How do you pull off an awesome low-budget, gluten-free, soy-free, worry-free birthday party?

Guest post by Agenta Emme
Gluten Free birthday party card by TickTockPress

I’m trying to pull off an awesome birthday party for my husband this year. But it’s his first birthday since we discovered that he is both gluten and soy intolerant. It’s been a tough year, and we both have had to change the way we shop for food and our feelings about always eating together. On top of that, money has been tight, due to his doctor visits and because I’m still in school.

I feel like he deserves to have a wonderful birthday, where he doesn’t have to give a damn about worrying about what’s in his food. I figured if anyone would know about throwing a party for a nerd with dietary constrictions on a budget, the Offbeat Homies would know.

So how do you pull off an awesome low-budget, gluten-free, soy-free, worry-free birthday party? -Jackie

Hi! I’ve been gluten-free for a little over a year now. It was really hard at first as we love having weekly game nights with our friends. There’s always the worry that they’re not going to like gluten-free food, and they’re not going to be happy… wait… if it doesn’t taste good than I am not going to be happy either.

I have since learned to make a ton of things myself:

  • We do build your own taco bars (giving people the option to use either corn or white flour tortillas)
  • We make quesadillas
  • Serve all-meat hot-dogs with homemade beans
  • Build your own potato salad
  • Always little bites of things like cheese, salami (read the ingredients), cherry tomatoes
  • And I always provide crackers even if I don’t have any that are gluten-free

For a gluten free birthday party I try to make the cake myself, as many of the boxed mixes taste weird. I use the gluten free flour blend in this book: Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking and I have never had any problems with substituting that in place of flour in any recipe. Just remember that you need to make your own gluten-free baking powder. You can find the recipe on the internet and make a big batch to last awhile. It’s just baking soda and cream of tarter.

Since I started baking from that book my husband (who HATES gluten-free food) has been happily munching on the same bread that I have.

If you have any questions for a gluten-free foodie who throws a ton of get-togethers… let me know!

Comments on How do you pull off an awesome low-budget, gluten-free, soy-free, worry-free birthday party?

  1. I went Paleo a few months ago, so I also do not eat gluten or soy. Or any grains for that matter. If you do a search for paleo birthday cake, there are quite a few recipes that come up, all will be gluten and soy free. If you make the food yourself, it will probably be cheaper than going out to eat or catering. Grilling is always a good option for staying away from food allergies, watch your sauces though, they often have soy or gluten in them. Hope that helps! Happy Birthday to your hubby!

  2. Being a nerd with dietary restrictions, I’ve had quite the time with this sort of thing too (I’m dairy free).
    But I’ve found that in the past few years, the grocery store is stocking A LOT more gluten free, dairy free, soy free alternatives (and I live in Newfoundland). You can even get gluten free beer now – there’s a few actually. Yes it’s going to cost a little more, but I’m sure you’re well aware of the increased cost that come with a restricted diet. Unfortunately I can’t recommend any good brands for gluten free. But if he can have coconut milk, So Delicious has a really yummy coconut milk ice cream – I like vanilla.

  3. Apparently Gwenyth Paltrow’s new book has a really delicious gluten free cake recipe –

    I love the idea of grilling – kebabs are gluten free and don’t make you want a bun, and you can easily make your own marinades that don’t involve soy, and everybody can make their own kebabs so it’s fun.

    I’ve also thrown a baked potato bar party, which is a great way to avoid gluten and super-easy on a budget. Just bake sweet and regular potatoes and provide toppings like sour cream, greek yogurt, bacon, chili, candied pecans, butter, cinnamon, sugar, cheese, pulled pork, etc. You can’t go wrong, it’s vegetarian and GF friendly, soy free, and straight up fun.

    • food bars of all kinds can be great because it lets people choose what they want.

      If you’re thinking of throwing party, maybe ask your friends to bring food potluck style in lieu of any sort of gift. I throw a big thanksgiving for my friends and some of them are gluten free, some are dairy free, some are just allergic to whey (so they can still have butter but no milk), some are vegetarian. We do potluck and I just ask everyone to fill out a little card when they arrive and mark what it has in it. Then when people go through the buffet they just grab what they can eat.

