Monday, July 20, 2009

The Gluten-Free Birthday Party

For kids with Celiac disease, having a carefree birthday party can be tough. Not only are the quintessential “birthday foods” often chock-full of gluten, but kids may also want to avoid feeling different on their special day. Additionally, parents are faced with the challenge of creating a safe party environment for both their own children and their guests. GF Delights has tips to make your child’s birthday a smooth and enjoyable affair.

The Preparation
Eliminate anxiety from the beginning—keep the food plans as simple as you can, and plan the birthday party in a way that keeps the focus on your child, not the food. Centering the party on an event or activity your child is truly excited about will get things going on the right foot.

The Activities
Birthday parties are a great time to get kids active—both physically and mentally. Consider locations such as parks, indoor jungle gyms/mazes, indoor/outdoor climbing walls—even museums with hands-on and interactive exhibits (e.g. “discovery” or “tech” museums). Try activities such as scavenger/treasure hunts, sports games (with teams and brackets), and classics like Capture the Flag. For birthdays in the hot summer months, try a super-soaker-themed party, set up a Slip N’ Slide, or have kids fill up balloons for a water-balloon fight. If you’re keeping things indoors, try setting up arts and crafts stations.

The Food
Perhaps the most worrisome part of ensuring a Happy Birthday is getting the birthday cake just right. Luckily, as awareness about Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity increases, more and more options become available for easy GF baking. Here are some of the mixes you’ll find both in markets and online:

Gluten-Free Cake Mixes
• Bob’s Red Mill: Chocolate
• ‘Cause You’re Special: Moist Yellow, Rich Chcolate, Golden Pound, Chocolate Pound, Moist Lemon
• Cherrybrook Kitchen: Chocolate
• Food-Tek: Minute Chocolate
• Gluten-Free Pantry: Old Fashioned Cake, Spice Cake, Gingerbread, Angel Food, Decadent Chocolate
• Glutino: Vanilla, Chocolate
• Kinnikinnick: Chocolate, White, Sponge, Angel Food
• Pamela’s: Chocolate, Vanilla
• Namaste: Spice/Carrot
• Really Good Food: Golden, Chocolate, Devil’s Food, Lemon Poppy, Orange

And don’t forget about Betty Crocker! The new GF mixes (Yellow and Devil’s Food cake) are on the shelf and getting rave reviews in the GF Blogosphere! (See the great, in-depth review from the writers at
Gluten-free frosting mixes are not nearly as numerous, but they do exist. Like the cake mixes, you’ll be able to find the following both in markets and online:

Gluten-Free Frosting Mixes
• Cherrybrook Kitchen: Vanilla, Chocolate
• Food-Tek: Vanilla, Chocolate
•Miss Roben’s: Milk Chocolate Buttercream, Vanilla Cream
• Namaste Foods: Chocolate Fudge
• Sof-ella: Organic Chocolate Mix (comes with cake mix)

Note: Try to avoid mainstream commercial brands. While some of these brands may be GF, they may not be mandated to list gluten-containing ingredients other than wheat. Double-check with companies directly if you must use these brands.

Luckily, homemade frosting is easy to make!

White Frosting
½ cup shortening (not butter flavored)
2 egg whites
½ teaspoon salt
3 ½ cups powdered sugar (around one boxed package)
1 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla (e.g. Rodelle)

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Add salt and half of the powdered sugar. Cream the shortening with the other half of the powdered sugar and vanilla. Combine the two mixes and continue to mix until fluffy. Frost cake with mixture immediately and refrigerate unused portion.

Cream Cheese Frosting (Great for carrot and spice cakes)
¾ cup heavy cream
1 cup cream cheese (Philly is always GF)
¼ cup agave nectar (can be found in health food stores, a truly delicious addition!)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Whip heavy cream until stiff. In a separate larger bowl, whip cream cheese until smooth. Blend agave and vanilla into whipped cream cheese. With rubber spatula, gently blend whip cream into cream cheese mixture.

Semi-Sweet Chocolate Icing
5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup sour cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon heavy cream

This works best with a double broiler. In the top of a double broiler over medium-high heat, melt chocolate chips (you may also use a microwave). Remove from heat and cool until warm. Promptly stir in sour cream and vanilla, and add the heavy cream. To reach desired consistency, stir in additional heavy cream.

The Homemade Cake

Although cakes from mixes can be great, an easy and delicious cake to make yourself is an ice cream cake made with a crust of GF cookies, brownies, or macaroons, filled with ice cream and topped with chocolate shavings/your favorite candy.

To make the cake, line a springform pan with parchment paper. Cover the bottom of the pan (the thickness depends on your preference) with crushed GF cookies or brownies. Then scoop the softened ice cream of your choice into the lined pan, over the “crust” layer. How much you scoop in depends on the depth of the pan and your preference: if you’d like to make two layers of ice cream in the pan, fill the pan halfway with the first ice cream, refreeze, then take out of the freezer, layer with your crust material, and fill the rest of the pan up with the second ice cream. Each time smooth the ice cream out and then put it back into the freezer to harden. You can make a tiered cake by using various sized springform pans, and preparing the cake as detailed above. To combine the tiers/place them on the serving plate, loosen the sides with a knife. Act quickly and freeze as soon as you get the cake pieces on the serving place. Combine the tiers with a layer of frosting. After refreezing again, take the cake out, frost it, and then return it to the freezer until you are read to serve. Sprinkle with melted chocolate, chocolate chips, or your candy of choice. Serve with homemade whipped cream.

Note: When selecting your ice cream, check the label to make sure it is gluten-free! Beware of added ingredients (candy pieces, etc.) in the ice cream that may contain gluten. Dreyer’s, Edy’s, and Blue Bunny all have a large gluten-free selection.

Beyond the Cake: Other Food Ideas

Getting the cake down is great, but what about food for the rest of the party? There are lots of simple, kid-friendly GF snacks that can be used for munching during birthday parties.

-Fruit Plate: Kids love finger foods, so consider putting a fruit plate together with strawberries, grapes, cantaloupe, and watermelon.
-Snack Foods: Try setting out GF rice cakes, GF corn chips and salsa, GF popcorn, and mixed nuts
-Quesadillas with Corn Tortillas: This is an especially easy option that everyone will enjoy

Planning somewhat of a larger “dinner” for your child and his or her guests? Consider the following ideas…

-Build-Your-Own-Tacos: Get kids busy building their own tacos! Set up a station with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, meat, beans, rice, and of course, taco shells (Mission is GF, among other brands). Many salsa brands of gluten-free, including Pace Picante, Chipotle, Lime & Garlic, and Thick and Chunky; Newman’s Own hot, medium, mild, peach, pineapple, and roasted garlic salsa; all varieties of Southwest salsa.
-Build-Your-Own-Pizzas: Similar to the taco station, try buying GF pizza crusts (try Kinnickinnick’s) for everyone and set up stations with different toppings. Kids will love the chance to get creative, choose what they eat, and get a little messy, too. For easy-baking, have each child build their pizza on a large piece of foil.

Remember that in the end, although food is important, your child’s guests will have come for the fun and festivities—not the food.

Have you thrown a gluten-free birthday party for your child? Have any special tips and ideas? Leave us a comment below!


Becky said...

I love the taco idea!!

When we threw a GF birthday party for my daughter, we made cupcakes from the Pamela's mix and let kids decorate their was a ton of fun!