How can we celebrate our kid's birthday without a cake?

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My son's first birthday is fast approaching, and I am debating whether or not to make him a cake. He hasn't eaten anything with sugar (other than the sugars naturally found in fruit and breastmilk) and I would like to keep it that way as long as possible.

I am sure it is my adult sensibility and social programming talking, but I cannot imagine a birthday without a cake. I know my son will not remember what will be a milestone for me; in fact if Christmas is anything to go by, festivities and gifts are not that interesting to him (yet). Nevertheless, this is a special day and I would like to do something outside the norm of our usual routine and usual food.

Are there any baby/toddler-friendly sugar-free (Splenda is not in that category in my opinion) cake recipes that you have tried? How have you celebrated your children's first birthdays without cake? — Ellen

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  1. Baby's First Birthday Cake (Carrot Cake)

    (Makes 1 double-layer 9-inch square cake; adapted from "What to Expect")

    2 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrots
    2 1/2 cups apple juice concentrate (you may use slightly less)
    1 1/2 cups raisins
    Vegetable Spray/Shortening
    2 cups whole-wheat flour
    1/2 cup vegetable oil
    2 whole eggs
    4 egg whites
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
    1/2 cup wheat germ
    2 Tbsp low sodium baking powder
    1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

    Prep: Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two 9 inch square cake pans with waxed paper and spray the paper with vegetable spray/shortening.

    1. Combine the carrots with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the juice concentrate in a medium size saucepan.
    2. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, 15 to 20 mins. Puree in a blender of food processor until smooth.
    3. Add the raisins and process until finely chopped. Let mixture cool.
    4. Combine the flour, wheat germ, baking powder, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups juice concentrate, the oil, eggs, egg whites, and vanilla; beat just until well mixed. Fold in the carrot puree and applesauce. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans.
    5. Bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 mins. Cool briefly in the pans, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

    Sugar-Free Cream Cheese Frosting – Frosts one 2-layer cake

    ½ cup apple juice concentrate
    1 pound light cream cheese
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    ½ cup finely chopped raisins
    1 ½ tsp unflavored gelatin

    1. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the juice concentrate.
    2. Process the remaining juice concentrate, the cream cheese, vanilla, and raisins in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
    3. Stir the gelatin into the 2 tablespoons juice concentrate in a small saucepan; let stand 1 minute to soften. Heat to boiling and stir to dissolve gelatin.
    4. Beat the gelatin mixture into the cream cheese mixture until well blended. Refrigerate just until the frosting begins to set, about 30-60 minutes.

    Applesauce Spice Cake

    3 eggs
    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    1 cup unsweetened applesauce
    1 1/4 cup frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
    2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    1 tablespoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon ground ginger
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    dash of nutmeg
    1/2 cup chopped dates
    1 1/2 cups ground almonds (optional)
    2 Macintosh apples – peeled, cored and finely chopped

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour one 9 inch square baking pan.

    Beat the eggs until they drop like ribbons from the beaters. Continue beating and add the oil in a thin stream. Beat in the 1 cup applesauce and the 1 cup unsweetened apple juice concentrate then mix in the flour gradually until well blended. Add the baking soda, ground ginger, ground almonds and apples. Fold together until well mixed.
    Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees F about 40 minutes or until the cake tests clean with a knife or toothpick. Cool completely before frosting.

    15 agree
    • We also did carrot cake for my daughter's first birthday. We did not do the apple juice in lieu of sugar, but it has a small amount of sugar anyways. We also left the frosting off and just did the cake. We made mini bundt cakes, so I dusted everyone else's cakes with powdered sugar. It was a hit.

      1 agrees
  2. My son is allergic to dairy, and I'm not a baker, so he just didn't eat any cake. We had some pretty cakes that we served to others, and took photos. For a couple of months before, I tried to find some vegan cakes or other options, but I didn't really want him to have all that sugar, and my husband doesn't think messy babies are cute. So that might not be the answer you were looking for, but it's all I could think of for us. Some people seemed annoyed, including my parents. I got a small lecture from my dad on how to introduce solids to a baby. (um ok Dad, not helpful. ha!) All in all the party was fun, and everyone was happy.

    2 agree
  3. This website has a raw cupcake that doesn't use sugar.

    raw carrot cupcakes with cashew buttercream

    Or you can try subbing ground dates for sugar.
    Date Sugar: 2/3 cup = 1 cup brown sugar

    Made from finely ground dates, it is not technically a sugar itself but works well as a solid substitute rather than a liquid substitute. It does not melt or dissolve like other sugars. It also absorbs moisture instead of adding it, you may wish to add 1-2 tbsp more of wet ingredients. It has a really low glycemic index and is not overly sweet- it may be perfect for short baking like cookies.