      • Personally, I would recommend against a potluck, if the goal is for a person with food allergies not to have to worry about what is in his food unless everyone you invite is VERY clear on what his dietary restrictions are, what unexpected foods might contain problem ingredients (For example, who’d have thought there was wheat in soy sauce?) and the fact that this is matter of safety, not dietary preference, taste or a fad diet thing and that gluten in his food will make him sick.

        If the goal is for him to be able to relax and eat without fear, I think it would probably be better to provide all the food yourself or delegate to one or two people you can trust to get it right.

        • I have celiac disease and a lot of well-meaning friends who’ll bring me homemade “gluten free” treats that wind up making me ill more often than not. Cross-contamination is super hard to avoid, especially when you’re not allergic to anything yourself and don’t know what to look for.

    • I’m loving the idea of a baked potato bar party! That seems like something he would love and would be inexpensive. I never would have thought of that. Thanks for the idea!

  4. Hi! I’ve been GF for a little over a year now. It was really hard at first as we love having weekly game nights with our friends.

    There’s always the worry that they’re not going to like GF food and they’re not going to be happy… wait… if it doesn’t taste good than I am not going to be happy either.

    I have since learned to make a ton of things myself. We do build your own taco bars (giving people the option to use either corn or white flour tortillas), quesadillas, all meat hot-dogs with homemade beans, build your own potato salad, etc. Always little bites of things like cheese, salami (read the ingredients), cherry tomatoes, and I always provide crackers even if I don’t have any that are GF.

    My friends know about my issues with gluten and they do not use the same forks to touch things that have gluten so I do not have to worry about cross-contamination.

    For birthdays I try to make the cake myself as many of the boxed mixes taste weird. I use the gluten free flour blend in this book: Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking ( ) and I have never had any problems with substituting that in place of flour in any recipe. Just remember that you need to make your own GF baking powder. You can find the recipe on the internet and make a big batch to last awhile. It’s just baking soda and cream of tarter.

    Since I started baking from that book my husband (who HATES GF food) has been happily munching on the same bread that I have.

    If you have any questions for a GF foodie who throws a ton of get-togethers… let me know.

  5. prioritise and personalise. from my experiences specialised foods can be pricier than “regular” so i find it best to find cheap alternatives for things that arent such a big deal then spend extra to get the best for the important item/s (like the cake). theres no point spending lots of time and money getting a great cake if the birthday boy isnt even fussed by cake and would prefer pie or whatever (pavlova is my bday thing – which is super easy to make gluten free!)
    happy birthday celebrations! 🙂

  6. Grill fresh pineapple slices sprinkled with cinnamon! It’s tasty.

    Make a salad from seasonal fruit maybe, or stack watermelon slices like a cake and put candles on top.

    Substitutes will always be compared to the original, so maybe something different that stands on it’s own. (For example, I gave up on trying to find a good vegetarian “hot dog” and just started grilling interesting veggies with marinades at cookouts.) Good luck!

    • Totally agree with this! Stuff that’s naturally gluten free tastes better to me than gluten substitutes, and can definitely be cheaper. Check out dessert recipes for Passover–coconut macaroons, almond flour cake, etc. Lots of fruit, fruit is amazing! Fresh is good, fruit and cream is delicious if he can do dairy, and fried/grilled fruit is omg amazing. Try grilling peaches, and sprinkling some brown sugar on top if you really want some extra amazing.

    • The grilling fruit idea is amazing! I never even thought about it. I guess being from the deep south kinda warps your ides of “proper” cooking.

  7. Try to make as much if the food yourself as you can – it’s much cheaper to go to a bulk food shop and buy all the different gf flours than it is to buy gf cake or brownie mixes. Cheese platters are a good option too and you don’t have to buy anything too fancy, even a vintage cheddar and gf crackers with some fresh fruits, dried fruits and nuts. What about myo pizzas, so everyone can add their own toppings? Obvs is depends what kind of food you both like. If you don’t want to make everything allergen friendly, use a colour code system to make it easy – yea foods in green bowls, no foods in red bowls. Also I feel like I recommend her site all the time but check out chocolate covered Katie she has loads if allergy friendly delicious but simple recipes.

