Monday 29 September 2014

Vegan Parenting: How to Survive a Birthday Party

Kids’ birthday parties are loud, messy and chaotic. They’re also a lot of fun - if you’re a kid (and headache-inducing if you’re not). Attending a child’s birthday party is not hassle free - there are costumes to create, presents to buy, and hours of pass the parcel prep to be done (seriously, my kid can drag out her pass like no other). If you’re the parent of a vegan child, you’ve also got the added drama of the food. I’m sure every vegan parent worries about their kid feeling different or left out, I know I’ve spent many hours thinking of ways to make sure Ebony doesn’t miss out on things. Apart from zoos, she can miss out on them, obvs.

Since it’s VEGAN MOFO this month, and I completely ran out of time to actually post any blog posts never mind come up with recipes to share, I thought I’d write about how to survive a birthday party with your vegan kid in tow.

  1. Offer to take food - sometimes this is necessary, other times it isn’t. It will totally depend upon how well you know the parents of the other child, how accommodating they are, and the type of food that will be available at the party. If the party is being catered for (by a soft play centre, not by a professional catering company, I don’t have such fancy friends), you could ring up the venue in advance to check that they can cater for a vegan diet. I’ve been to birthday parties where lots of the food has been fresh fruit, salad foods and crackers, where Ebony has had no problem eating her fill. But I’ve also been to other parties where the table has been filled with chocolate, sweets and other foods that probably aren’t vegan. Offer to take some food to help out, you could take a dish or two if you have time.

  2. Find out what’s on the menu - young children don’t seem to notice when what they have is different, but now that my daughter is two and a half she is well aware when she doesn’t have the same as everyone else. Finding out what foods will be there can help you to plan ahead. Sandwiches, sausage rolls, pizzas, pretty much anything can be veganised without much fuss. If they’re having jelly and ice-cream (is that even still a thing?), make an individual jelly portion and pick up some vegan ice-cream from your local supermarket.

  3. Warn your kid - I tend to mention to Ebony, just before we walk into the party, that a lot of the food probably won’t be vegan, so we’ll need to find out what she can eat. This just helps to avoid that awful moment when your child sees something, wants it, can’t have it and cries whilst other parents look at you in a who-the-hell-raises-their-kid-as-vegan-anyway-it's-basically-child-abuse sort of a way.

  4. Take sweets - it’s a birthday party, there will be sweets. They’ll be lurking between layers on the pass the parcel, sitting on the DJ table waiting to be distributed to the best dancer, and filling bowls on the food table. Make sure you have some vegan sweets on hand so that you can make a quick switch if your child is given some sweets. There are lots of sugar free vegan sweets available if you’d like to try and limit the amount of sugar in your child’s diet. The great thing is that many vegan companies have now caught on to the fact that marketing is important, so the sweets come in brightly coloured bags, just like everyone else’s sweets.

  5. Know your labels - lots of products are accidentally vegan - oreos, party rings and jammy dodgers are all vegan friendly. Make sure you go armed with the knowledge of which biscuits, crisps and other foods are accidentally vegan, so that your child can eat some of the food from the party table.

  6. Take cake - there is nothing worse than watching your child hungrily eyeing up the cake, only to be told she can’t eat it when the slices are dished out. I usually try to bake a batch of cupcakes before the party, and take one with me so that she can have a cake with everyone else.

  7. Be hawk-like - it’s important to keep an eye on your child. Kids are fast, there are bound to be sweets littering the floor, and there could be swarms of well-meaning adults ready to offer sweets and chocolate to your child. Keep some vegan friendly snacks to hand so that you can swoop in and make a quick exchange should your child stumble across any non-vegan goodies.

  8. Party bag shake up - make sure you have a quick look through the party bag before you drive home. You don’t want to arrive home to find your kid’s face covered in milk chocolate thanks to a hidden bar in the party bag. Have some more foods on hand to switch, just in case. By this point, as the sugar-crash is looming, I usually opt for a healthy fruit and nut bar, and pack of raisins.
  9. Have wine ready - after two hours of listening to Let It Go on repeat, and ten minutes spent trying to prise the pass the parcel out of your child’s grasp, and repeatedly explaining to strangers that your child is vegan so can’t eat whatever they were about to shove down her throat - you’ll need wine. Have it ready. For when you get home, obviously, don’t break it out at the party, unless you have awesome parent friends, in which case, go ahead.

Have I missed anything off this list? What do you do to help your vegan kids feel included at birthday parties?

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