Make school day birthday celebrations fun for kids with allergies – without food!

Celebrating birthdays at school when you have a food allergy, or as a celiac or a child with gluten sensitivity, can be frustrating and overwhelming. But notice, I said that it can be. It doesn’t have to be. Many schools are working towards a “no food” celebration for birthdays. This not only supports those with food allergies, celiac disease, or food sensitivities, but it also helps to support healthy living.


Why exactly are schools starting to move away from using food as a means to celebrate? Having a food celebration excludes students who cannot eat those foods. Some food celebrations may question or compromise nutrition goals of the school, as well. But regardless of the reason why, it’s quite the sensitive topic for teachers, parents, and kids – and we see it all the time in online chatter in Facebook groups.

Moms with children without allergies just don’t understand what it’s like to have a small child with celiac disease or food allergies. They don’t see it from our perspective, and that’s difficult for them to shift away from the norm of a pizza party or ice cream party as a deserved celebration.

Many parents feel it is their rightto celebrate their child’s birthday with a food treat, healthy or not. Some parents feel that they do not need to provide or be concerned with providing a treat that includes all classroom children. Why do they need to spend more money just for someone else’s kid? After all, we know how much more expensive food allergy substitute and gluten-free food is!

But today, we are not about debating. I don’t expect a blog post to finally solve an issue that’s been around since PTA meetings, peanut-free schools, and seperate lunch tables. Let’s talk about something we can make progress on – non-food celebration ideas that are fun for everyone.

For those classrooms that are using a non food “day” type of celebration, here are some examples of ways to celebrate birthdays in the classroom without food.

  • Wacky Hair Day – only requires extra hair spray
  • Favorite Book Day – dress like your favorite character
  • Pajama Day – requires less time in the morning – a win win!
  • Backwards Day – put your clothes on backwards and walk to class backwards!
  • Wild Sock Day – a full outfit too distracting? Just try the socks!
  • Team Spirit Day – A college, professional sports team, or even team mascot day

There are plenty of other ideas that don’t have to encompass a day! There are simple ideas with extra time that don’t cost much, but bring excitement, fun, and newness to a celebration.

  • Play a game together as a class, or small groups
  • Extra outdoor recess time
  • Being the special helper for the day
  • Extra time at favorite activity (computer, art, etc)
  • Reading time in a special place (outside, etc)
  • Having a parent or family member come into the classroom to read a book
  • Have the class sing Happy Birthday
  • Give a “no homework” pass for the day
  • Getting to announce the morning messages at school
  • Bring in a t-shirt or bag and crafts and have the class decorate the shirt with puffy paint, glitter, etc. for the birthday child

If you’d like to send in a special item to help celebrate your child’s birthday, the non food options are endless! You can commonly find those items online, your local dollar store, or other stores near you.

  • Stickers
  • Pencils or pens
  • Markers
  • Fun erasers or pencil toppers
  • Notepads
  • Books and bookmarks
  • Trinkets (bouncy balls, matchbox cars, balloons, necklaces) – think what you would give for Teal Pumpkin Project non-food Halloween treats and stock-up for the year!

The items listed above are not meant to break the bank. You can work with the teacher to celebrate your child within the classroom and the routine of the day and that will cost you nothing. It’s more about the spirit of fun and spending time with friends that matters to the child! They’ll feel special, even without a cupcake! 

Have you celebrated your child’s birthday in a non-food way? If so, share in the comments how you celebrated! What other items or activities could you use to celebrate a child’s birthday without using food? Does your school allow food items in the classroom to celebrate birthdays?

Cindy Gordon is the owner and author of Vegetarian Mamma and is a foodie who loves to blog about gluten-free vegetarian/vegan recipes. Her family also focuses on foods that are peanut-, tree nut-, dairy-, and gluten-free. They’re dedicated to finding/creating recipes and products that fit their allergy needs. Cindy resides in Ohio with her husband and two boys. She enjoys spending time with her family, the outdoors, gardening, wine and cooking! Connect with her on her website or on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.