Gluten and Dairy-Free Holidays and Parties

by Patricia Lemer, M. Ed.

When children with autism and attention deficits are found to be allergic or sensitive to products with gluten or casein, maintaining a special diet can be a real challenge. Birthday parties, holiday gatherings and other special events are particularly difficult. What do you serve at your child‘s birthday party? What should your child eat when invited elsewhere? Should you pack special food or hope that there will be suitable alternatives? Here are some helpful hints gleaned from a number of resources, listed below:

Avoid the urge to serve gluten or dairy free products to everyone - Many children, since they are used to eating foods made with wheat, find the texture of even the finest gluten-free products "off‘ and refuse to eat them. You may thus end up throwing away almost everything. For a birthday party or other event including a cake or dessert, bake and decorate a small gluten-free cake for your child. Even a plain, 8-inch round cake can become spectacular with the right decorations. Serve a similarly decorated cake to your guests.

Goodie Bags - Fill decorated cellophane bags with .small toys instead of edibles. If you must include food, use well-accepted snacks that are gluten or dairy free, such as popcorn balls.

Theme parties - Don‘t be afraid to take advantage of parties offered by such places as Discovery Zone and Chuck E. Cheese. The former allows the movement we want our children to have and both will gladly heat up and serve special products, such as rice crust pizza. The good thing about parties in these locations is that the food plays second fiddle to the fun and games.

Other children‘s parties - Never hesitate to send your child to another child‘s birthday party. Your child‘s special needs can usually be easily managed if you speak with the hostess beforehand. Find out what food will be served, and then, if necessary, prepare something for your child to take or deliver early. Make your child aware from an early age, what foods should and should not be eaten. Children quickly adapt to the idea that their food is "special" and look forward to the party separate from the food.

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas - Because of the variety of foods available at gatherings in honor of these holidays, they tend not to be as problematic as birthdays. A great cookbook with gluten- and dairy-free recipes for holidays is Gluten-Free Celebrations: Memorable Meals without WheatGluten-Free Celebrations by Carol Fenster. It includes appetizers, breads, main dishes and desserts for Easter, Passover and Valentine‘s Day.

Pre-packaged mixes and products - It is always safer to make foods yourself, but sometimes there just isn‘t time. The following companies sell products that are gluten and dairy free. Send for their catalogs. Read the labels carefully as many contain artificial colors and preservatives. The sugar content can also be high. For pre-prepared products go to and to

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 2, Number 2 - Fall, 1996]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.

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Page last modified: February 23, 2009
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