Keeping Kids Kosher Away From Home

Keeping kosher at home is pretty easy for most families. The kids grow up used to eating in a certain way: no mixing dairy with meats and fish, using separate dishes and flatware for dairy and meat meals, and knowing how to check labels at the grocery store.

For many parents, though, the big challenges start when invitations to parties hosted by non-kosher friends come home. Will there be hamburgers and hotdogs washed down with chocolate milk or followed by cake and ice cream? Here are some tips to help your kids kosher away from home and community. It can help all of you adjust to adhering to your “food rules” comfortably while still enjoying the event.

Lead By Example: Speak Softly and Stick to Your Practice

One thing parents with small children need to remember is that life is a lot easier when you don’t make a big deal out of things. I’m not saying that kosher isn’t a big deal. But the more you treat it as perfectly normal for you and your family, the less different you and your kid(s) will appear, feel, and be treated. Keeping a calm attitude is also a great example to set for your children.

There are many people and children who observe dietary restrictions for medical reasons or by choice. Maybe yours is the only kid being raised kosher, but I’ll bet the rent there’s a kid or two from a vegetarian or vegan home going to that party, too. And really, very few parents today are put out by dietary practices that are different from their own.

Assuming you know the parents at least in passing, explain that you keep kosher and that you’ll be bringing Hebrew National dogs to the barbecue (already grilled so that there isn’t that awkward explanation of not mixing kosher and non-kosher on the barbecue.) Or do they expect vegetarian guests? If so, you’d be happy to bring prepared tofu dogs or garden burgers.

Then find those vegetarians or vegans and discuss bringing food to share. Chances are, they can make really great dairy-free cake if they’re concerned about the ingredients in the birthday boy’s cake. Together, you can discuss this with the parents, who—again—will most likely be completely cool about this. Just about everyone today knows someone with a food allergy or sensitivity and will raise the alarm if there’s nuts in the cookies someone brought or offer a gluten-free treat for friends with celiac disease.

Remember, your child already knows that s/he doesn’t drink milk with a beef hotdog or hamburger. The hosts will no doubt have water or juice available, too. There’s really no need to get into a “can’t have X and Y” routine.

As for missing out on the birthday cake: take home a slice for your child to eat later after a meat-free meal. Ask where the cake came from (“it’s so pretty!”); you probably will know if the grocery store or bakery in question is acceptable.

Emphasize the Social Part of Birthday Parties

Your child was invited to the party because his or her little friend wanted him there (or the parents invite everyone in the class or baby/toddler group or whatever). Lead by example, again, and emphasize the social aspect of the party—how much fun it was playing balloon swords and dancing and pinning the tail on the donkey. There’s no reason to highlight the food.

Make a point to talk to the other parents, just to get to know them. Eventually, the topic of food will come up (it always seems to at these things) and you’ll find yourself comparing recipes and meals. This is a subtle way to disclose your own kosher lifestyle should you feel the need to. Don’t be surprised if you learn who only shops at organic farms, who’s got a child on the autism spectrum (diet is a very important factor for these families), and who has season seats for the Jays.

That’s really the point of going to a party. The more you focus on the easy, fun part of this, the more invitations you’ll be getting to bring your kid(s) to the next one.

What do all kids love? Macaroni and cheese! Here’s a recipe from an unlikely source for kosher food, Wolfgang Puck. Kosher varieties for all the ingredients are available from World Cheese Company, approved by COR.

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If you’re making this for yourself, or have kids with particularly sophisticated palettes, Puck includes truffles in his recipe:

  • Add 3 T chopped black truffles with the milk and onion
  • Serve with shaved black truffles

Are truffles kosher?

  • COR has not certified products with truffles. It does not recommend oyster mushrooms because of the near-impossibility to check them for infestation with bugs. Infestation would make them unkosher.
  • Truffles are kosher in their natural state, Rabbi Jeremy Conway of the Kashrut Division of London Beth Din told The Jewish Chronicle Online, but must be perfect and free of infestation to be consumed.
  • Australia’s kosher authority, coSKA, considers all mushrooms to be naturally kosher. Kashrut.com, which bills itself as the “Premier Kosher Information Source on the Web,” agrees.