It was 2016, and my first baby was about to turn one year old. I dreamed of the trendy first birthday party, complete with a smash cake. There was only one problem…my daughter had FPIES. With a long list of foods to avoid that made her sick, we only had one safe food leading up to her first birthday.
I spent quite a few hours online trying to figure out how to make a cake work out using only Neocate infant formula and strawberries. I spent even more hours crying over my hopeless dream of giving my daughter a cake like everyone else.
I don’t know why it mattered to me so much, it’s only a cake…but it did. Even now, she’s about to turn 6, but I still remember the pain of that first year with no cake.
Eventually, I gave up and started looking for alternatives to a smash cake. It was a bit of a challenge because there wasn’t a lot of info out there. I ended up getting cardboard hat boxes and decorating them to look like a cake. I painted the boxes and glued ribbons on, then we hid little presents inside each box for her to open.
It ended up just ok, and I wish we had done something a bit more memorable. But, if I’m honest, the cake was really more for me than her. She was more interested in playing with the tissue paper from her gifts, and she didn’t even really care about her “cake” one way or the other.
If you’re here researching smash cake alternatives, take a breath. Take a minute to remember that what’s important is that you have a baby celebrating one year of life. One year of life with allergies or FPIES – and YOU are the rockstar that’s helping them celebrate and stay healthy, even through all of the challenges that are being thrown your way. Maybe there’s a safe food that you can make into a cake or maybe you stick with non-food ideas. Either way, take a minute to relax, let go of any expectations you are holding on to that aren’t going to be met or that aren’t realistic, so that you can actually enjoy the experience.
After all, first birthdays only happen once.
And, if I’m honest? I’m about to spend today making birthday cakes for my five and six year olds. Every year has gotten a little bit better. Both kids can all finally eat a gluten free cake with icing bought from the store!
We missed out on some stuff that first year, but in the long run, no one is traumatized. And I get to enjoy each milestone with them, they get to participate in the celebration as they pass new foods and it doesn’t hurt their belly.
With that in mind, let’s dive into some really cool ideas that you can do INSTEAD of a smash cake.
Limited Ingredient Cake Alternatives
This looks like a smash cake, and it’s just as mashable and messy. A mash cake can be made out of purees of almost any safe food that your child can do. It could be mashed sweet potatoes, mashed peas, mashed potatoes, or mashed quinoa. Cook the veggie until it’s soft and sticky but still firm enough to hold it’s shape. Mound it on a plate and shape it into a cake-like circle or square. You can even decorate the top with more veggies or other safe ingredients.
Bacon Basket Weave Cake
For my daughter’s second birthday, we still had a very small list of safe foods, but her absolutely favorite food was bacon. I had the crazy idea to take pieces of bacon and weave them together to make a basket shape. I used a pyrex bowl that was oven safe, flipped it upside down so that it made a dome, then weaved the strips of bacon together to form a mat and draped it over the bowl. I baked it that way at 400 degrees for about ten minutes until the bacon was done. When it cooled I took it off the bowl and balanced some candles on top. It was awesome, and my daughter loved it. (This can also be used for husbands who love bacon!)
These are awesome, and can be made with just Chia seeds, Coconut Milk, and sugar.
Rice Krispy Treats
We made these even before rice was safe – you can use puffed millet or any of the chex mix type cereals, quinoa queen cereal or puffed quinoa would work as well. Any type of puffed cereal treat works well.
If you have a safe cereal, safe oil, and marshmallows (you can even make marshmallows homemade) you can make this. And as a bonus, it’s strong enough to hold candles!
Fruit rings or slices stacked up to make a cake
I’ve seen this one done a number of different ways. I’ve seen a large slice of watermelon with or without icing around the outside (this could be made with coconut cream that’s been whipped up or just plain). I’ve also seen people stack up slices of apple in a circle so that it makes a cake, then put the candle on top.
Limited Ingredient Ice Cream
Did you know you can make ice cream in a homemade ice cream machine without dairy? We make ours with coconut milk, vanilla, and sugar. For a chocolate alternative, you can add cocoa powder to it as well. The sugar can be regular cane sugar, coconut sugar, or brown sugar and it will still work well. It may work with honey or more liquid type sweeteners as well, but I haven’t personally tried them.
I use one can of coconut milk (the full fat kind), and add ½ cup of sugar (brown sugar or coconut sugar work best). Taste it at this point and see if you like it, the sugar levels can be adjusted to taste.
Blend that up so that the sugar dissolves and then put it in an ice cream machine and freeze. You can also add ⅓ cup of cocoa powder and another ½ cup of sugar to make it taste like a Wendy’s Frosty.
This is what we did for my daughter’s first birthday and it was such a hit.
We took her infant Neocate formula and blended it with some strawberries and froze that into a popsicle. Everyone else at the party got a regular strawberry popsicle, so she didn’t know the difference. We had the party outside at a playground and it was so hot that day that the popsicles ended up being a great treat.
Popsicles are also great if you only have one or two safe foods, or even if you have none. Almost anything can be blended and frozen, and you don’t have to worry about it holding its shape when it’s frozen.
If you don’t have safe foods or formula, use breastmilk or even water and freeze it into some cute silicone molds like these unicorn ones, or like these sea creatures. If you have a little inner nerd then you might prefer some like these (i know I would haha). Yes, I know frozen water is just ice, not a popsicle, but if it’s all you’ve got, use it.
Whatever you decide to do, remember to have fun. Enjoy the time because it goes so fast. And take pictures. Because when you have a five and six year old, you start to forget all those things you swore you would always remember.