I have an ice cream maker and I have some good “alternative” type recipes he likes but frankly, the Rice Dream is better. The other kids had regular milk-based ice cream. I put out bowls of coloured mini marshmallows, various kinds of sprinkles, strawberries, and Enjoy Life brand mini chocolate chips. The non-allergic got to have spray-on whipped cream, if desired. This was a last minute idea of mine; next time if I am better prepared I will make up some Captain-safe chocolate sauce.

Cream Soda:

fanta cream soda

Man, do I ever hate pop. I think it’s really one of the worst foods on the planet. But in the last few months we’ve allowed it to creep into the Captain’s diet as a treat food. It’s safe for him, and it’s widely available, so when the girls are in a situation where they are having (say) ice cream or donuts or chocolate bars, the Captain gets to have pop. Cream Soda is his favourite and since it’s caffeine free, I can look the other way when he drinks it on special occasions. We always buy Fanta, it’s da bomb according to the Captain. Did you know Fanta is only available in Canada? That makes it EXTRA special.

Man, that really sounds like a lot of crap, doesn’t it? We also had fruit! There was fruit available! No one ate any, but it was there, on the table. So that TOTALLY COUNTS.

12 thoughts on “How to Have an Allergy-Safe Birthday Party

  1. CapnPlanet

    I was all hoping to read about how I could throw my kid a birthday party for free – like maybe by monetizing the party by showing ads or something – this is something different 🙂

    But anyway, is it possible that you just didn’t know where to find the alternative stores? If you didn’t live in Kanata but just drifted through it and needed to find all those alternative items without knowing the area, would you have been able to do it on short notice? How did you find your stores in Kanata?

    1. Doh, I knew as soon as I typed it that that title was going to be a problem. I’ll change it!

      As for the stores, I was wondering that myself – could be that our families just didn’t know all the cool places to shop as they’ve never had to deal with it. I guess I was just lulled into a sense that ALL grocery stores would have a gluten free/alternative foods aisle. Apparently not! Next time we are going down I will do some internet research in advance.

  2. In Calgary, there are a lot of grocery options. I can drive in a 15 minute radius and there are tons of options. Just saying…come to Calgary? Things would be FINE.

    I also hate pop. But I’m finding my no-pop lifestyle is backfiring as my oldest is becoming obsessed with pop. Hopefully allowing him some once or twice a month will allow things to settle down.

  3. I think the pop substitution is brilliant, actually. You need to have *some* treat and it’s not like you’re subbing it for (rice) milk!

    I also love the Coco Krispy treat idea – had no idea you could sub canola oil for the butter, which is why I haven’t made any yet 🙂

    We use jellybeans as a treat food since T can’t have any chocolate. I’m not terribly guilty about it.

  4. TiredMama1

    Okay, at my town, (on the 401 between Cambridge and Mississauga) we have two Gluten free bakeries and at my small Fortinos they have an entire aisle and freezer section dedicated to Gluten free. That said, all these products might have not have been the stuff you were looking for. But you had me curious so I actually looked today… 🙂 I loved the pictures of everything you had for the party! Such fun….

  5. Would tend to think the same thing as CapnPlanet. I have a hard time believing the alternatives are just not available. I find grocery stores are getting better, but I can also tell you which ones have the better/best selection in my town. I would bet that a little research would go a long way before your next trip back.

    1. Kay, I have researched and I found two possible stores in Cambridge (both of their websites focus on “nutritional supplements” but reading between the lines I think they might carry food products as well). Do they have Zehrs where you are? They are owned by the Loblaws line so I’m thinking maybe they would have a gluten free aisle.

      Mississauga was, surprisingly, much harder. I can’t find anything near to where my in-laws live (near being, within a 15 minute drive) other than a Superstore. There seems to be a couple of health food stores farther away. At least next time we go down , I”ll have a list of possibilities!

  6. Fanta might not be available in the States, but it’s been widely available in Europe for a long, long time.

    I discovered it on my European trip in 2000. I drank A LOT of it, mostly because I find Fanta is slightly less carbonated than other brands.

    I think the original flavour was orange, or at least it was the most popular. But the strange thing was that the formula was slightly different in each country. And once (in the Czech republic) I found 2 versions of orange Fanta, ever so slightly different from each other.

    I missed Fanta dearly when I returned home to Canada. It wasn’t introduced here until a few years ago. In the meantime, I did find it in some European grocery stores here in Ottawa and in Cuba. Cuba came first, and (do you remember this???) I was so elated I brought 2 cans home.

  7. I’m curious Lynn – we always avoid Bulk Barn completely due to the possibility of cross-contamination with products containing nuts or peanuts…how do you know the scoops haven’t gotten mixed up, or that some gluten-y flour hasn’t gotten mixed in with the flour you are buying?

    I find it super great that it’s so easy to deal with your son’s food allergies here in Ottawa. I only have to worry about nuts and peanuts, but I agree that it is just so easy now thanks to the easy availability of safe, properly-labelled products. I can’t imagine dealing with this even 20 years ago.

    1. This is SO true. There is a major cross contamination risk at Bulk Barn and for that reason we avoided it for years.

      Now I find myself in a compromise position – a lot of the things we need can only be found at Bulk Barn, or else are much, much less expensive there. Our weekly grocery bills run about $300.

      Of course our kids’ health is worth the extra dollars, but I have made my peace with the Bulk Barn for two reasons:
      a) the Captain’s allergic reactions to food are swift and furious but never anaphalactic. I know they can flip to causing that kind of reaction at any time, but we haven’t seen him in dire distress from accidental exposure so we are still willing to risk it.
      b) they keep all the gluten free stuff we need in its own aisle, on the far end of the store. Although it’s possible (even likely) that the gluten-free flours have been mixed up, someone would have to be pretty deliberate about walking a scoop over from another part of the store for there to be nut/wheat/milk/egg exposures.

      I do try to keep my Bulk Barn buying to a minimum (except for the pre-packaged stuff, like corn pasta, which I buy freely and without fear). But sometimes it’s the only pace and so we live with it.

Comments are closed.