Celebrating Birthdays with Allergy-Friendly Treats and Alternative Birthday Cakes


Posted 8.23.17 | Rob McCandlish, RDN

This blog was originally posted on August 8, 2013 and was updated on August 23, 2017.

Are you hosting a birthday party for your food-allergic child or child on a restrictive diet? When your child has a food allergy or other condition limiting the food that they can eat, a typical birthday cake may not be an option. For example, did you know that most cakes and baked goods call for dairy, eggs, and wheat, which are three of the top eight allergens.  In fact, fish and shellfish are the only two of the top allergens that do NOT regularly appear in baked goods! 

Let’s look at few allergy-friendly options you can try for your next celebration. Please keep in mind that allergy-friendly doesn’t necessarily mean allergy-free so be sure to check if the ingredients are appropriate for your child’s specific food allergies.

Birthday Cakes

Birthday cakes are so much more than just the ingredients that go into them. They represent the milestone of another year of life. When your child has a food allergy or other condition limiting the food that they can eat, a typical birthday cake may not be an option. Here are a few alternatives to a traditional birthday cake that could make a great allergy-friendly stand-in.

Birthday Trifle "Cake"

Instead of a cake, a trifle might be the next-best thing. You can layer almost any dessert-type items along with fruit in a trifle dish to make a dessert worthy of candles. It looks fancy, tastes delicious, and everyone can enjoy.

How to make a Trifle “Cake”:

  1. Start by choosing fruits your child likes in an age-appropriate form (pureed for 1st birthdays, cut into small pieces for toddlers, or slices for an older child).
  2. Add a layer of a favorite baked good, if you have a “safe” one to choose from, such as an allergen-free cookie. This could be whole, cubed, or even crushed into crumbs. Looking for ideas? Try the Neocate Food Allergy Cookbook.
  3. A pudding or something similar makes a great third layer. If boxed pudding mixes aren’t an option, you could prepare a starch-based pudding and replace dairy ingredients with fruit juice. Another options is to create a pudding using Neocate Nutra (if your child is over the age of 6 months).
  4. We find that mixing Neocate Nutra with half the water that the directions suggest gives a nice pudding-like consistency. You could even make a flavored version by adding Neocate Juniorto Nutra, as seen in these past blog posts: Chocolaty Nutra Pudding, Neocate Vanilla Pudding, Neocate Tropical Pudding.
  5. Once you choose your fillings just keep repeating layers until you reach the top of the trifle dish!
  6. Add candles and other decorations (if you can’t use icing, wash a plastic toy in hot soapy water, rinse, and dry for the ultimate “cake”-topper!).

Yellow Cake with Frosting (Submitted by: Jessica Snell)

Cake:

  • 1 box suitable yellow cake mix (e.g. Cherrybrook Kitchen)
  • 1/3 cup melted “tolerated” butter or margarine (e.g. Earth’s Balance dairy/soy free butter)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • Follow baking directions on cake package.

Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup “tolerated” butter or margarine
  • 1 tsp water
  • Add powdered sugar to reach the desired consistency
  • 1/4 tsp almond flavoring, optional
  • 3 drops pink food coloring, optional
  • Melt butter, mix in powdered sugar to make clumpy. Add water to smooth it out. For thicker frosting, add more powdered sugar. Once desired consistency is reached, add almond flavoring and 3 drops of pink food coloring, if using.

This recipe makes ~12 servings

Eggless, Dairy-Free Chocolate Cake (Submitted by: Daphna Finn)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients together. Combine all wet ingredients together in another bowl. Pour the liquid ingredients all at once into the dry ingredients, and beat just until smooth. Pour batter into a greased 9 x 13” pan. Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes. Let cool in pan. When cool sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

This recipe makes about 15 pieces of cake.

Banana Cake (Submitted by: Anne Medsker)

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 stick suitable unsalted margarine
  • 2 eggs, or suitable substitute
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup organic rice beverage or other milk substitute
  • 1 cup mashed banana
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl add sugar and margarine and beat with mixer until blended. Add eggs and beat until smooth. Mix in rice beverage, vanilla and banana. In a separate bowl combine baking soda, powder, salt and flour and whisk together. Slowly add dry ingredients into the wet and beat 1 minute, just until combined. Grease a 9 x 13” baking pan with canola oil or baking spray. Pour in batter. Bake approximately 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Kids with Food Allergies(KFA) also has a good variety of cake and icing recipes to try. Here's a recipe from their website:

Basic Buttercream Icing (Created by Laurie Carson)

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbsp water

Beat all ingredients together thoroughly. To make it thinner, add a little light corn syrup.

You could add cocoa or carob powder to the icing to make it chocolate, if desired. I also added a drop or two of almond extract to take away some of the sweetnes

s, but it's fine without it, too. Please note that margarine typically contains milk or soy, but there are milk-free and soy-free versions available. Corn Substitutions: Corn is a common ingredient in products. Starch, modified food starch, dextrin and maltodextrin can be from corn. Consult with your physician to find out which corn derivatives you need to avoid. 

Many corn-free options are available in the US. Find out more about corn substitutions in this KFA article.

Cake Alternatives:

Sometimes a traditional cake isn’t the best option for your child. That’s ok!

Who says that an equally delicious dessert can’t make a stellar stand-in for cake? Not us! Our Neocate Food Allergy Cookbook lists several dairy-free, allergy-friendly desert ideas for other great foods that most kids would enjoy.

For kids who are not able to eat food at all, non-edible birthday cakes are an option. You can create one with a bit of imagination and some cardboard, foam paper, ribbon, tissue paper and glitter paint. Once you have the basic shape of the cake made from cardboard (or foam), poke little holes in it and insert candles for your birthday boy or girl to blow out (just make sure to practice fire safety first!)

If you need some inspiration of non-edible birthday cakes, check out these creative ideas that have been submitted to us in the past:

  • Connor's birthday "Neo-Cake"
  • Sy's Foodless Bowling Cake (image source Nomuck.com)
  • Maddy's Cake for Caroline

“My sister Caroline has a feeding tube but up until last year, she was able to eat SOME food by mouth so we always just got her a regular birthday cake. She can no longer have any food by mouth due to swallowing problems so this year, I made her a fake pink and purple princess cake out of cardboard, foam paper, ribbon, tissue paper and glitter paint (pictured below). We poked little holes in it and inserted candles for her to blow out. Her favorite part of birthdays is singing and blowing out the candles so she didn’t even seem to miss eating cake. In fact I think she loved this foodless cake even more because she can keep it and we can relight the candles and sing over and over again (although she might think she is 300 years old by now).”

Remember, celebrating birthdays is much more than cake. By creating no-cake birthday cake you can still sing birthday songs and blow out the candles. Bonus! You can keep your foodless cake as a great keepsake.

Cake Decorations:

Once you’ve decided on your cake, get creative and have fun decorating! We found some fun ideas to help you get started:

Better Homes and Gardens: Creative Birthday Cakes for Kids

Unique Birthday Cakes Gallery (from Parenting.com)

You can even use Neocate cans to decorate creatively like Senstive Mommy!

The moral of the story is that food restrictions don’t have to stop you from giving your little one a happy birthday. When it comes down to it, birthdays are not about the cake, but about the effort that goes into making your little one feel loved on their special day. With a little creativity, you can still have a great time celebrating another year and milestone.

Do you have a little one with a birthday coming up? What will you do to help them celebrate? Comment below or find us on Facebook.

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About Us

Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.