  8. We’re a household of food allergies so I feel your pain. This past New Years Eve my friends and I through a family friendly allergy free (or as allergy free as you can get) party. The other hosting couple had recently had to go soy, dairy and gluten free for their infant daughter’s allergies so were interested in throwing a party that every one could enjoy.

    The trick to keeping it cost effective was to serve food that was naturally allergy free. Instead of buying gluten free or soy free treats we served whole foods. We had a big fancy fruit salad (because everyone likes fruit salad), a kale goat cheese salad (for my cows milk allergic family), burgers on the grill served in lettuce wraps (for the gluten free folks), grilled veggies and fruit (vegan), Meringue Cookies over fresh fruit (gluten, soy, dairy free), berry cobbler made with gluten free oats(egg, dairy, soy and gluten free), and lots of wine (gluten free). The one specialty thing we had was my paleo chocolate chip cookies — because I always have to be eating cookies.

  9. If it’s cake that is presenting the problem – cakes that are naturally denser do better with the gluten free flour substitution. I find that cakes like zucchini chocolate cake or carrot cake do particularly well.

    For the rest of the food: there are tons of options! I often make something that I can prepare in advance and then just pop into the oven after I’m dressed for the party. Lasagna (made with gluten free noodles) is a favorite. Stacked enchiladas (watch out, some corn tortillas contain gluten, but it is usually easy to find GF ones) work well too.

    If you have time to be a bit more fussy and do a tapas style evening: a Spanish tortilla (think quiche without the crust), bacon wrapped dates (use fake bacon for the vegheads, it’s still yummy), cheese, sweet and spicy baked almonds, paella and olives are all gluten free. Rice croquetas are easily made gluten free by substituting gluten free cracker crumbs for the bread crumbs.

    A cheese plate (with nuts, dried fruit, and olive or tomato tapenade) served with rice crackers also makes for a nice party addition. I personally like rice crackers better than many wheat crackers.

    Winter time parties: I often make flavorful stews that can be left in the crockpot. Chili, Caribbean flavored stew with black beans and sweet potatoes, even saag paneer (made with heavier greens then spinach, however – mustard greens and chard, for example) – these are all inexpensive, easy (except for the veggie chopping), gluten free meals that can be served over rice. I usually add some fancy appetizers for it to feel more like party food.

  10. I agree that when watching your budget on a restricted diet it is key to make things from scratch. The store-bought alternatives are pricey and often not that tasty. I have been gluten free for about 10 years now and do not feel that my diet is “restricted,” just different!
    So, when I have guests over, they also eat entirely gluten free – having to watch what I eat and feel excluded in my own house is not an option!
    In terms of what to serve at a birthday party, think about all the things that are naturally gluten and soy free and inxexpensive:
    – Carrots and hummous (make your own hummous with a tin of chickpeas, a touch of tahini, a garlic clove, and a splash of lemon juice or olive oil) You can also add fancy flavourings by throwing in some hot peppers, or curry, or the liquid from pickled beets!
    – Apple slices with little pieces of cheese on them
    – Chicken wings (or whatever cheepest cut of meat is in your area) and a few spoonfuls of marmalade and chili powder thrown into a slow cooker
    – nacho chips and salsa
    – Corn, bean and lime southwest salad
    – buy some sausages (without breadcrumbs), cook, and then cut into bite sized pieces. If you want to splurge a little – serve with a fancy mustard, if not, just use regular yellow mustard or ketchup to dip!
    – crustless quiche (just some eggs and whatever veggies are on sale cooked in a muffin tin)

    But, I guess the big thing is the cake. There are lots of gf recipies that will call for different flours that are wonderful. However, if you don’t want to invest in all those different ingredients (or are not used to gf baking, which can take some getting-used-to). Why not make this inexpensive chocolate torte. There are several variations on the recipe:
    But most are very tasty and very elegant! I used a similar recipe as my wedding cake!
    Good Luck!

  11. I agree, try not to make substitutes but choose foods that are naturally free of whatever you need. I have recently seen an amazing watermelon cake, skin cut off, decorated with cream and other fruits, naturally gluten free! Almond meal makes great gluten free cakes that don’t taste odd. Your partner will appreciate anything that you do, what a great gesture. Have a great party!

