Surviving a Non-Paleo Kid’s Birthday Party

June 30, 2012 in Categories: , , by

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Committing to paleolithic nutrition can feel very restricting when it comes to restaurants, travel and celebrations.  Even if you relax your restrictions and focus on simply remaining gluten-free, it can be hard.  And if you are a very sensitive individual (like I am) or have severe allergies, even relaxing this much isn’t an option.  

One of our biggest challenges as a paleo family is surviving the Kid’s Birthday Party, both attending someone else’s and throwing our own.  Both situations can lead to a feeling of social isolation, which is a very difficult thing for kids who are often super sensitive to being different (it’s not so easy on us parents either!).  Depending on the age of your kid, it also may be very difficult to explain why they are being “left out” of a treat that other kids are enjoying right in front of them.

Attending a birthday party can feel like walking a tightrope.  I want my children to have a good time.  I want my children to enjoy being kids.  I want my children to form positive memories and reinforce lasting friendships.  But I don’t want them exposed to foods that will hurt them (this is especially true for my youngest who gets a rash that lasts several weeks when she eats gluten) or turn them into behavioral nightmares (true for my oldest who gets very whiny and emotional when she eats refined sugar).  It’s hardest for me to balance these often disparate desires when I’m out of my home and don’t have control over, well, anything.

But, we do still attend birthday parties.  This is the gist of my strategy:  I feed my children well before leaving the house.  If they aren’t hungry, they are less likely to notice the pizza at the table.  They may even just continue playing while the other kids eat.  I also bring treats with me that my kids can eat.  This helps avoid the feeling of being left out and deprived.

Talking with the host/hostess of the party and explaining our situation can be very helpful.  Depending on how well I know them, I go into more or less detail.  For someone I don’t know, I simply say “my kids are allergic to gluten” which is a common enough allergy/sensitivity that it’s easily understood.  I further explain that they don’t need to do anything different or worry about my kids at all and that I will simply bring options that they can eat.  Some people will go out of their way to accommodate my kids and others are simply relieved that our dietary restrictions aren’t going to complicate their lives any further (hosting a kid’s party can be stressful enough as it is!).  Talking to the host can give me a sense of what kind of food will be served, whether or not any of it will be “safe” (like veggies or fruit), and what I can bring to minimize the sense of deprivation.

If they are going to have a cookie cake for example, I can bring chocolate chip cookies.  If they are going to have a more traditional cake, I can bring cupcakes.  If they are going to have pizza, I can bring a paleo version of that too (my favorite recipe is from Eat Like a Dinosaur).  Maybe I even throw in something extra special like some dairy-free Chocolate for my kids to eat.  This is easier with my 5.5-year old who prefers the treats I make anyway (and will do just about anything for chocolate).  This is tougher with my 2.5-year old who also needs to be distracted from what other kids are eating.

The other challenge is the goodie bag.  I don’t know when candy became such a common inclusion in goodie bags, but I don’t like it (seriously, you hop my kids up on cake and then send them home with MORE candy????).  I don’t usually bother requesting a special bag for my kids that doesn’t have candy.  Instead, I have something on hand that is a good substitute (like a small coloring book with crayon and stickers) and trade these for the candy.  If my kids are feeling really deprived, I sometimes trade the goody bag candy for homemade candy or chocolate. 

Yes, it’s hard to be at a party and not eat the treats that the other kids are eating.  Sometimes it’s tempting to just not go or leave before the cake is served, but I don’t want to deprive my children of the birthday party experience.  And facing these challenges helps teach them about the way that we eat, how to handle these types of social situations, gives them phrases they can use by watching me, and teaches them that being different is okay.

Sometimes my strategy works and sometimes it’s an abominable failure.  I treat every new party or similar social situation as a new opportunity to practice these survival skills.  Not only does it help me get better at navigating these tricky social situations but my example teaches my kids how to do the same.  


I appreciate the relatability of this post 🙂 Even though I don’t subscribe “completely” to paleo (we drink and eat raw dairy and eat more WAPF soaked oatmeals and quinoa) it is very hard to do birthday parties and family bbq’s when we eat so clean. My girls have never had refined sugar or gluten! I bring stuff along with us – in fact we have a huge bday party today and I made almond flour chocolate chip cookies for us 🙂 I bring their meals since it’s going to be an all day party and I’ll munch on veggies and fruit since I had a huge plate of eggs, sausage and milk for breakfast and probably wont need to eat much the rest of the day 😉
Thanks for making me not feel so alone 🙂

Our youngest has been having a hard time with the minimal gluten-free requirement out of the house at parties as well. Finding a good almond flour cupcake recipe was key.

