Mitzvah Market Magazine: Food Allergy Freedom

Mitzvah Market Magazine: Food Allergy Freedom

How To Safely Attend A Bar/Bat Mitzvah Party When There’s Food You Can’t Eat

By Stephanie Sorkin
The planning has begun! You’re about to host the Party of the Century and everything is starting to fall into place. The invitation is hot off the press. You’ve landed that artsy photographer who everyone has been talking about. The DJ has assured you that every song will be perfect. And the food sounds amazing; the towers of hors d’oeuvres, the mountains of sweet treats, and so much more.

But then you realize: what to do about all those guests who have food allergies and intolerances? Is it possible to throw an “Instagram worthy” party while still satisfying the needs of those who can’t eat freely?

With an estimated 15 million food allergic Americans — 6 million of whom are children — it’s an issue that cannot be ignored. The Center for Disease Control estimates that the presence of food allergies has gone up 100% in the last 10 years. Coupled with other health conditions and dietary restrictions, both throwing and attending a party can be stressful. But it doesn’t have to be.

A successful party starts with the host. It’s an important job and that includes taking into consideration accommodations for all your guests. Danielle Lenson, of Roslyn, worked diligently to find a venue that could accommodate her son’s peanut allergy. Her hard work paid off as her son was able to safely eat every food and dessert at his Glen Head Country Club Bar Mitzvah.

To further ensure that all guests could participate in the fun, Danielle got creative. After the main course, large containers were wheeled onto the dance floor, filled to the rim with an array of food-allergy-friendly snacks.

All items were in labeled packages, making it easy for guests to determine which snacks to choose. Bags printed with a clever “NO NUTZ” logo were provided. For guests who still had room, there was also Domino’s Pizza and lots of other nut-free items to choose on the way out.

Stephanie Feldman, owner of Cutie Patootie Creations, had her own great ideas when hosting her nut allergic son’s Bar Mitzvah. Like Lenson, she discussed her son’s safety with the caterer. The special requests were written into her contract, providing Feldman with an additional peace of mind. Knowing that the information was in writing ensured that the venue would work that much harder to make sure everything was allergy-free.

The Feldman family created an elaborate ice cream station with a number of delicious flavors and nut-free toppings. In addition, a colorful candy bar was another food allergy win. Overflowing with individually wrapped candy, everyone was able to get in on the action. “With a few simple substitutions, not only my son, but all of the guests were able to eat safely,” says Feldman. “I hope to someday see hosts ask about guests’ allergies on the RSVP card. Knowing in advance would make it that much easier to accommodate special requests.”

It’s always a good idea to keep in mind the food allergic guest. Their safety is of the utmost importance. If you think there may be some in attendance, be sure to ask all your child’s friends so you know what to expect.

What about hosts whose own children do not have food allergies? Are they expected to make separate dishes for everyone with a food restriction?

Food allergies go way beyond peanuts and dietary restrictions often have no relations to allergies and are in fact, just preferences. What about those who are vegans, vegetarians, diabetics, celiac, lactose intolerant and so on? Where do we draw the line?

To ensure that caterers don’t become short order cooks, some venues have established a meal that is suitable for all. Such entrees can be “Top 8 Free,” meaning they do not contain the top 8 allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat) that make up 90% of allergic reactions. In addition, they are vegan and low in sugar and salt. To some it may not sound too appetizing, but surprisingly, with a little imagination, it’s possible to create something delicious. Some caterers even use color-coded serving pieces and utensils for food allergy friendly meal preparation.

Debbie Auerbacher, from Ram Caterers of Old Westbury, suggests contacting the caterer far in advance, as special requests can be easily satisfied with proper planning. “As long as we know in advance, I can adjust my cooking accordingly,” she says. “The key is being prepared. Definitely ask before the party. We have received requests of all kinds and have gladly made adjustments to our menus.”

As a rule, most would argue that the night belongs to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child. If he or she has dreamed of serving a special, artisanal donut, you can still go for it, while also serving a similar allergy-free version for those who need it.

Remember, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are filled with so much more than food. Monumental in both the child and parents’ lives, they are overflowing with friends, dancing, games, giveaways and memories. Plus endless photo-ops waiting to fill up their Instagram feed. So be prepared and everybody will be happy…and safe.

TIPS for helping an allergic child safely attend a Bar or Bat Mitzvah

Entering a party with a food allergic child can be overwhelming. I should know. My daughter is allergic to eggs, tree nuts, sesame, flax seeds, mustard and canola oil. A party where food is served can be filled with all sorts of potential allergens that can send her to the emergency room. But after years of experience, we’ve both learned how to manage the situation. So when the piles of Bar and Bat Mitzvah invitations began to roll in, we were ready.

Here are some of our tips to help your child attend and enjoy parties safely:

1. Contact the host as soon as you receive the invitation. First, politely tell the host that you plan on calling the venue to speak to the caterer due to your child’s food allergy. I hesitate suggesting that you “ask” the host if you can call, since you never know what the response may be. But in my experience, I have never had a request met with anger or resistance. Parents want the party to run smoothly, without incident. Remember, this request should come at least a month before the party. Calling three days before the event with a laundry list of questions does not give anyone adequate time to respond. Please be considerate.

2. When you do speak with the caterer, be mindful that they may not be educated in cross contact and contamination. A buffet that starts out safe may not be later on, after excited children start mixing, dipping and sampling the foods and swapping serving pieces.

3. Don’t demand changes or make special requests. The party is about the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child. It is a very special, momentous occasion and it’s unrealistic to ask for accommodations. If it doesn’t seem like a safe environment, you can always decline the invitation. Make your decisions based on your own personal comfort level and your child’s allergy.

4. If you determine that there is a safe food or foods that your child can eat, discuss this in depth with them. Remind them about safe behavior such as not sharing food and being mindful of the danger of shared plates and utensils. Suggest that your child be first on the buffet line before any cross contamination can occur.

5. If realistic, assign your child a buddy who they can tell if they are not feeling well. The buddy should be chosen in advance and given thorough instructions to tell an adult should an allergic reaction occur. Speak to the host or responsible adult in advance about the protocol and treatment of a reaction.

6. Send your child with 2 epi-pens, to be kept in a safe, easily accessible location.

7. Feed your child a full meal before they go to the event, even if you have determined that there are safe foods available. If your child arrives full, he or she will likely head to the games and photo booth and dance the night away and not feel deprived of any food.

Stephanie Sorkin is the award-winning author of several books including “Nutley, the Nut-free Squirrel.” As a food allergy advocate, she spends her time visiting schools in the tri-state area, discussing the inspiration behind her books and the importance of creativity. For more information or to inquire about a school visit, please visit stephaniesorkin.com.

Read Kids With Food Allergies At Bar Bat Mitzvahs here.
Read about the Sorkin Bat Mitzvah Family Spotlight story here.

Mitzvah Market - Bar/Bat Mitzvah Planning ResourceGet your copy of Mitzvah Market Magazine here

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