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Surprise! Gluten-Free Birthdays Are A Piece-of-Cake.

ECHOage Enthusiast: RonniLyn Pustil

Founder: Gluten Free Garage

We are thrilled to share this inspiring story, helpful tips and resources for all things gluten-free. When mothers mobilize, incredible things happen.

My daughter Lily was diagnosed with celiac disease a couple of months before her 4th birthday.I remember when we got the call from the doctor telling us that the results from her blood test came back. He said that her levels were “off the charts.” He told us that Lily has celiac disease and from now on she must follow a strict gluten-free diet for the rest of her life, as it is the only treatment for this autoimmune condition.

My husband and I spent that night Googling “gluten” and “celiac.” With every click of our mouse, the panic was building. No pizza? No pasta?? No bagels?! No cake?!? Aside from worrying about what Lily was going to eat (the year was 2010 and gluten-free food was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is now), we were also concerned that she might feel left out or different from her friends at parties, at school and at camp. And then it hit me—Lily had a friend’s birthday party to go to the very next day. What was she going to eat?!

I called the mom, who was my friend, and told her the situation. I said maybe we’ll skip the party because this was all so new and we were just starting to figure it all out. She told me not to worry, her stepfather has celiac disease, and she was going to find out what they could serve Lily. In the end, it all worked out. They ordered a gluten-free pizza (it wasn’t great but at least she could have what the other kids were eating), and I woke up early that morning and drove to The Junction to the only gluten-free bakery I knew of in Toronto, Bunners, and got a cupcake for my girl.

Fast forward to 2024. Gluten free has come a long way, baby! Gluten-free bakeries abound in Toronto and throughout the GTA. Gluten-free products line the shelves of most mainstream grocery stores. More restaurants offer gluten-free items on their menus and are aware of cross contact. There are even gluten-free food festivals (shameless plug)! And, for a child diagnosed with celiac these days, birthday parties are a breeze. Here’s what you need to know, whether you’re hosting a bday party for your own gluten-free kid or inviting a friend who is gluten-free:

Pizza Nova is our go-to for gluten-free takeout. It’s easy peasy. The GF pie comes in one size only (medium) and a box with a sticker on it that indicates the pizza is indeed gluten free. Always be sure when ordering to let them know that it is for someone with celiac disease and the food must be 100% gluten free. Pizzaiolo is another good option. And 100% gluten-free Wild Blue Bakery in midtown Toronto sells delicious pizza by the slice.

If you’re taking the kids to a movie, the good news is that movie popcorn is gluten free! And there is usually also a GF chocolate (like M&Ms) or candy treat (like Skittles or Maynard’s; NOT licorice—it contains wheat flour!).

The best news is that nowadays a gluten-free kid can have their cake and eat it too! There are quite a few GF bakeries that make custom cakes — Wild Blue Bakery, Konscious Kitchen , Bunners, Edible Options, to name a few. If cupcakes are more your thing, there’s 100% GF Almond Butterfly Bakeshop. To this day, Lily loves the mini cinnamon buns from Bunners, so we’d send those to parties for her instead of cake and she was always happy about it. You can also DIY a dessert using a baking mix from Stellar Eats or Dainty Foods.

We all scream for ice cream! Another fantastic option is an ice-cream cake from Baskin Robbins. They are knowledgeable about which flavours and toppings are gluten free. If you’re serving up scoops or having a sundae station, I recommend BR or Chapmans or Haagen Dazs (always read ingredients to see which flavours are GF). Get some M&Ms (note that they are not nut free) or sprinkles or other candies (see below) for decoration. You can even find packaged GF ice-cream cones at the supermarket.

What’s a party without snacks? For salty options, Neal Brothers is our go to for tortilla chips, kettle chips and cheesies. Lays and Ruffles also have GF options (check online to see which flavours are safe). Glutino and Snyder’s have GF pretzels. On the sweet side, we love MadeGood granola bars and minis, chocolate chunk cookies from Molly’s Market, Tate’s chocolate chip cookies and Glutino chocolate wafer cookies. Gluten-free Oreos exist now! Yum Earth has lollipops and Smart Sweets has all kinds of candies like gummy bears and worms and sour peaches—good for loot bags too!