Gluten-Free Family Life: Birthday Parties
Elizabeth Carroll

September 05, 2012

I've enjoyed planning my children's birthday parties over the years, but when my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease at age 3 ½, I felt stressed about how to plan the food part of her next party and how to send her to parties to which she was invited. Now, after seven years of birthday parties with my daughter on the gluten-free diet, my feeling is there is no one right way to handle the food at parties -- the most important thing is that your child feels wonderful!

Cake, the highlight of most children's birthday parties, is the biggest gluten challenge to overcome. Here's how I've handled it through the years:


  • For my daughter's fourth and fifth birthday parties, I served store-bought gluten-filled cupcakes to the guests and made a separate but identical gluten-free cupcake for my daughter. When she was four, the cupcakes were topped with princess plastic rings. So her cupcake would look the same as the others, I asked for an extra ring for my daughter's homemade cupcake. She was happy, and it appeared to everyone that she was eating the same cupcake as the guests.    


  • When my daughter turned six, she requested a strawberry cake with chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry frosting in a striped pattern, similar to a box of neapolitan ice cream. This was the first birthday cake that I baked gluten-free for all the guests and it went fine! The kids were a little surprised by this funny-looking cake, but my daughter was happy and that was what mattered. To make the strawberry cake, I used the recipe from Elizabeth Barbone's 2006 Gluten-Free Baking cookbook and topped it with gluten-free store bought chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry frosting.

  • The seventh birthday cupcakes were my most adventurous baking attempt:  I made gluten-free vanilla cupcakes and topped them with homemade buttercream frosting, both from Elizabeth Barbone's 2006 Baking cookbook. Buttercream had intimidated me up to this point, but the cupcakes turned out delicious and beautiful -- I enjoyed serving them!


  • I made a gluten-free ice-cream cake for her eighth birthday -- I adapted the recipe from  my good friend. It consisted of a layer of crushed gluten-free chocolate sandwich cookies, a layer of vanilla ice cream, a layer of fudge sauce, and a layer of Cool Whip. These ingredients were each layered individually and then refrozen after each layer, using a 13 by 9 inch pan.


  • The ninth and tenth birthday cakes were purchased at a store that has brought me happiness and hope -- Sweet Ali's Bakery, in Hinsdale, IL, which opened in April of 2010. This is a dedicated gluten-free bakery that is relatively close to home and they make gorgeous and delicious cakes. We always get cakes with their buttercream frosting. The ninth birthday cake was vanilla and the tenth was red velvet. Though I like to bake, I also like to support this wonderful business, and our family loves the cakes!

I have never been trained in cake decorating, though it is on my “bucket list.” So all of the cakes I made were decorated, in part, using the Pampered Chef Easy Accent Decorator. This is an easy way to give homemade cakes and cupcakes a little flair!  

But what about other party foods? I have served both pizza and hotdogs to children at parties. For years, I would make my daughter her own gluten-free pizza using a frozen Glutino mini-crust. Within the past three years or so, four local restaurants have started to offer gluten-free pizza. Occasionally, I order gluten-free pizza from the restaurant and serve that to my daughter while serving gluten-containing pizza from the same establishment to the other guests (primarily due to cost). As for hot dogs, my daughter eats one on an Udi's gluten-free bun while the guests eat theirs on gluten-containing buns.  

When my daughter attends a party, I call the host to explain my daughter's diet and ask what will be served. I offer to send her own foods to match what the host is serving. I have sent pizza, gluten-free hot dog or hamburger buns, a cupcake in place of cake, or a miniature decorated gluten-free cookie cake. When possible, I send my daughter's pizza in a box leftover from a delivered gluten-free pizza, as she feels less conspicuous about being served from this. I try to keep unfrosted gluten-free cupcakes in the freezer -- it is easy to take one out and decorate it quickly, without having to bake for each party. My daughter's friends and their mothers have been so considerate of her diet! They are very careful and often prepare or order gluten-free food for my daughter for the party.  

My daughter does feel a bit different when she eats her own pizza or cupcake at someone else's party, but she has become used to it and her friends don't usually ask about her food. If they do ask, she explains that she has an allergy, not mentioning the celiac disease, because that is easier for other children to understand. It is always my goal to send her with food that is beautiful so that she will be proud of her “different” food.  

For a child with celiac disease, hosting or attending a birthday party can be just as delicious and joyous as for any other child. It is a way for friends to become more aware of the gluten-free diet and to try some of the delicious foods that they may not have eaten before.   

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