    • I made a “fruit” cake for a coworker who had recently been advised he needed to go on a restricted diet.

      I used watermelon (sliced into sinilar thickness), pineapple (I cheated and went with the pineapple that’s precored), layered those, and then added berries for garnish around the layers.

      All told, it was under $20 for the watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, and I spent around 30 minutes cutting and preparing things (fastest and easiest “cake” ever!).

      Obviously you can’t cut into it, but people picked out what they desired.

  12. There are some great recipes etc posted above! I would say use those resources to find things.

    Living with some one who eats paleo, another who has a corn allergy and his girlfriend is gluten free I feel you on the expense! My suggestion for budget is go to your local farmers market. I know there is this thing about it being more expensive than the grocery, but mine really isn’t. What helps a lot is to talk to the vendors and build a relationship with them. I mentioned the other day I was making zucchini bread for a friend to cheer her up and all of a sudden had 5 zucchini’s thrust into my hands for the price of 2. Also make it known you don’t care if your veggies are ugly. I got 10 bell peppers for free because the lady I buy from said they had bad spots and no one else would buy them.

    I wish I had more money saving advice for you, cooking healthy and for people with allergies is EXPENSIVE!

  13. In keeping with the bar idea:
    Ice cream sundae bar (of course) – did someone mention that already?

    Also, rice pudding buffet? Rice pudding is wonderfully gluten free (but it does have dairy) and if you make it yourself, it’s totally cheap. And like ice cream, you can flavor it – vanilla, chocolate, coffee, peanut butter, cinnamon, banana, etc etc. There’s an awesome spot in NYC (Rice to Riches) that does this and it’s a fave for GF dessert.

    I’m a big fan of David Lebovitz desserts:

    I also make this recipe, which is very simple and very yummy (you can search for other versions online too):

    I agree that rather than making something gluten free that normally isn’t, you should find things that are naturally GF. You will quickly learn to love all of those things and before you know it, you won’t even want cake.

  14. I’m gluten intolerant, among 5 other allergens (blue cheese, pear, sweet potato, fish, shellfish) so I totally understand the stress of trying to cook something that’s safe for both of ya’ll to eat. :hugs:

    If you two eat meat, grilled meats are always an awesome choice! You can’t really go wrong with a steak, or something fun like kabobs. Also, you can do a build your own burger bar (with gluten free/soy free buns).

    Bbq pulled pork is another option and sooooooo easy. Just take a pork butt (or shoulder) and place in the crockpot with two cans of dr pepper, salt and spices. Cook on high for 6 hours. Then, drain the liquids, place meat back in the crock pot and pull apart with a fork (so it’s shredded). Cover with a homemade bbq sauce and cook for another 30 mins to an hour. No mess and it’s beyond yummy. <3

    Salads are always easy side dishes, but typically that's the only meal available at restaurants. As a gluten intolerant person, I'm sooooo tired of salads! So instead maybe make an awesome quinoa salad to go with it? It's yummy and super easy to make (toss in rice cooker and done!).

    Be sure to check out vegan / paleo recipes. Chef Chloe is one of the favs for vegan recipes (and has an awesome recipe for cinnamon rolls)

    As for dessert, fruit is super yummy and allergy friendly. Maybe make a yummy fruit salad with a cream cheese dipping sauce?

  15. i went GF a couple months ago to see if it would help improve my IBS and fibromyalgia issues (and it really has). thus far, bob’s red mill has been my best friend. they do a lot of GF mixes, although i haven’t seen if they have cake mixes. the pizza crust if phenomenal. so far i’ve been leaning on premade mixes a lot, but i plan to start branching out and making more stuff from scratch. everyone i’ve talked to so far has said that you have to be willing to experiment until you can find a good flour blend that works for you. i will say to make sure you’re careful about reading the ingredient lists on GF mixes because a lot of them do contain soy, so going straight to experimentation might be your best bet.

  16. I lived in a collective house for a while, and at one point due to overlapping dietary restrictions of housemates, we had to be gluten free, vegan and no coconut. And we made 4+ collective dinners a week. We were also all pretty broke, and couldn’t afford special food. We also couldn’t afford *regular* food, hence why we were making collective meals together.