My kids have been amazing transitioning from SAD to primal, but my one frustration now is finding the wheat-free primal or paleo desserts that don’t include tree nuts. My middle child has a life-threatening tree nut (and peanut) allergy. Do you happen to know of some resources that include nut-free primal recipes for desserts?

This was a great entry! Thank you,


There are many coconut flour recipes out there for yummy baked goods. I hope you find something that works for your family. Our family does eat nuts, but we don’t eat almonds, which most of the nut-based baking recipes call for. We are very happy with the coconut flour recipes we’ve used (and the vast majority of our guests like them, too).

My oldest has been at this for the last 7 years (he’s 11 now). He remembers how bad gluten, etc. made him feel, and he has no interest in feeling that way again. He’s been eating our healthy food for so long, and we’ve talked to him about why we eat the way we do (beyond gluten-free), and he now finds the other kids’ food unappetizing. And his younger brother just follows his lead (thankfully!!). The younger is curious about other people’s food, but wouldn’t eat it (he has always eaten Paleo, so doesn’t know any different).

Most of our friends already know about our dietary differences (I don’t like the word “restrictions”). I take the boys some cupcakes to parties, and they often just skip them until the drive home. Wouldn’t want to miss a moment of playing!! I found these holders that allow me to take frosted cupcakes with us. Very helpful!

Thank you for sharing these tips. We just went Paleo a few months ago, and my kids are young enough that they don’t ask questions… Yet. But last night we were at a cookout and they ate a paleo dinner, and later my son snuck some cheese puffs. He is only four, so he doesn’t know better, but it was still frustrating for me. He doesn’t have gluten issues, but we don’t want him eating it either.

We don’t keep treats around (paleo or otherwise) so making something special for an event is sometimes difficult and stressful when added to the day’s agenda. Like today, I think we’ll just whip out a couple Lara bars for the girls (2 and 4) and remind them that cake makes us sick and rashy.

Our issue is exasperated by my wife’s mom and sister who poke fun at our avoidance of wheat and declare it overboard parenting. (Is the sister’s perpetually ill children a testament to under-board parenting?). G-ma thinks it’s funny to sneak the girls crackers, cereal, cookies, and cake. Ugh!

I hate kids parties with a passion, and I always have, even before I was paleo.. it is the whole must provide cake and candie and crappy foods, along with the bribe (the partybag) for you to give my kid a plastic crappy present that she does not really want but your parents bought because it was cheap thing…. and the whole screaming, kids over hopped on sugar thing?/?????

We do very few parties – for my kids we do sleepovers – I can get away with a lot of paleo stuff that way – with my eldest we did a classic swiss fondue for her and her friends – not paleo but very def primal, and none of them have issues with dairy. They found it very elegant and sophisticated and a whole bunch of fun (15 year old girls!),,,, and instead of cake we did chocolate dipped fruit…. it fit the mood perfectly!

I suspect it is slightly easier for me because I have older kids but it can still be hard – esp when they go to other peoples houses.

I feel ya! I’m SO over going to sugar-infested parties only to leave with a sugar gift that I will not allow for my child. I usually have my hubby go through the bag and toss the stuff…but she still notices. It is nice when I have friends that cater to my lifestyle and make an effort to give us organic or non-sugary items 🙂 That’s definitely not the norm.

Why have kid’s parties come to this?

just transitioning to AI Paleo and my 7 year old is having the most difficulty…having just gone to his cousin’s birthday and then having his birthday all on the same day! just starting to find recipes and figure things out…I’m hoping it’ll get easier as we go along…

The more difficult challenge for our family is surviving our overnighter a/parties/etc with families /friends with severe nut allergies.

Nice to know we’re not the only ones struggling with this issue–it’s tricky! And now with Halloween coming up I’m trying to figure out how to help my kids have fun without all the sugary junk!

I know this post is older, but it was nice to read it and be affirmed of the choices I’m making for my kiddos. My son has a slew of allergies, and my daughter has gluten/egg issues, so finding a treat for her birthday party they can both eat is tricky. But I found a sugar cookie receive and both kids love it. So the plan at her party is to have her “cake” be a “icing your own cookie” event. And the goody bags are mostly stickers, musical instruments, and other little trinkets that she picked out for her friends.
My nephew party is a different story. They will have cake, and while my daughter will love her cookies, I’m a little afraid of the birthday boy wanting cookies instead of cake and my sister-in-law being upset at me for bringing them, even though my daughter can’t have the cake.

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