    5 agree
  4. if you google "sugar free banana bread" you might find something to your liking. Bananas are so sweet, especially when they're really ripe. You could probably use them to adapt any number of recipes.

    4 agree
    • I was thinking the Banana bread "cake" route as well!

      1 agrees
      • My twins 1st birthday was two weeks ago. I made vegan sugar free banana bread cupcakes. They were really muffins but I felt better calling them cupcakes. I usually substitute applesauce for oil in sweet breads so I was counting on the applesauce to sweeten these cupcakes.

        Here is the recipe I used:

        2 bananas mashed
        1 1/4 cups flour
        1/2 tsp. baking soda
        1 tsp. baking powder
        1/2 tsp. salt
        3/4 cup granulated sugar (i omitted the sugar)
        1/3 cup vegetable oil (i substituted unsweetened apple sauce for oil)
        2/3 cup non-dairy milk (you could use formula or breastmilk too for the wee ones)
        1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

        5 agree
        • Sounds delish & perfect for our upcoming 1st birthday extravaganza. I'm making the cakes for all the kiddos from our Bradley Method class, so need to make 12 mini cakes. It would be helpful to know how many cupcakes this recipe makes so that I may scale it up.
          Thank you!

  5. My husband can't eat cane sugar, so we bake all our sweets with maple syrup (The real stuff, we live in the northeast), and they're still really good. For my daughter's 1st he made her a carrot cake with the recipe from Joy of Cooking, and just substituted in maple syrup instead of sugar. You can do this with almost any recipe. If the recipe calls for 1 cup sugar, I usually put in 1/2 or 2/3 cup maple syrup to tone down the sweetness, and you want to keep in mind that it's a liquid, and maybe cut back a little on whatever liquid (water or milk) the cake calls for, but it's a very easy substitution for most recipes.

    1 agrees
    • You say that your husband can't eat cane sugar, but can eat maple syrup. I just have to ask: is it an allergy? My husband is allergic to cane sugar/processed sugars as well, and that condition is extremely rare. My husband's never met anyone with the same condition before.
      (Sorry, I know it's off-topic a bit from the original article)

  6. How about a round of brie with a candle in it? Enjoyable for grown ups, looks cute, and maybe he could take a lick of the innards (if that's okay with you, obviously). Or what about a box made to look like a cake with healthy treats inside?

    10 agree
  7. I like the maple syrup idea! I was thinking the same thing myself.

  8. I actually spotted a watermelon cake on pinterest yesterday!!… now to go find it for you

    Ok, so this wasn't the one I saw yesterday, but it's pretty good inspiration for just using fresh fruit to create an awesome looking cake

    10 agree
  9. we made waffles – i replaced the sugar in the recipie with pureed bananas. the grownups had powdered sugar on theirs, if they wanted. the kids loved it!

    also – i saw an awesome cake made out of melon and fruits on pinterest – was that somewhere on the empire boards??. i´ll try and find it again

    …7 minutes later *tadaaa*

    1 agrees
  10. You could just have cake that's used for pictures and only served to the adults… As you mentioned, he probably won't miss not actually eating it.

    2 agree
  11. How about a fabulous birthday muffin?
    All naturally sweetened with apples?
    You can even make all natural banana icecream to go with it! Take two whole bananas freeze- take out ten min. prior to wanting to eat and then whip in a blender or with a mixer. Tah Dah! Ice Cream!

    1 agrees
  12. One of my three preferred to have fruit rather than a cake, cupcakes, or a cookie. He wanted a fruit bouquet for his birthday and truthfully when the others dug in no one said anything about not having cake!!!

  13. A google search for "Primal" or "Paleo" desserts will bring up a boatload of options that are grain and sugar free. We're big fans of almond and coconut flours at our house, and can make a pretty sweet banana nut bread. And a little whipped coconut milk on top works as a frosting replacement!

    1 agrees
  14. A friend of mine made our daughter a fruit pizza for her birthday using organic hand-whipped cream for "sauce" and kiwi, banana, strawberry, and blueberries as toppings. It was really cute! I'm sure there's a pizza dough recipe out there that's GF–coconut flour?

    1 agrees
    • *Ahem* Whatup? :)

      Coconut flour pizza crust:

      4 eggs
      1/3 cup coconut flour, sifted
      1/3 cup golden flaxseed meal
      1/2 cup coconut milk
      1 Tbsp olive oil
      1/2 tsp salt

      Pour onto parchment-lined pan and use a spatula to shape and smooth it into the thickness you want. 350 for about 15 minutes per side, maybe throw in some raw honey or maple for extra sweetness.

      Almond meal pizza crust

      2 cups ground almond meal/flour (can use up to 1/2c flax)
      3 eggs
      1 T olive oil
      ½ tsp salt
      1 tsp xanthan gum (if desired)

      Use two sheets of parchment paper to press this into shape, and then bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Let it cool, top it, and then re-bake for around 15 minutes or until your toppings are the way you like them. This would be heavier and would taste great with some butter, honey, and cinnamon.