    One of the major tips I learned from this was to make food from cultures that eat in a particular way. So like, instead of buying gluten free bread (which often, lets admit it, sucks anyway), make your food rice-based or potato based. So we cooked a lot of indian food. (one of the roomates was south asian). Instead of buying expensive ‘vegan’ products, we used a lot of beans in our food, chick peas, lentils. This was not only cheaper and better, but cut down a lot of the amount of soy consumed from pre made vegan products, which ends up being way too much. So my advice is to cook your own food rather than relying on pre packaged alternatives, and look to the cuisines of cultures whose diet matches your restrictions. Instead of gluten free beer, drink wine or cider. So for cakes, instead of going to the gluten free aile, look up a great flourless cake recipe.

  17. I think a taco bar would be amazing!
    Several big brands have corn tortillas that are soy free. Meat, beans, vegetables, salsa, sour cream, cheese, Spanish rice – are all gluten & soy free. Wash it down with sangria, or gluten-free beer, limeade, or your soda of choice. And a traditional Mexican dessert of flan is also gluten & soy free. Then the rest of your party can be your geek theme of choice – I would love to see your geek pinata to fit the taco bar party theme.

  18. I can’t have gluten or soy either, among other things. When having people over to my house with food I always make sure it’s a 100% gluten free event. I didn’t initially do it this way, but unfortunately things like guests stabbing a hotdog and stabbing it on their bun then putting the fork back on the hot dog plate make this a necessity. Unfortunately, unless an intolerance is an every day fact of your life, you don’t think about little things like that.
    I would caution against a potluck deal. I’ve had a friend make me a gluten free banana bread once, but he also made a regular banana bread at the same time. Cross contamination issues Flour gets in the air easily, and again, unless you live it you don’t think about little things like not using the same spoon. And some people don’t understand what being intolerant means (making a special cake that only had “a little bit of flour so it should be ok”) and it’s not their fault, it just is.
    Oh, if you do decide to grill, make sure your charcoal, if that is what you are using, is safe. Kingsford is a good gluten free brand, but always look into.
    There are so many foods that can be made gluten and soy free and most people wouldn’t even realize it unless you told them.
    Good luck!

  19. I’ve been celiac for a LONG LONG time, and my favorite hobby ever is to throw kickass dinner parties on a reasonable budget. So for my first piece of advice – Don’t buy Betty Crocker. Their mixes aren’t the greatest and you will more than likely end up more disappointed than feeling accomplished.

    What I’d recommend is a menu similar to this (depending on how many people you’ll have you can include all courses or do less):

    Salad – this could be as simple as buying a giant box of greens at the store, adding in some sliced additional veggies or fruit and making your own olive oil salad dressing. You could also do a chopped fruit salad too. If you have enough “extras” in it like smaller fruits or veggies, no one will miss the croutons.

    In Season Veggie Side – So since it’s summer where I am right now, my main “go to” is squash and cucumber EVERYTHING, (as well as tomatoes and eggplant). You can eat them fresh, grilled, roasted, etc… with just a few seasonings on top and they’re a huge hit. In the winter and fall months we go with things like roasted pumpkins, lentil soup, cabbage, etc… Essentially I walk into the produce section and find the most affordable in season item and get creative. Saves you lots of money and it’ll look like you spent far more time planning than you actually did.

    Main Dish/Protein – So for this you can either go with vegetarian options which could be something filled with lots of chickpeas and lentils or you could do vegetarian enchiladas with black bean and veggie filling (just make sure the black beans haven’t had soy added as well as your corn tortillas). For meat based dishes think as simple as possible, so kabobs with a yogurt sauce, brisket, or grilled meats (if you have a grill). If not there are lots of other basic roasted dishes you could make too. Just remember though if you’re buying gluten free buns for say burgers or hotdogs, this could totally blow your budget, so think as simple as possible.

    As for dessert, if you want to go above and beyond, I’d recommend cupcakes using one of the King Arthur Gluten Free cake mixes (they have both Chocolate and Vanilla now). They’re a bit pricy but they will make a LOT of cupcakes (as in 24+) so you do get your money’s worth out of it, and they’re practically full proof as long as you follow the directions they’ll turn out beautifully. For this though, I would recommend buying the cheap tinfoil “one time use pans” if you’re making them at your house, and baking in those (just so you don’t accidentally get them sick from cross contact or contamination). Yes you could experiment and make your own, but that ends up being FAR more expensive in the long run (trust me) and most of the time it won’t taste great. Other options include home made ice pops (I’ve been totally obsessed with these guys lately – ), or brownies (just check because a lot of gluten free brownie mixes include soy – and also bake in a “one time use pan” for this too).