      1 agrees
        • Right-o. Though this is for the first birthday, so it's one of those borderline things :)

  15. I know someone who made their child a mash cake. A cake made of mashed potatoes and food coloring! It turned out great! She had a blast mashing it and it looked just like a cake!

    2 agree
  16. I would think that if you want to avoid the sweetness associated with cake, you might still want to avoid cake things that are sweetened only with fruit – the recipes are almost certainly designed to be similarly sweet (at least in my experience).

    I love the idea of making a "cake" out of fruit – perhaps "frosted" with a bit of yogurt? You could totally do a "cupcake" tower of tasty parfaits.

    1 agrees
  17. I had a brownie recipe once that used prune Purée as the sweetener- maybe a good option?

  18. Agave nectar is what we use instead of sugar.It is a third more sweet than sugar so you use 67% the amount of sugar called for as agave instead. Kind of like the maple syrup idea.

    • Caution with this, I have at least one friend that reacted really badly to agave, making her quite sick. Also, it has a lot of fructose, which is what makes it sweeter than sugar.

  19. Are you meat-eaters? What about a frosted meatloaf?

    1 agrees
  20. I actually can't remember the last time I had cake for my birthday – there are just things I'm much more fond of. While I know this isn't what you're going for, I always get pie. Just make something that's his favorite dessert.

    I don't know if whipped cream is an option, but what about fruit and whipped cream (or maybe yogurt) parfaits?

    And now here's unsolicited advice time: I think it's great you're limiting sugar intake, particularly at a young age, but just be warned that there are two possible outcomes – your kid just doesn't like sugar that much, or your kid will eat as much sugar as humanly possible when they're not in your sight (it wasn't sugar specifically for me, but I wasn't allowed chips and stuff of that nature, and now it's very difficult for me to control myself around chips)

    4 agree
  21. My first child had eating delays and food allergies. I made a "wacky" cake, I don't recall about sugar (i am sure there is a ton – but only adults ate it anyway), but it has no milk or egg. She didn't eat it anyway, so we didn't serve it to her or take pictures of the "mess" because she never even went near it. Baby #2 never even had a birthday party and cake for her first birthday. I am sure she will bring it up to me when she is older, but we were all very very sick for the month of her birthday and it was cold and snowy, so we never did it all. I might do one at 18 months. Anyway, I did birthday cakes until 3 years old for my oldest, but now we just do favorite and special food, so if there is a favorite food my kids like, I would rather make that. I stopped after 3 years old when my daughter begged and begged for an ice cream cake and then wouldn't eat it because it wasn't what she imagined and my husband had to eat it all! So to sum it up…is there a special food you can make instead? Like birthday noodles, or potatoes? Or chicken? : )

    1 agrees
  22. Your child isn't going to remember it, so I think whatever makes you happy is what you should do. They don't know you're "supposed" to have a birthday cake, so unless they're old enough to ask for them… why do it just because it's expected? And like others have said, if you want to stick a candle in something, it can be anything! Get a picture in front of a happy birthday sign or something instead of in front of a cake! :)

    2 agree
  23. My mum was worried about giving me sugar on my first birthday too. Her solution was to blu-tac a candle to a cake tin.

  24. I felt the same way. I did not want to give my newly one year old any sugar! My son just had his first birthday in February and I felt better having him eat a little slice of homemade vegan chocolate cake.

  25. I was in your same boat. I didn't want him to have cake at all but felt pressure from the mother and mother-in-law!

    We are vegan, and our son has food allergies. I didn't want him having sugar, eggs, milk, white flour, or any foods he hadn't been exposed to yet (lots of stuff even in the vegan recipes).

    Your best bet is something "normal" for the guests and something special just for him. We make the raw vegan carrot cake, but I roll them up into balls and then roll the balls in raw unsweetened coconut since our son can't eat the cashew frosting. If your son hasn't had walnuts, though, you'll want to avoid those.

    There's an oatmeal, carrot, ginger recipe somewhere that uses a very small amount of agave or maple syrup (not much), but I can't find it.

    When it came down to it, my son had an allergic reaction the day before and had the runs on the day of the party, and I had an excuse not to give him any cake :)

    Good luck!

  26. My best friend served her son a double layer corn bread "cake" and used whipped avocado (I guess guacamole essentially) for the frosting. It was cute and the yellow and green made it really colorful too!

    1 agrees
  27. We did a muffin and coffee (for grownups) party for my first. We usually do cupcakes and make them as healthy as possible. There are so many awesome ways to substitute healthy ingredients for crap.