    Anyways, hopefully this is helpful good luck!

  20. I went Gluten Free about a year ago – and I won’t go back. My lifesaver was finding . She has TONS of free copy cat recipes (Nutter Butters & Hohos anyone?) plus original recipes for baked goods – and she is all about eating on a budget. If you follow her instructions, her recipes are fantastic. I have to recommend the rolo cupcakes as they are my favorite. Plus all her recipes use an all purpose GF Flour blend, I use better batter. You can get it at – plus if you fit withing thier financial criteria you can get a discount as they have a financial assistance program. Plus it is cheaper than anything you will find in any store. $3 a lb if you buy a 25 lb bag vs $7 a lb if you buy it in the store. This blend is AMAZING and it is high quality. Bob’s is great – but they use alot of garbanzo bean blends which give a funny aftertaste. I was never really a baker before going GF, but now I will only eat stuff I bake – for 1, I know that it will be safe. For 2, I know it will be GOOD. Most of the GF stuff you find in the stores is garbage, and if its not naturally GF, I’m probably not going to eat it. I still get my treats though, I just have to make them.

  21. I’m a big fan of Chocolate Covered Katie’s blog. The link is to her cakes and pies recipes. She herself is vegan but she also gives good substitution options for gluten-free or soy-free. It’s generally pretty affordable for a lot of the stuff she makes. She loves sweet things so all sorts of desserts there (including banana peanut butter ice cream that is made of…. banana and peanut butter!).

    I totally agree with both the potluck options and grilling things or “make your own.” My friends and I do potluck gatherings sometimes and we all just try to let one another know what our food restrictions mean in terms of ingredients.

    If you want gluten-free options for foods you used to enjoy, I recommend looking for recipes online. Chocolate Covered Katie has made healthy versions of lots of things, like graham crackers and peanut butter cups, and includes substitutions. I’ve made goldfish crackers that could easily be done gluten free with a flour substitution.

    In looking for a source for ingredients, try to find a local health food store that has bulk options. Then you can buy exactly what you need rather than larger boxes from a store that mean you pay for packaging. Often the staff at those stores are really helpful and can give you suggestions.

  22. There is a cake recipe I absolutely love and always make for my partner’s birthday –

    The original recipe contains one tablespoon of flour which can be substituted for a tablespoon of cocoa if you’re making it GF. The recipe calls for using high-quality ingredients but I never do, I use supermarket butter, eggs and whatever brand of dark chocolate I can get cheapest.

    Happy birthday to your husband!

  23. Dude. Flourless Chocolate cake is the *best* kind of chocolate cake (especially topped with a ganache and garnished with raspberries and homemade whipped cream). No substitutions needed. This is the recipe I use:

    I will add a pinch or three of cayenne to brighten up the chocolate flavor. And to make a ganache icing melt equal parts (in ounces) of butter, chocolate, and heavy cream together. Wait until it thickens a bit and then pour it over the de-panned cake. (Chill any leftover ganache until it’s the consistency of peanut butter. Then scoop out spoonfuls and roll them quickly in coco powder to make chocolate truffles).

    If you don’t have a springform pan you can still make it. Just line the pan you do have with parchement to assist in the depanning. If bits of it break just push them back together into a cake shape. The ganache and berries will cover a world of sins.

    This is a very rich cake and could *easily* serve 12.
    * * * *

    For a budget dinner I would totally go with pulled pork. You can make a whack of it easily and cheap with a slow cooker or dutch oven. My favorite recipe is rubbing a pork butt with red curry paste and then braising it all day in two cans of coconut water. Serve with pickled pink onions (slice red onions thin and add 1/2 cup of vinegar that has a tablespoon of sugar and and 1.5 tsp of salt dissolved into it. Let sit for at least an hour.) This could easily feed eight. Add rice or a fresh salad for sides.

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