  28. For my oldest son I skipped the party and made a picnik. He could run in the grass with his ball and ate only fruit. We adults lighted a candle in a mini cake. My daughter will be one this monday and although I'm letting the in-laws throw a tradicional party they already know she'll have a separate cupcake

  29. What about making some sort of thick pudding you could still put a candle into? Basically I'm thinking blended avocado with chocolate, maybe maple syrup or some other fruits. Or you could make more of the filling and put it into a crust to make an avocado pie for the grownups (I'd recommend staying raw and perhaps doing a crushed walnut/date crust! We made one for a gluten-free/vegan wedding potluck last year and it was delicious).

  30. I remember when I was in kindergarten that we used to get a play dough cake for our birthday. We all really looked forward to it and I thought mine was the shiz.

    1 agrees
  31. Maybe you could just give him his favorite food for dinner and then use a toy to make it special? Or use some brightly colored cups and utensils? Babies have pretty low expectations so it should be easy to just jazz up dinner a little bit.

    1 agrees
  32. My son didn't eat much, if any, of the cake at his first birthday. However, I'm glad he had the cake because now that he is 3 and slightly obsessed with cupcakes (despite or perhaps because of my efforts not to feed him junk), he LOVES to see the pictures of himself with his birthday cake when he was a baby.

  33. So many great ideas! He is not really into squishy foods but he loves fruit and toast and other crunchy things, so thanks to all the posts I am thinking of a small apple cake (sweetened with apple sauce) with some crispy bits of toast or cracker on top instead of icing and some fruit on sticks…

    His birthday is Saturday so I need to get shopping!

  34. My friend made a little cake of sticky rice and berries for her little girl's first birthday. Super easy!

  35. Just a thought:
    MAJOR applause on your no-sugar pursuit!! Love all the comments on that topic.
    I am keenly interested in the food relationship here, wondering about a possible "don't reward with food/sugar" stance. I oddly have many vivid memories of my childhood, and my post-Eating Disorder self is now curious of what might have happened had I not been rewarded with treats or learned to associate junk food with the celebration of aging.
    I have no youngers yet, but am interested in trying to downplay food for birthdays and maybe even holidays. I'm no Nazi, and please don't be scared that your child will end up with an ED if you give them cake! Not at all! My ED was tied to a lot of other things. Working through them has brought me to a greater awareness of food and our relationships with it.
    I will be trying something like this:
    for the celebratory observance, then potluck for the guests. =)

    1 agrees
  36. Am I a total jerk because I'm excited to give my kid his first taste of sugar on his birthday?

    1 agrees
    • Totally not! I was the same way. :) This post is representative of one perspective, but it doesn't mean anything is wrong or right about it — it's what one family is choosing to do.

  37. You could skip the cake all together and go for another fun, traditional 1st year event. The Chinese place objects symbolizing different things in front of their babies and let them choose one. It's a fun way to "predict" their future. Here's a video:

    • Koreans do something very similar! It's cute and a good way to get everyone engaged at the party.

    • Ah! I'm totally doing this. I'm not of Asian descent, but it's SUCH a fun idea!

  38. Hi Ellen, I'm sorry for not answering your question & respecting your need for help with a sugarless cake or equivalent… just thought I'd empathise and throw the option out there of you having whatever cake you want – with or without sugar. Up until my daughter's first birthday, she'd had no added sugar, no white flour, was breastfed, and had absolutely no juice. For her birthday my partner made the most amazing sugared-up rainbow cake! She had some cake because it was a special occasion. I was more concerned about my friend giving her loads of fresh orange pieces as she hadn't had much citrus by then and citrus allergies run in my family.. Since then (excluding a friend's birthday and Christmas dinner), she's gone back to her lacto-ovo vegetarian, wholegrain, no-added sugar diet without any fuss. At 17 months, she's still breastfed, and still hasn't had any juice, which I'm passionate about. Guess all I'm saying is whatever you choose to do, however it works out, decide not to feel guilty about anything and enjoy it! You only get to see your son turn one once. What kind of memories do you want when you look back at photos/videos of this magical time? His joy & delight I'm sure :) p.s the sugar kept her awake for a while which turned out to be quite useful! All the best.

    1 agrees
  39. I say let go of the cake. Put candles in a bowl full of fruit! I sure wish I'd never learned to have a toxic addiction to processed, sugary foods and I think it's great that you want to avoid feeding your child that stuff as long as possible!!

  40. We had a homemade cake that a friend made for us that was amazing and had fresh fruit in it….but guess what? My sos blew out the candle and then he was perfectly fine not eating it.. I had a healthier baked muffin-like carrot cake for him to eat :)

  41. How about pancakes, made from scratch so they don't have all that add crap that mixes have. You could layer them with fresh fruit & cream between the layers. Or maybe a trifle using sugar free jelly & lots of fresh fruit.

    1 agrees

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